Imagine That -- We're Trying To Execute a Nobel Peace/Literature Prize Nominee!

Many stories about Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang who was convicted of having "shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles" note that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (for writing children's books warning children against becoming gang members). Here's an AP story: "He has received several Nobel Prize nominations . . . ." An L.A. Times story: "He later was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Prize . . . ." An NPR story from Nov. 21, 2005: "For his anti-gang work, Williams has received multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize." An L.A. Times story about the daughter of one of his victims:

Then four years ago, she said, she learned that Williams was alive and had been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and "it literally hit me like a ton of bricks."

"It literally almost destroyed my life because of my own anger," she said. "I was just flabbergasted. How could the man who co-founded the Crips be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What in the world?"

I have an answer to that question: Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize (past nominees, just in 1901-1951, included Hitler, Stalin, and Molotov). Any literature or linguistics professor can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in Literature. Naturally, many nominees have real merit; but that someone has been nominated by one of likely hundreds of thousands of potential nominees is little evidence of such merit. And this is especially so when that someone is a source of controversy, when it may seem that nominating him may prevent his being executed -- something that may understandably sway the judgment of nominators who are deeply opposed to the death penalty, and who might see the need to save a life and to make an anti-death-penalty statement as more important than the need to make an impartial evaluation of the person's net contribution to peace or the quality of his literary works.

And in any event, wouldn't it have been helpful -- both to listeners and to the victim's daughter -- if the stories that mentioned Williams' nominations had stressed how unselective the nomination process really is?

(Incidentally, whether a person's sincere contrition, and post-crime good deeds, should lead to clemency is a difficult question; I don't mean to opine on it here. My point is simply that a convicted murderer's having been nominated for the Nobel Prize sheds little light on that question.)