California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a closed meeting Thursday in which those representing the movement to give Stanley “Tookie” Williams clemency were listened to, along with representatives of California law enforcement who want Williams to meet his end Dec. 13 by lethal injection, which he was sentenced to after being found guilty of murdering four people in 1979.
The Williams case is interesting because it is the latest example of how far afield the civil rights establishment has gone since the glory days of the real civil rights movement, which we were recently reminded of in the various celebrations of Rosa Parks upon her death.
Williams has the dubious honor of being one of the founders of the Crips, perhaps the most vicious street gang to emerge in the last 25 years, beginning in Los Angeles and going on to become a national menace. But Williams is being held up as an example of redemption because he has “turned his life around,” which is not hard to do behind bars, and because he has written some children’s books that speak out against gangs and gang violence. He also has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times. By the way, almost anyone can nominate a person. A nomination does not prove universal acknowledgment of importance.
What does all of this mean? Little. Since Huey Newton, there have been liberals and radicals who believe that they should come to the defense of murderers because they claim to have a good cause. The late Hugh Pearson’s classic study The Shadow of the Panther reveals how much of a murderous loon Newton was, and also reveals how easy it was for this dangerous man to pimp what were the either naive or good intentions of those at understandable war with racism, poverty, and excessive police force.
When we see the NAACP, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, and that paragon of public morality, Snoop Dogg, calling for Williams to receive clemency, one is sure that none of those people read Pearson, or, if they did, learned nothing from those pages. This is primarily because the death penalty and race have become so interwoven that some assume that if a black man is on Death Row, it has something to do with bias and an unrepresentative jury pool. That is why one of the men crying for Williams to get clemency cites the fact that he was tried by an all-white jury, none of whom were his peers.
Does that mean that Williams should have had a jury of ruthless gang leaders in order for him to have been tried by his peers? Williams, like all criminals, is a lawbreaker first and has an ethnic identity second, but in the manipulation of public sentiment, ethnicity comes first whenever one of these men is put on trial. This is the big con.
The hard fact is that since 1980, street gangs have killed 10,000 people in Los Angeles, which is three times the number of black people lynched throughout the United States between 1877 and 1900, the highest tide of racial murder in the history of the nation. The actor and writer Joseph C. Phillips discovered on the Internet that the highest-selling children’s book written by Williams has sold 330 copies, which means that hardly anyone is reading him, including his two sons, one of whom Phillips reports is in San Quentin, and the other is up on charges of aggravated rape.
Williams uses God’s name when he speaks of his redemption and of how he and the NAACP are going to work together to fight gang membership and gang activity if he receives clemency. Many convicted murderers have been brought to the light as they stand in the shadow of death.
At the same time, our commitment to redemption is fundamental to our civilization, and should be. In the last 200 years we have made great strides that would not been possible if the pollution of bigotry were passed on from generation to generation. But in the years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, we have seen the same games run on the black community and its supporters by political hustlers who almost never met a criminal who was not the real victim of society, and therefore, should be forgiven all crimes. Look to the bright side. Give the brother a break.
I wouldn’t touch that kind of thinking with a garbage man’s glove. But since the anniversary of Colin Ferguson’s rampage on the Long Island commuter train just passed, he should come out of his mental fog and start writing children’s books. Who knows? Hope springs eternal. Ferguson might join Williams in a nomination for the Nobel Prize and watch the chumps line up in support of clemency for his bloody acts.
Stanley Crouch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist. This column appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers on December 9, 2005. Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed by the State of California on December 13, 2005.