Saturday, December 03, 2005

After site visits of over 7,900 since 9/2003, the very first reader comment arrived in my mailbox yesterday ...

From: Anonymous
Subject: [CBreaux Speaks] 12/02/2005 04:29:40 PM
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 16:29:41 -0800 (PST)

Let the bastard die.........

Posted by Anonymous to CBreaux Speaks at 12/02/2005 04:29:40 PM

Even more so as I watched the weekly PBS show, This Week in Northern California, last night and was dismayed to hear one of the long time S.F. Chronicle reporters make the comment that, "...after all, he has never displayed remorse for his crimes!" Another reporter reminded her that Stanley Williams has claimed innocence since his arrest 25 years ago so would hardly be expressing remorse for crimes he claims not to have committed.

After receiving this disturbing anonymous email I checked with the homepage of Barry Schect's Innocence Project and learned that -- as of December 3rd (today), 163 Death Row prisoners, nationwide, have been exonerated after investigations proved them totally innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted and imprisoned. There are over 600 now awaiting execution at San Quentin. The simple law of averages would surely argue against further state killings until we've reduced the risk of destroying another life for lack of a closer look.

Don Perata is right.

State Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco has already submitted a bill for a moratorium that will be heard on the floor of the legislature in the January session. Why on earth would anyone set an execution date for less than a few weeks before that bill is heard? Does this not suggest that there are some negative biases built into the system, and that need to be investigated and corrected? Who made such a decision, and why is no one questioning it in the media? Does it not cause you to wonder, too? Since everyone in Sacramento has been aware of the pending legislation for months and still set a December execution date ... might the reason be that Williams is being punished for allowing himself to become the international symbol against the death penalty? Is there another logical explanation that I'm missing?

All of this must be weighed by the governor on Thursday, December 8th when he meets with the attorneys for both sides and begins deliberations on the decision to grant clemency, or not. There's time to send off a message to him. Information is posted at where you have access to the Petition for Clemency that was submitted to the governor, learn more about the case, and still have time to make your voice heard.

Will post photos tomorrow after the San Quentin demonstration ... .

Photo: News coverage was overwhelming. The public interest in this pending execution appears to be unprecedented. The camera crews and reporters were everywhere. They've come from Greece, Paris, Spain, London -- plus all of the national news services. The eyes of the world are surely fixed on this issue.

Friday, December 02, 2005

FYI ...

-----Original Message-----
From: Senator Perata
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 1:34 PM
Subject: Stanley Williams

Dear Friends:

I want to share with you the text of the letter I am sending to Governor Schwarzenegger asking him to grant clemency to condemned inmate Stanley Williams. I do not excuse Mr. Williams for his deplorable crimes, nor do I find his recent atonement adequate justification for clemency. However, the substantial and growing body of evidence of biased and unjust application of the death penalty in California and throughout the nation compels me to support clemency in this, and in every, capital case. As I write in the letter below, we must not accept any substitute for guaranteeing the fair and equal application of the law, particularly when a person's life is at stake.

November 28, 2005

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
State of California
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

I am writing to respectfully request that you grant clemency to prevent the execution of Stanley Williams.

I make this request despite the horrific crimes Mr. Williams has committed. Human decency dictates that the murder of four innocent people cannot be pardoned or excused. And by his own admission, Mr. Williams once helped foster the culture of death that plagues too many California neighborhoods.

Nor am I persuaded that Mr. Williams’ recent good conduct in and of itself constitute grounds for clemency. A lifetime of atonement – while noteworthy – strikes me as insufficient when compared to the offenses of which Mr. Williams stands convicted.

Rather, I ask clemency in this case because I have lost confidence in California’s death penalty as an instrument of justice.

There’s clear and compelling evidence of racial bias in the application of this statute. A third of death-row inmates are African Americans, who make up less than 7 percent of our state population. A Santa Clara Law Review study found that defendants who kill white victims are far more likely to be sentenced to death that those whose victims are from other ethnic groups.

Moreover, the large proportion of poor and uneducated death-row prisoners strongly suggests that our state imposes greater punishments upon low-income defendants than those of greater means. In fact, this disparity is so pervasive that it has prompted the author of California’s death penalty statute to call for its repeal.

No doubt many believe death is a fitting punishment in this case. But satisfying the public mood is no substitute for guaranteeing the fair and equal application of the law. Until our system meets this strict standard, we should refrain from using its awesome power to take human life.

A system of justice that effectively reserves its harshest penalties for the poor – and for those who victimize people of a particular color of skin – is instead the very antithesis of justice. This is a cruel irony that we can prevent – now.


Don Perata

Photo: At the gates of San Quentin, an unidentified nun from the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. She read an eloquent statement from her order asking for clemency and an end to capital punishment in the State.

