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December 12, 2005

The Talented Mr. Williams

We are, it seems, supposed to forgive Tookie Williams of vicious murders -- in case anyone forgets what that word means, it means killing another human being without cause or justification -- because he supposedly wrote a children's book. And a book renouncing gangs.

Not even because he's expressed remorse about the four murders he was charged with. He maintains he was innocent of those.

It's a strange compulsion of the radical left to excuse the worst of all crimes -- murder -- simply because someone may have a bit of creative talent or literary potential. Murder is not some penny-ante offense that is outlawed only due to blue laws forced on the country by religious freaks. It is the ultimate crime, the alpha and omega of violations.

Tookie Williams murdered at least four people.

But he wrote a children's book.

This absolves his sins?

None of this is of course new. Norman Mailer championed the cause of convicted murder Jack Henry Abbott, based on the alleged literary power of the letters (probably largely ass-kissing, ego-stroking fan-mail) Abbott wrote to him.


Mailer's correspondence with Jack Henry Abbott began while he was in the midst of writing The Executioner's Song, the title of the Gilmore story. The very first letter that Mailer received greatly impressed him. "Abbott's letter was intense, direct, unadorned, and detached, an unforgettable combination," Mailer wrote in his introduction to Abbott's book. After that first letter, Mailer received, on average, about two letters a week for the next three years. Together the letters exceeded 2,000 pages of text which addressed every facet of prison life and more. Abbott liked to ponder the philosophical insights of Marx, Russell and Hobbes. He enjoyed writing about Lenin and saw Marxism as an alternative to the American system of justice. "I do not believe I would have suffered greater injustices in any country in the world than I have here," Abbott wrote.

Well, if he's a Marxist, surely he can't be all bad!

But apparently Abbott's talents were so enormous that society simply could not be denied them, even if Abbott posed an ongoing threat to innocent human beings:

Encouraged by Mailer, a New York City publishing house became interested in Abbott's letters as a book project. Mailer even lobbied for his new friend's parole and convinced others to do the same. Of course, no one could say for sure what would happen when a man like Abbott was released back into society. But Mailer was emphatic. Abbott's talents were of such importance, he assured, that it would be a crime to ignore it. "Culture is worth a little risk," Mailer later told reporters.

And it was imperative that Abbott be freed from prison. Not just spared the death penalty (he wasn't sentenced to death). No, he needed to be outright freed in order to enrich us all with his writings:

Still, the wisdom of paroling a violent man like Abbott was uncertain. "I am aware of the responsibility of what I propose," Mailer wrote to the Utah parole board, "and propose it in the belief that Abbott is in need of a special solution that can reach out to his special abilities."

But prison psychiatrists had strong reservations about his mental state. Abbott's long history of violence and rebellion did not indicate that he was ready for the free world. One report said, "Abbott is angry and hostile about his captivity." Another prison official opposed his release and said, "I thought ... that Mr. Abbott was a dangerous individual ... I didn't see a changed man. His attitude, his demeanor indicated psychosis."

Abbott was released, however, with Normal Mailer's guarantee that he would find him work. It wasn't long before the "risk" of Abott's realease became more than a risk:

When he asked Adan where the men's room was, the waiter explained that it could only be reached by walking through the kitchen and was off-limits to customers. But Abbott insisted on using the restroom. A verbal argument ensued between the two men, though it was quiet and hardly heard by the other diners. "It was all very low key," an employee later told a reporter from the Times. "You could hardly hear what they were saying before they went out on the street." Abbott told Adan to "take it outside." The two men exited the restaurant onto Fifth Street. The argument continued for only a minute longer. Abbott suddenly pulled out a knife and plunged it into Adan's chest. The blade pierced his heart.

"I'm hurt, it hurts!" he cried, "God, how it hurts!" Blood gushed from his chest as a passerby approached him to give aid. Abbott ran back into Binibon's and shouted to one of the girls, "Let's get out of here! I just killed a man!" The terrified girls left with Abbott and walked a block away. Suddenly, Abbott stopped, turned to the girls and said, "You don't know me!" He then ran off into the night without saying another word.

