Stanleytookiewilliams55_1About two months ago I attended a small and informal meeting at the Lucy Florence Coffee House in Leimert Park to discuss the pending execution Stanley Tookie Williams.

The meeting was called by community activist Najee Ali and included a hand-selected group of people to have a dialogue on what we were going to do to aide in the fight for clemency for Williams.

I remember sitting in that meeting and being conflicted on where I was on the issue.  So much so, that I voiced my opinion to the group.

I knew that I didn’t support the death penalty but I wasn’t particularly that motivated to fight for clemency for the co-founder of the Crips gang.  To be more specific, I was downright bitter about the whole situation and reminded the group that my feelings represented a segment of our community that was upset over the mayhem of gang violence in our communities.

Needless to say, my opinion didn’t go over to well in the meeting, which was primarily made up of Williams’ supporters.

That was two months ago.  Today, I eat, breathe and sleep clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams. 

First Introduction

Two years ago the Pan African Film Festival showcased the film of Williams’ life Redemption starring Academy Award winning actor Jamie Foxx as its opening night film.  At that time I was the publicist for the film festival and responsible for pitching the film and creating a buzz about its engagement in the festival. 

That was my first introduction to Stanley Tookie Williams and Barbara Becnel.

The festival had to screen the film several times after opening night because the demand was so high.  The buzz around South Los Angeles regarding the co-founder of the Crips having a Hollywood film was surreal.  Old, young, former and current gang members all wanted to see the film about the man who started what is now a gang that not only terrorizes communities in America but has even stretched as far as South Africa, the Crips gang and by extension the Bloods.

I had the opportunity to meet Barbara Becnel through Lynn Whitfield’s role in Redemption and then in person when the film debuted.  I remember thinking to myself that I admired her for her efforts but that she was working towards a lost cause.  I c’mon, this man co-founded the Crips, a street gang that is responsible for thousands of murders over the last 20 something years.  It didn’t matter to me how many books he’d written, he was the reason why I couldn’t walk at night in my neighborhood.

After the festival Barbara continued on her journey and I on mine.
That was two years ago.

Williams and Me

I have to admit, I didn’t give Williams much thought in the years that passed after the film festival.  I was on a direct path.  Those that know me knew that my fight was equal rights for gays and lesbians and combating homophobia within the Black community.  Add HIV/AIDS activism to that and I had a pretty full plate.

I decided to get more involved with what was going on in Black Los Angeles during that time as well.  I was pretty well known as a gay activist in the Black community and gay America, but I didn’t want my work to only include that.  There were many other issues that I wanted to address as well.

Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s Los Angeles Policy Roundtable gave me the opportunity to interface with Black Los Angeles leaders on a myriad of public policy issues affecting Blacks as well as to push my own agenda.  I was growing and expanding my purview as a budding activist.

Flash forward to 2005 and the announcement of the execution date for Williams and my meeting with community leaders in Leimert Park.

After that meeting, I decided to revisit the Williams case and do some research.  My initial intentions were to write a few articles maybe do a few interviews and move on to the next issue.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I actually did care whether Williams’ lived or died.

Whereas there were virtually no articles in the Black newspapers and on Black radio shows regarding his case and even less in mainstream media, overnight there was a “Tookie sensation” and I found myself caught in the middle.

I think the tipping point for me was KFI 640’s “Kill Tookie/Tookie Must Die Hour,” so it’s only appropriate that I thank the hosts John and Ken for motivating me to get involved.  Thank you.

I remember hearing the anti-Tookie hour for the first time and being completely outraged at the hosts for their irresponsible programming.  I was so upset that I decided to fire back with by complaining to the Federal Communication Commission about the show and taking my complaint public.  I also remember that when I was doing this I kept telling myself this is not about Williams’ innocence or guilt but about irresponsible programming and two racist radio hosts. 

But it was about that and so much more.