The day of the Stanley Tookie Williams execution moves ever so close ... and I can think of little else ...

The experience of having had that visit some years ago to Death Row -- having sat at a table across from one convicted of having committed crimes worthy of capital punishment without feelings of utter revulsion -- has staggering consequences. His eyes met mine with clarity and openness. He was probably more at ease than anyone in our group, and I wondered about it at the time.

He'd lived in a 9'x5' cell for over a quarter of a century -- 7 or those years in The Hole in solitary confinement -- writing his books for children on small scraps of paper while seated on a mattress piled up in a corner. Barbara brought those bits and pieces out of the prison at each visit and -- over years -- edited them into readable form and published them There were nine in all -- with more in preparation, each intended for and achieving the turning around of young lives from the awesome fate he is now facing.

The transformation experienced over those years of solitude produced a giant of a man -- someone whose inner self eventually grew larger than the over-developed muscular monster who had existed in this body before redemption was experienced in some mystical way in The Hole. I heard him speak of it yesterday in a from-prison interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.

I came away from that encounter having witnessed serenity personified. I'm not sure that I've ever met anyone else who reflected that -- despite years of exposure to Bill's world of Tibetan Buddhism and the hours, days, weeks, of striving to achieve that kind of affect through the practice of meditation. The busyness of my mind could never be stilled enough for the techniques to take effect, yet I could see the peace in Stan, in this unlikely place, under these incredible circumstances. My own fears that day in the noisy prison visitor's center were cutting off the ability to fully take in the experience despite the attempt to capture it all -- to imprint every sight and sound because it would never be repeated -- ever in life. I can close my eyes and bring it all back in full color -- even now as I write these words.

It was on that day that I knew beyond words that guilt or innocence was less relevant than the taking of lives as vengeance for crimes committed, though I strongly believe in his innocence. I knew that I wanted no part of ending the existence of any human being in my name. That the death penalty was far too contaminated by decisions made for political gain. That those who were most likely to receive it are often doomed from their first appearance in our courts by the color of their skins, the economic status of their families, inadequate legal representation; by lives too often scarred by racial inequality; by lack of opportunity; and (as in the case of Stanley Williams) condemned by an all-white jury unable to identify with or ferret out the truth filtered through lifetimes of racial biases of a system of justice that reflected their own fears and prejudices, and all on purely circumstantial evidence.

Yesterday's published letter from the Senator Don Perata, Pro Tem of the California State Legislature, written to the governor recommended a moratorium on the death penalty. Despite an unwillingness to stay the execution, the Ninth Court of Appeals also made an unprecedented recommendation for executive clemency to the governor at the time of the denial. Senator Perata's letter was eloquent in its plea and a welcomed development to those of us working toward the same goal for our state and nation. It is a powerful statement from one surely more objective than I, and without a belief in Stan's innocence of the crimes for which he was convicted.

Five nominations for the Nobel Peace prize and a sixth for the prize in literature, speak volumes about the power of Stan's work with the world's children at risk through his writing from Death Row.

On Sunday afternoon (from 2:00-4:00 o'clock) I'll join others at the San Quentin prison gates in a peaceful demonstration. It's anticipated that many will arrived from Southern California in buses and that they will be joined by members of the clergy, by former gang members, by those opposed to capital punishment from activist groups from across the state and the nation, and we'll initiate a vigil that will begin on Monday morning and will go around-the-clock until either the governor announces his granting of executive clemency, or, until the 1-minute-after-midnight execution on the December 13th.

What about the families of the victims, you ask?

They will be spared the regret of certain realization at some point in their lives -- that nothing has changed for them. That there is neither closure nor relief from the pain of loss. That the taking of another life has gained nothing of consequence except the possibility of the lifting of the weight of hatred they've experienced as the result, except that the hate may not end with the death of another.

I carry with me the hope that I will never have to live the life of a survivor of such a horrific loss. I'm certain that I would seek the same vengeance were the victim one of my own. In time, I might be grateful for the fact that society has removed the possibility of my acting out my rage by setting limits on my response or my ability to carry it out against the perpetrator while the hurt is unbearable, I might be spared then, the diminishing of my own quality of life that would significantly reduce my own capacity for compassion and humanity. All of this might be more possible if my vengeance was not supported by law. I would know that the offender would live a lifetime separated from society without the possibility of ever enjoying freedom or the ability to re-offend. And at some point I might move beyond the unspeakable pain of my sorrow.

These truths were learned from members of a national organization called Families of Victims - Against the Death Penalty. Met them at a banquet in San Francisco hosted by actor Mike Farrell where the governor of Illinois (who had just freed up everyone on death row in his state after 14 had been found innocent) was the keynote speaker. It was an evening I've never forgotten, and that gives me hope this day.

