Friday, December 16, 2005

This is the Stanley Tookie Williams whom I met and mourn ...

The Apology

Twenty-five years ago when I created the Crips youth gang with Raymond Lee Washington in South Central Los Angeles, I never imagined Crips membership would one day spread throughout California, would spread to much of the rest of the nation and to cities in South Africa, where Crips copycat gangs have formed. I also didn't expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men. Raymond was murdered in 1979. But if he were here, I believe he would be as troubled as I am by the Crips legacy.

So today I apologize to you all -- the children of America and South Africa -- who must cope every day with dangerous street gangs. I no longer participate in the so-called gangster lifestyle, and I deeply regret that I ever did.

As a contribution to the struggle to end child-on-child brutality and black-on-black brutality, I have written the Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence children's book series. My goal is to reach as many young minds as possible to warn you about the perils of a gang lifestyle.

I am no longer "dys-educated" (disease educated). I am no longer part of the problem. Thanks to the Almighty, I am no longer sleepwalking through life.

I pray that one day my apology will be accepted. I also pray that your suffering, caused by gang violence, will soon come to an end as more gang members wake up and stop hurting themselves and others.

I vow to spend the rest of my life working toward solutions.

Amani (Peace),

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, Surviving Crips Co-Founder,
April 13, 1997

Note the date on this letter. It was written after a seven year period in solitary confinement, a period during which he educated himself in the silence and isolation of that experience and found personal redemption.

There is some need to recall the context in which the Crips were formed. Investigative reporter, Gary Webb, of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a sensational series on the deliberate flooding of the East L.A. and Compton -- as well as other innercity areas with cocaine that provided funds with which to finance the Contras in the not-so-secret wars in South and Central America. The Reagan administration's cabal with the players Ashcroft, North, Negroponte, Rumsfeld, et al, brought together the forces that co-created the Crips and the Bloods. A fact conveniently forgotten in subsequent recollections of the period.

Though most of the revelations brought forth in those dramatic pieces proved out, Webb was demonized, lost his position at the newspaper, and eventually 'committed suicide.' All of this runs hard and deep and has been and will continue to be largely ignored in the writing of the history of the times.

Read Tookie's apology again, and decide for yourself whether this was a man who would have submitted to the pressure to proclaim remorse for crimes that he did not commit -- even to influence the decision for clemency.

When I have the emotional stability to relate my first conversation with Barbara Becnel (yesterday) post- execution -- will do so. For the moment the feelings are simply too raw ... maybe tomorrow. It may be enough to say that the fight goes on; that she will clear his name; and that I won't accept her invitation to attend the huge memorial service being held in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Instead, I will continue to quietly work toward the goal of achieving the moratorium -- will join Paul Sawyer at the prison gates when he returns on January 10th to protest the next scheduled executions. I strongly suspect that there will be no more state killings, though 5 are scheduled over the next several months. A number of the bills now making their way through the legislative process will halt them all until we've had a closer look. Fewer of us now have the heart for this, I strongly believe, and that fact will continue to show up in the polls.

I will do this in his name.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I firmly believe that the state of California, in the name of us all, last night executed an innocent man ... .

My friend and Stanley Tookie Williams's stalwart supporter, Barbara Cottman Becnel, has vowed to spend the rest of her life proving his innocence. She was one of the five who witnessed his death by lethal injection. The process took 22 minutes. That, she will accomplish with the help of others who shared her (our) conviction of both his innocence and his redemption.

Yesterday, on his day of execution, after a long day of meetings connected with work, I was just about to leave for home -- heading for the elevator -- when a colleague followed us out to announce that, on a break, he'd learned from a radio report that the governor had ruled against clemency -- in a six-page letter. I was shocked and distraught -- and angry. Walked with another co-worker to the parking lot in silence, climbed into my car, and headed into the commute traffic of congested I-880.

I had another meeting scheduled at 5:30 to deliver a talk to the Main Street Initiative gathering, and had intended to drive over to San Quentin to join with others in awaiting the midnight execution despite my earlier misgivings. But, after detaching from the pain of the awful news for the drive back to Richmond -- holding it all in suspension through my talk before a group of community members -- my car headed for home with me at the wheel, passively, and made no attempt to enter the Richmond Parkway or head for the prison. I felt like an automaton -- alive but just barely.

Tried to reach Barbara on her cell, but got a message that her service was completely filled. I had no idea what I'd have said to her even if I'd gotten through ... surely she was devastated. She'd devoted the last ten years to saving this man and pressing for a moratorium on the death penalty -- and now it was over. The only chance left was the last minute appeal to the Supreme Court. News of that denial came within an hour after I reached home.

At around nine the telephone rang sharply through my empty apartment (couldn't bear to listen to radio or watch television) and there was my friend and vigil partner from the past week, Rev. Paul Sawyer, calling from Cambridge. It was only then that the tears came.