Just 24 hours after the murder...

The very next morning, July 19, 1981, the Sunday edition of the New York Times carried the review of Abbott's new book, In the Belly of the Beast. Reviewer Terrence Des Pres gave a mostly favorable report and expressed gratitude to Abbott's mentor, Norman Mailer. "We must be grateful to him (Mailer) for getting these letters into publishing form and, a job more difficult, for helping to get Abbott out on parole."

One doubts Richard Adan or his family was similarly grateful.

Abbott fled, and a manhunt ensued. When he was finally arrested and tried for second-degree murder, his trial was attended by admiring celebrities -- despite the fact he had murdered again.

[Susan] Sarandon especially, became enamored by Abbott. Shortly after the trial, she gave birth to a baby. She and the father, actor Tim Robbins, named him "Jack Henry."

Normal Mailer was unrepetent and unapologetic that his pet project pen-pal now had a higher bodycount:

"Let's not destroy Abbott!" begged Mailer to the New York press. Jack Abbott was described as a literary star, a Marxist revolutionary, a convicted murderer, "an author of the highest magnitude." He was many things to many people. But lost in the quagmire of debate and obscured by the endless pleas of mercy for the misunderstood killer, was the forgotten life of Richard Adan. A man who did nothing more but advise a diner that the restaurant had no men's restroom.

He had been killed in an argument over a toilet.

Abbott of course claimed self-defense. But the prosecutors used some of his writings in the cross-examination. A prosecutor read to Abbott as passage from his Mailer-championed "literature:"

"You move your left foot to the side to step across his right side, body length. A light pivot toward him with your right shoulder and the world turns upside down. You have sunk the knife to its hilt. Into the middle of his chest Slowly he begins to struggle for his life ... You can feel his life trembling through the knife in his hand."

When he finished reading the paragraph, Fogel turned to Abbott and asked, "Did you write that?" Abbott smirked and replied, "It's good isn't it?"

Thanks to Abbott's celebrity status and some jury members who refused to convict for murder, he was found guilty only of manslaughter.

Only later did Mailer hint at his own culpability:

Mailer, to his credit, later recognized his tragic role in the story. "Another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in," Mailer said in 1992 according to the Buffalo News. "It was a study in false vanity," he added.

This is neither new or novel. Cop-killer Abu-Jamal Mumia is feted as being, supposedly, a political prisoner. Margaret Cho names her dog after a vicious murderer she describes as an "art terrorist," back in the days when murder was "chic."

And Hollywood continues to crank out haigiographies about mass-killer Che Guevera.

It seems strange indeed that those who claim to be such passionate humanists defend, praise, and aid those who are so lacking in simple humanity.

All because they simply have a bit of style, talent, intellect, or Marxist leanings.

For all their talk of "the common man," they only seem to take a real shine to uncommon men, men of (supposedly) considerable intellectual gifts. And, of course, the uncommon condition of being a remorseless murderer.

There was a time when being an intellectual wasn't quite as indicative as good moral character as not having murdered another human being. After all, not being a murderer is so common -- so common, in fact, that there's not even actually a word for it. There's no simple word for "non-murderer."

But a man with some literary talent, or a woman with some style and charisma, who just happened to have killed a few people along the way of reaching for the stars... these people are worth honoring and praising. In fact, they're even allowed to murder again. For what is a human life against a good notice in the New York Review of Books?

Ah, the silly, repressive, buttoned-up jackbooted 1950's, when we used to think that murder was a bad thing.

Note: Chris Walken also attended Jack Henry Abbott's murder trial. But, at least pubicly, he indicated he wasn't there as a supporter:

I often go to court to watch people's emotions," Walken told a reporter from the New York Post.
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posted by Ace at 04:07 PM

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