Now -- there's work to do toward the creation of a more just and equitable system of justice while time continues to run out and the chance to confront ourselves is again lost in a world of everyday insurmountable human loss. Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, for me are unreachable. San Quentin is only minutes away .

This in concert with others, I can do.

Photo: A woman from the San Quentin community who walked down from her home near the gate to join us. She made an eloquent statement of support for Stan Williams "...because the State should not be in the business of killing."

Right photo: An unidentified man, UU Minister Paul Sawyer of Pasadena, and me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

November 23, 2005

Barbara Cottman Becnel
Neighborhood House of North Richmond

Dear Barbara:

You surely won't read this until sometime after this crucible has been dealt with -- but this morning I woke with a strong feeling that Stan's life will continue and that you will have become what I predicted years ago, the Rosa Parks of the Anti-Death Penalty Movement. I cannot believe otherwise.

Can't imagine the pressure cooker you're living in -- or how you continue to "do the work" of all you've brought into motion over the years. But it's all reaching the predictable apex now, and all of the years and the love and the caring and impossible hard work you've done will culminate in whatever fate has ordained. I truly believe that the governor will grant clemency. You're done your work too well. Stan has functioned at the center of this vortex in extraordinary ways -- to become the most worthy recipient of the world's caring and to bring the end of capital punishment. The two of you have created the irresistible force that will change us all forever.

I will join Paul Sawyer and the others in the vigils between December 8th and whenever the governor reacts to the petition -- hopefully before the 13th. I cannot imagine that -- if he is going to act favorably -- he will allow the tension to build much longer than necessary.

My best to Stan.


Photo: Another of the stained glass windows of the Chapel at Sea Ranch. I used it here because I thought of Barbara and Stanley Tookie Williams and of the tension of these past weeks as I looked at the light shining through -- and hoped ... .

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The gem that is the Chapel at Sea Ranch, Gualala, California ...

The Thanksgiving holiday ended with a 3-day trip to Mendocino with a side trip to visit this magnificent tiny chapel beside Coast Highway 1 just a mile or so south of Gualala. It was created by James Hubbell - a San Diego architect and his son, another artist. It is designed for meditation and personal reflection -- holding no more than two or three people at a time, but probably best experienced alone. It is less like a building than a people-sized walk-in sculpture. Everywhere one looks there is an exquisite work of art for the eye to feast on; beautiful mosaics inset underfoot, stain-glass windows, hand-carved highly-polished small wooden benches, a bench lovingly covered in needlepoint to kneel upon, a wrought-iron chandelier overhead that is stunningly right for the space. It is an amazing experience that brought the kinds of feelings I would expect to have when standing under the ceiling with eyes upcast from the floor of the Sistine Chapel. I can imagine visitors 100 years into the future approaching this beauty with the same reverence. It was constructed in 1985 and is not yet well known, but it will be.

Having been a guest at Odiyan, the Tibetan Nyingma Monastery, years ago, with its cutglass library windows and mosaic temple floors, with its colorful gardens for meditation and fine art everywhere to invite contemplation -- one would wonder if Sonoma and Mendocino counties haven't cornered at least two of the important religious sites in the state. Odiyan is just a bit further south, inland from Marshall near Fort Ross, above the Russian River . Though I've visited a number of the California missions, I can't recall ever feeling the reverence there as I've experienced in either of these contemporary places of worship.

The Sea Ranch Chapel is non-denominational, intended for personal contemplation. Odiyan is Tibetan Buddhist. On the hour-and-a-half drive back to Mendocino I found myself silently wondering why such sites draw me inside so deeply without shaking my atheism? What about such places touch my spiritual places so profoundly? What is the nature of the God within me? Can it simply be my response to great art rather then to religion?

We visited St. Marys Catholic Church at Gualala, another small jewel of an architectural triumph. It, too, brought a feeling of deep reverence. It was Sunday afternoon, and there were no worshippers around. It occurred to me that the next time I'm in Mendocino for a weekend, I want to visit this church. But I know that I want to visit when it's filled with worshippers. I want to see it alive and functioning as intended. I want to sit among believers. And I knew that I needn't be a believer to want that experience. I realized that my spirituality was not dependent upon dogma or a belief system -- that it can be tapped into and brought to the surface with or without a creed to adhere to or a god figure to worship. The beauty of design, a combination of art disciplines, witness to the brilliant creativity of any artist capable of conceiving such wondrous spaces, the roar of the ocean and the vastness of the sky and the towering of the redwoods just outside the doors -- all create for me the wonder that feeds what some would call my soul.

I cannot imagine ever entertaining the idea of marrying again, but if I did ... .

Photo: Exterior view of Sea Ranch Chapel on the left. On the right Is a stained glass window viewed from the interior that faces the carved teak door at the entry. Click on these thumbnails for a full picture of this magical place.