I told him that I was feeling guilty for not being with the thousands of others gathered at the gates, or, at least mentally standing with Barbara in the death chamber, but that I couldn't bear it! I only wanted the night to be over and some sanity to return. He was comforting, "...of course you couldn't. You've done enough. Truly. But we've only begun, Betty. I'll be back on January 10th to begin the next protest against the death penalty."

After a period of quiescence, with only 11 executions since the restoration of capital punishment in this state, three are scheduled over the next 2-and-a-half months. The Leno Assembly bill will be heard in January. How could this be? Wouldn't simple compassion suggest that these next two state-sponsored deaths be held off until the bill was heard? Should not the governor have been guided by that as well?

I will join Paul at the gates for the next -- then the next -- and for however many state killings it takes before a moratorium is granted and sanity returns. He will never know how much his call meant to me in those hours.

Why was I feeling such fear combined with the sorrow -- as though my world had suddenly become even more hostile than I'd sensed even yesterday? Suddenly this execution became an extension of all of the death and destruction in the world, and the governor an extension of those associated -- rightly or wrongly -- with natural disasters, and mad-made cruelties from Abu Graib and Guantanomo; to Iraq and Darfur. My world had become a terrifying place.

Stanley Tookie Williams will be exonerated posthumously. I'm certain of it.

May he rest in peace. By all reports, he left this life bravely and with forgiveness for those who failed to hear his pleas ... .


Photo: Stanley Tookie Williams shown here in a photo that displays the post-transformation man of peace. The pictures used so widely in the media -- of the monstrous muscle-builder -- pictures were so fierce and fear-producing appeared to be deliberately distributed in order to support justification for his execution.

Monday, December 12, 2005

There are no words ...

only the pain of inexpressible sorrow.

Maybe tomorrow... .

Photo: Signs posted in the area where we gathered in protest to the execution of this innocent man. Barbara Barker is seen in the left picture - on Friday evening. She was packed for moving on, leaving others to man the barricades until the end. I've wondered about her ... in the hours after Stanley met his death, and whether she was alone when the news came ... .

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Trying terribly hard to not think about the governor's decision ...

and writing about those feelings only increases the tension. Such thoughts when combined with the emphasis on death these past days (the three Reid sisters, Richard Pryor, Eugene McCarthy, the anniversary of John Lennon's, etc.) bear heavily on my sense of vulnerability. But I'm sure that I'm not alone with such feelings, and that the weight of these days will transition into the holiday spirit at some point over the next few days -- unless the decision is the one dreaded... .

It's so hard to understand why -- when so little is being done to alter the downward spiral of so many lives of young black men in the innercities; when the conditions that created the monster whom even Stanley Tookie Williams denounces (his former self) continue to go unaddressed and unabated and cloning murderer-producing internalized self-hatred reflected from an admittedly racist society ... . not sure how to finish this sentence, or, even to unravel it in order to make more sense ... . These days are filled with incomplete sentences and limited understandings ... .

Maybe what I want to say is that this man who rose from the absolute bowels of rejection and dispair in the bleak aloneness of solitary confinement -- rehabilitating himself in the process-- if he can be allowed to continue his life and his work to help to save other lives -- maybe ... .

My mind is disorganized this morning. The words won't come. Won't organize themselves into coherence ...

Yesterday I attended the annual Sharing the Spirit event at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. It lifted my spirits for a few hours. Last night I dressed in my finest to join others at the annual Senior Ball held in the beautifully-decorated downtown Convention Center. Yet I was home and in my pajamas, in bed with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a (Kaiser Permanente) cup of hot cocoa by nine. Listened to my bedside radio for hours when sleep wouldn't come ...

It's mid-morning now, and I'm off to attend a chamber music concert with Tom this afternoon. That will eat up more hours. We'll have dinner someplace interesting, shrinking the waiting time by a few more.

If it's not too late, I may drive over to the prison tonight for a visit with those who continue to hold the vigil, but without Rev. Paul Sawyer and peace activist Barbara Barker -- it will be different. With the time drawing near, the tension will be almost unbearable. Been here before to protest the death penalty when I didn't feel any particular connection with the prisoner about to be executed. This is so different from those times. So intense ... .

But, however it goes, I will meet Paul and the others back at the prison gates on February 12th when the next man is scheduled to die. He is a diabetic confined to a wheelchair and is also a person of color, though not African American. The following execution is that of a Latino man, scheduled for some time in March. It feels somehow that it should be unimportant to mention race in connection with these pendings state deaths, but with such a large percentage of those on Death Row being from the poor and the non-white population, it's unavoidable -- a part of the sad story.

Tomorrow I will write again. The decision may have come in and this awful teeth-grinding worrisome pain of waiting will have ended.

Still holding that strong sense that this life will be spared and that the decision for a moratorium will be enacted come the January session of the legislature.

I do have this formidable sense of intuition that has served my life so well ...

It will be so.

Photo: Lovely crystal clock, a gift from my co-workers. It bears the inscription taken from a painting on my bedroom wall, "Against the ruin of the world there is only one defense, the creative act!" The painting is by Clarise Bois and often followed me to hang in my offices here and there. It's back home now and hangs behind my bed.