Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
I would have risked my life for them, but I lacked the humanity to mourn
their deaths — even as I recognized that death would one day visit us all.
—Stanley “Tookie” Williams, talking about fallen Crips gang members
in his autobiography, Blue Rage, Black Redemption
In what appear to be the last days of his turbulent life, with death set
to visit him December 13 in San Quentin Prison, Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the
musclebound founder of the West Side Crips, is hoping that another former bodybuilder
will have the humanity he once lacked.
On December 8, five days before he is set to be lethally injected, Williams’
attorneys will meet with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the only
person who can spare him.
Schwarzenegger is said to be agonizing over the decision to spare or spare not,
though his press secretary, Margita Thompson, said the governor’s decision to
meet with the attorneys does not mean that he is leaning toward granting clemency.
Williams’ supporters, of whom there are many, and his lawyers are hoping it
“I think Governor Schwarzenegger believes in rehabilitation, and we believe
he is going to review that matter very closely,” said Jonathan Harris, a New
York City attorney working on behalf of Williams. “The argument for Stanley
is the good work he has done since 1993.”
Harris was referring to the children’s books, which preach against gang violence,
that Williams has written while on death row.
Williams, 51, was convicted of the killing of Albert Owens, during a robbery
at a 7-Eleven store, and of motel owners Yen-I Yang and Tsai-Shai Chen Yang
and their daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, at the Brookhaven Motel in South-Central
Los Angeles, on February 27, 1979.
Williams has never admitted to the shotgun killings, saying he would not express
sorrow for a crime he did not commit, even if it was to save his life.
Several gang members in Los Angeles, some known for statements of braggadocio,
said they are going to riot if the scheduled execution takes place.
“Took die, the city fry,” said Raymond “The Hatchet Man” Locket, a member of
the West Side Harlem Crips, who says he knew Tookie back in the day. “That’s
the word on the streets.”
Several other gang members, who would not give their names, concurred with Locket’s
Williams and his lawyers, however, are not basing their hope for clemency on
the threat but rather on Tookie’s redemption, which was the subject of a cable-television
movie starring Jamie Foxx. The attorneys and others say the strongest argument
against Williams’ death comes not from gang members but from the children who
say Tookie’s books have helped them stay out of gangs.
Williams’ children’s books imploring against the dangers of joining a street
gang earned him a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
“Based on his apparent rehabilitation and insights into the gang problem after
his years on the streets and then on death row, Williams has something positive
to offer criminology and society,” said Lewis Yablonsky, emeritus professor
of criminology at Cal State Northridge.
Part of the ammo that Williams’ lawyers will bring into the meeting with the
governor is 167 pages of e-mails that have been sent to the imprisoned West
Side Crips founder.
Among them is one from a former Rollin’ 60’s Crips that states, “You changed
me. You know about the gang life just too deep to make the strongest man cry.”
Another one reads, “My name is Genesis and I am 13 years old. I have read up
on you for about 2-3 years and I have to say that because of you I have tried
to stay away from gangs and violence. Because of your books and your action
my life has changed.”
Perhaps never before has there been such a movement to stop an execution in
Last week at San Quentin, more than 1,000 people gathered to protest
against Williams’ scheduled execution. The crowd was racially mixed and united
in its belief that Tookie’s good works should be rewarded with a stay of execution.
“He’s done some shit. Let’s face it,” said Gerald Miller, 49, who served 12
years in Folsom, San Quentin and Soledad for drug offenses. The Harlem-raised
Miller, who now works at a nonprofit San Francisco organization devoted to keeping
youth out of gangs, believes Williams has won the right to clemency. “There’s
some guys in San Quentin who should jump into the chamber, but Stanley Williams
has helped a lot of people. Lot of young people, and I don’t think the state
has the right to kill him. Whatever he was then, he is now a benefit to society.”
Another man, who grew up in the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, agreed
“If he can be a greater good to the country being alive, it’s hard to say kill
him,” said Dewayne “Snipe” Holmes, who was instrumental in the Watts housing-project
gang peace treaty. “I understand it’s hard to say to the families of the victims
of his alleged crimes, but maybe you can save his life and still give them respect.”
Protests were staged Wednesday in 12 cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco,
West Hollywood, Berkeley, San Jose and San Diego. The event, organized by the
ACLU, the Save Tookie Committee, the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, Death
Penalty Focus and other groups, attracted thousands of people.
Lora Owens, the stepmother of one of the victims, Albert Owens, has said she
is in favor of the execution because Williams has never admitted responsibility
or regret for the killings. “To be redeemed means to accept responsibility or
assume it personally and not use it as a means of getting out of just punishment,”
said Owens. “He chose to be judge, jury and executioner in a matter of seconds,
and yet it has taken years for him to come to justice.”
Williams is often referred to as the co-founder of the Crips, the notorious
street gang that has spread throughout the United States and even into other
In the early 1970s, Raymond Washington founded a street gang on the black Eastside
of Los Angeles, which is generally considered to be the neighborhoods east of
the Harbor Freeway. Washington, having heard of the powerfully built Williams
on the west side of the freeway, approached him to unite in a movement that,
legend has it, would rid the area of hoodlums. Washington and Williams were
a powerful force, and many young men and boys joined the group known as the
Crips. Eventually the idealistic plans of keeping peace in the hood morphed
into a criminal element never seen before in Los Angeles.
Washington was killed in 1979. By the time Williams was sent to San Quentin
in 1981, the once Eastside and Westside Crips had evolved into hundreds of smaller
but deadly gangs, such as the Rollin’ 60’s Crips, Grape Street Crips, East Coast
Crips, Hoover Crips and Eight Trey Gangster Crips, who often killed each other.
In his book, Williams writes, “I believe the core of it is
an embedded sense of self-hate. What I mean by that is, an individual who has
been spoon-fed so many derogatory images of his race will, after a period of
time, start to believe those images. The images I’m talking about are stereotypes
that depict the majority of blacks as being buffoons, functional illiterates,
violent and promiscuous, welfare recipients, indolent criminals. Unfortunately,
too many black people have been brainwashed into believing these stereotypes
. . . So you end up lashing out at the individuals [gang members] that you consider
to be part of those stereotypes. In desperation, you’re trying to obliterate
that negative image to rid yourself of this self-hate monster that subconsciously
We will see soon if Governor Schwarzenegger will approve the obliteration of
the negative image of Stanley Williams.