In 1971, at the age of 17, Stan Williams co-founded the street gang known as the "Crips," which soon became the city of Los Angeles' most notorious street gang. Eager to find any pretext for arresting him, the LAPD charged Stan Williams with four murders in 1978. Three years later, he was convicted and sent to San Quentin where he faced extreme hostility from his jailers, including over six (6) years spent in solitary confinement. During this period, it is said that Tookie "rehabilitated himself and made the decision to leave the Crips and speak out against gang violence."
With the help of Barbara Becnel, Tookie wrote a series of award-winning books for school children (from his jail cell). His books warned them against gangs, crime, and prison. Later, he organized the Internet Project for Street Peace (an international peer mentoring and violence prevention effort). He gained worldwide recognition and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2001.
In his own words:
"For nearly 20 years I have been pitted against the morbid mind-set of certain unethical prison officials and their confidential informants. On the other hand, I spent half of those 20 years functioning in a predictable pattern of negative behavior. Throughout that first decade on death row, I was a quasi-slave to the prison conditions that dictated how I should think, act and survive.
Being a "condemned" man, I was expected to languish, unchanged, in the silent misery of the doomed. However, from 1988 to 1994, while in solitary confinement, I learned how to battle my hypocritical conscience, gang mentality and personal demons. I underwent many years of soul-searching and re-education, without "debriefing" (another word for "snitching"), without a broken spirit and without violating my moral convictions.
By 1993, I had rediscovered my humanity through the knowledge of God, culture and self, which became the "natural elements" for reshaping my life. I had become a man of principle and accountability, and a servant of God. For me, it was both a spiritual blessing and therapy for my soul to meditate on the teachings of the Qur’an, Metu Neter, the Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and other uplifting literature."
Tookie Williams may be executed in less than two (2) weeks, and at the end of it, he may very well be innocent of the crimes for which he has been accused. Consider this:
** None of the physical evidence found at the crime scenes, including fingerprints and boot prints, matched Tookie's.
**The main evidence against Tookie was the testimony of jailhouse informants who claimed he had confessed to the murders. All of the so-called witnesses were themselves facing serious felony charges and had very strong motivations to make a deal with the authorities to reduce their own sentences. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals even admitted in 2002 that the informants had "less-than-clean back grounds and incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state in either charging or sentencing."
**Since the original trial, another prisoner has come forward to declare that he witnessed one of the informants being briefed on the Stan Williams case.
**The prosecutor in the original case, Robert Martin, moved the trial from Los Angeles to Torrance, a predominantly white, highly conservative neighborhood. (Robert Martin was later censured twice by the California Supreme Court for his racist practices, leading to death sentences in two of the cases he prosecuted being overturned!)
** All of the African-Americans in the jury pool were dismissed and Tookie's case was heard by an all-white jury.
Since the begining, Tookie Williams has maintained his innocence regarding the four murders, alleging prosecutorial misconduct, exclusion of exculpatory evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, biased jury selection, and the misuse of jailhouse and government informants.
Tookie's case exemplifies many of the key problems with capital punishment, namely, racism, inadequate legal counsel, and the reliance on jailhouse informants. In 2002, Williams appeared before a three-judge panel on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel upheld his conviction, but in a rare move urged then-Governor Gray Davis to consider commuting the death sentence. The judges praised Tookie Williams for his "laudable efforts opposing gang violence" and his "good works and accomplishments since incarceration".
In February of 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Tookie's request for a hearing by a vote of 15 to 9. But in that case, the dissenting opinion harshly condemned the "blatant, race-based jury selection" in Tookie's original trial, and argued that the majority's decision essentially, "sends an unmistakable message that the dictates of Baston [the Supreme Court case that declared race-based jury selection unconstitutional] may be disregarded with impunity."
As such, William's appeal reached the United States Supreme Court back in May. The case sat undecided as the Court waited for John Roberts to take his seat on the Court. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court eventually refused to hear the case, effectively giving prosecutors the right to exclude jurors on the basis of race, in direct opposition to the holding in Baston.
"I have been called an unrepentant sinner, a moral coward, criminal beast, serial killer and a Fox News network reporter even compared me to Adolph Hitler. My belief is that such ungodliness in the judgment of me is the toxic product of American racism. A Black man is not supposed to be capable of redeeming himself.
People tend to forget the transitions of Saul, who became Paul, Moses, King David and Saint Aurelius Augustine, who was not always saintly, given the boy he sired by a mistress. Another controversial transformation was Alfred Nobel, himself, who invented dynamite and, ultimately, created the Nobel Peace Prize. A newspaper mistakenly printed Alfred Nobel’s obituary instead of his dead brother’s: the headline accused Alfred Nobel of earning his wealth through an invention (dynamite) that countless people had used to kill one another. The misprint served as a premonition for Alfred Nobel, allowing him to see how the world would judge him. It provoked his transition.
Yet, my detractors contend that it is inconceivable that I could reorient my life. Back in the day, I was devoted to building a Crip nation at the expense of other Black people. Today, my life is dedicated to building unity among youths, to promoting youth programs, computer literacy and youth empowerment, and to developing an initiative for a broad-based progressive agenda for youth throughout the world."
A clemency hearing is set for December 8, 2005. Governor Schwarzenegger is set to decide whether or not Stan "Tookie" Williams will be allowed to live or whether he will be executed. Campaigning against execution are, among others, activist and former football player Jim Brown, celebrities Jamie Foxx, Elliott Gould, Danny Glover, Laurence Fishburne, Ted Danson, William Baldwin, Snoop Dog, Bob Saget, Mike Farrell, Harry Belafonte, Jessica Simpson, Edward Asner, Jackson Browne, Russell Crowe, Richard Dreyfuss, Nick Carter, Gabriel Byrne, Bianca Jagger; politicians Tom Hayden, Mario Cuomo and Bill Rosendahl; Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu, Mairead Corrigan Maguire; and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Please sign the petition to save Stan "Tookie" Williams.
Please call Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office at (916) 445-2821 and urge him to grant clemency.
For more information, please visit savetookie.org.
I leave you with these quetions:
Why must we kill a man who has clearly turned his life around and become a beacon for peace?
Is it fair to kill a man for crimes which he very reasonably did not commit simply because he was, at the time, an unsavory human being?
What are we killing him for?