Why Granting Clemency Is the Right Thing to Do

In researching Williams’ case, I realized that as a reasonably intelligent person, I found real doubt on whether or not Williams’ actually committed these murders.  In subsequent discussions with various community members who were older and wiser than myself, I added my real doubt with the racism and discrimination that was running rampant through the Los Angeles Police Department at that time and California’s criminal justice system and I found myself questioning whether or not Williams’ was actually guilty or the victim of a racist D.A. and criminal justice system.

Given the 2003 Illinois debacle where then Governor George Ryan commuted 156 sentences of death to life without the possibility of parole because there was strong evidence that they were victims of wrongful convictions, I will not support the execution of someone who could be innocent.  There’s no bringing them back.

But then there’s the issue of the Crips gang and he did admittedly co-found this street gang.  As someone who tailors her schedule of activities and where she will and will not go according the level of gang violence in certain communities, I will be the first person to say that the Crips, Bloods and all street gangs are committing Black genocide.  I have absolutely no tolerance for gangs and their members.

But Williams was not tried and convicted for founding the Crips and I think that’s a hard pill for most Blacks to swallow.

While he has admitted to this atrocious crime against humanity, logically we can’t use gang violence as our reason for wanting him to die.

By now everyone is aware of the books that Williams’ has co-authored with Barbara Becnel that have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  We are all aware of Tookie’s Internet Peace Protocol, his strategy for ending gang violence in our communities.  We also know that he speaks out against gang violence and is making a tangible effort to assist in America’s effort to eliminate gang violence.

Williams’ opponents say that all of his work from death row is not a reason to commute his sentence.

I disagree.

Look around you.  We’re not winning the domestic war against gangs on our own.  It would seem to me that the man who is credited with starting this madness would be able to offer us a way out and it looks like we may be getting ready to kill him.

And let’s be crystal clear.

Williams’ is under no obligation to assist us in the war on gangs.  If he wanted to sit on death row and twiddle his thumbs until 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, December 13 he would be perfectly within his rights.

But he isn’t just sitting there.

What I find amazing is that Williams’ has never strayed from his plea of innocence and has gone so far as to say that even if it would save his life, he would not admit to something that he didn’t do.  On the other hand, he has admitted and tried to make amends for his role in creating the Crips gang, something else that quite frankly he have to he didn’t do.

For these reasons and more, I support clemency for Williams.

My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for the families of all of the victims of senseless gang violence. 

My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I know Williams is innocent.  I don’t know, none of us know for sure.  But I do have doubt.

My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I have overlooked Williams’ role in co-founding the Crips, I haven’t.

But my supporting clemency does mean that I recognize redemption when I see it and I see it in Williams. 

It means that I know that civilized societies, like Americans believe that they belong to, don’t commit murder to justify murder.

It means that I recognize that we are not winning the war on gangs and that Williams is making tangible efforts to assist us in that war when he doesn’t have to.

It means that a community who is forever hollering “Lord have mercy” should be able to show some of that mercy.

It means that I remember that lynching, racism, and discrimination were once a part of America’s moral fabric like the death penalty is today.

It means that I understand today, that Williams represents everything wrong with the death penalty and that killing him will not bring back any of the people that are already dead.

When I stood up my partner on her birthday to sit in a studio for 4 hours editing an interviewing I did with Williams’, I knew I was completely submerged into getting clemency for Williams.  My rationale, chances are she’ll live to see another birthday but Williams may not.

I do not know if California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to grant clemency to Williams.  I do know that if Williams is executed on December 13, I will probably stay in bed all day and cry.

I’ll cry for Williams and I will cry for us for we are not a civilized society if we insist upon justifying murder with murder.

If Williams is executed I will be upset, distraught and sad, but eventually I will move on with my life.

However, what I’ve learned over the past few months about the death penalty and my conversation with Stanley Tookie Williams will stay with me for a lifetime.  I also plan to get more involved in anti-death penalty activism because I realize that Williams is one of many people who face execution by lethal injection on California’s death row.