Monday, December 12

Judgement Day for Stanley "Tookie" Williams

  Today is Judgement Day for Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the deadly L.A. Crips gang and death-row inmate whose case has become an international cause celebre.

I first became aware of Williams and his case through the FX biopic "Redemption" starring Jamie Foxx, even though ironically I had been living and working in the middle of his story for the past year and half in South Central L.A. The mom-n-pop Silkscreen company I've been doing graphics for has two locations, one is across the street from the Park that Williams along with Raymond Washington originally gathered and formed the Crips. Our other location is almost directly across the street from the motel where Prosecutors claim Williams shot three people to death.

Because of this proximity to key locations in the case, I was even included and interviewed in a peice on Williams by the Sacramento Bee:

Convicted and sent to San Quentin's death row in 1981, Williams remained a menace until he found transformation during six years of isolation.

Coming out of solitary confinement in 1994, he wrote nine books telling kids of the evils of gang life. They earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2001 by a member of the Swiss Parliament. He's been nominated every year since, by an assortment of anti-death penalty advocates.

Along with the books, Williams also has participated by phone in anti-violence mentoring programs. He has helped broker gang truces in Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., and received a "Presidential Call to Service Award" from President Bush this year to commemorate his 4,000-plus hours of community service. Williams also has written an autobiography and was the subject of a TV movie in which he was played by Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx.

"He's had an impact on thousands of teachers, parents and youth," Fleming said. "These are kids who don't have an opportunity, and he's telling them they have to fight through it. That is exactly the message that has to be sent. Clemency says we agree with that message. Killing him says we don't."

But police and prosecutors say any discussion about Williams must begin and end with the events of Feb. 28 and March 11, 1979.

On the first date, Williams shot and killed store clerk Albert Lewis Owens, 26, during the robbery of a 7-Eleven in Pico Rivera.

Less than two weeks later, he murdered Tsai-Shai Yang, 63, her husband, Yen-I Yang, 76, and their daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, 43, in a robbery of their motel in South Los Angeles.

"He killed four people - that's the bottom line," said Wes McBride, a retired Los Angeles sheriff's sergeant who is now the president of the California Gang Investigators Association. "You can't write a couple of books and think that forgives you for being a murderer."

Williams, who claims he is innocent of the four killings, also has refused to "debrief" in prison, or tell authorities what he knows about gang activity inside the institutions or anything he might have been involved with on the outside, said San Quentin spokesman Vernell Crittendon.

"He said, 'A man doesn't rat, and I'm not going to rat,' " Crittendon said. "I asked him point-blank, and that's what he said back to me."

Still, about 1,000 people showed up outside the main gate at San Quentin on Saturday to hear about a dozen speakers, including rapper Snoop Dogg, express support for Williams.

Conversations with 11 residents of South Los Angeles last week turned up a fairly split view on Williams and his clemency petition. Everyone interviewed by The Bee knew of the Williams case, through recent news stories in the newspapers and on television, and of him personally, by reputation and street legend.

"Everybody's heard of Tookie, pretty much," said Dale Franklin, 36, an unemployed Los Angeles man who was interviewed at Jesse Owens Park in Southwest Los Angeles, where Williams and another young gang member named Raymond Washington - since murdered - founded the Crips in 1971.

Hundreds of localized "sets" copied the original gang founded by Washington and Williams, and scores more rival groups calling themselves the Bloods organized to fight them. Gunfire and violence and literally thousands of murders have since laid waste to many neighborhoods in South Los Angeles.

Jimmy "Jam" Ewing, who owns a T-shirt shop across Vermont Avenue from the motel where Williams killed the owners, said the gang wars "destroyed our neighborhood" and "took all the fun out of L.A." Ewing said economic and social conditions played a huge role in fanning the gang lifestyle in the city's African American community. But none of that should let Williams off the hook, Ewing said.

"If he did it, he's got to go," said Ewing, 55. "If that's the life they choose, they've got to pay the price. Hey, I'm O.G. (an original gangster) myself. But I never pulled the trigger. You can't pull the trigger and not pay the price."

Frank Vyan Walton, 42, who works in Ewing's T-shirt shop, disagreed with his boss on the subject of Williams' sentence.

"I'm anti-death penalty on principle," Walton said. "Specifically about Tookie ... for better or worse, for the wrong things he's done and the right, all the little gang bangers around here look up to him."

To eloborate - I feel the way may of "Tookie's" support do on this issue, that although he may have done wrong in the past - it's clear that he's worked hard to correct that mistake and has made some headway. If anyone can truly discredit the rationale for the gang-lifestyle and help permenently stop the violence - "Tookie" can.

People like me, can't. I may have been born and raised in South Central, but I was never a "banger" - I was frankly far too much of a nerd and egg-head. All the kids called me "The Professor" when I was growing up, none of the rough-boys would have anything to do with me and I had nothing to do with them, the feeling was mutual. I didn't have their respect, but Tookie does.

More than 20 years after I originally moved out while working for a Defense Contractor, first to Gardena, then LA Habra, Tarzana, Glendale and eventually to Sacramento where I became a software consultant for various state agencies such as CalTrans and the Dept of Consumer Affairs -- I find myself back again, and not entirely voluantarily. Starting over from the beginning - and right in the middle of this "Tookie" situation.

Although I've always been anti-gang, I support Tookie cause for one primary reason - he's a greater asset to society alive, rather than dead.

Beyond the issue of whether Tookie has genuinely reformed, I'm anti-death penalty for many reasons. It doesn't serve the cause of justice, only retribution , it's irreversable, and our justice system is far too imperfect to avoid the wrongful execution of an innocent person.

Just last month it was revealed that a Texas teenager who had been executed almost a decade ago - was innocent of the crime he was convicted of.

After years of official reassurances that Texas' capital punishment system is, well, infallible (including more than one such condescending assurance from former Gov. George W. Bush), new evidence in an old death case suggests that the state has executed at least one innocent man.

An investigation by the Houston Chronicle suggests that Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993, may in fact have been innocent. Cantu, who at 17 was sentenced to die for a 1984 robbery and shooting murder in San Antonio, steadfastly maintained his innocence in the slaying of Pedro Gomez, but was convicted based on the testimony of an alleged accomplice, then 15-year-old David Garza, and on the eyewitness testimony of Juan Moreno, who was with Gomez the night he was killed and barely survived the shooting. Moreno now says he was pressured by police to identify Cantu as the shooter, and Garza says it was another local teen with him the night of the killing, not Cantu. According to the Houston daily, Garza pled guilty to robbery in exchange for the state dropping a murder charge, but says he never told police that Cantu was his accomplice. Amazingly, Garza was never compelled to testify at Cantu's trial. The daily also reports that a third witness, Eloy Gonzales, who, like Garza, never testified at Cantu's trial, says that he and his brothers were actually with Cantu in Waco on the day of the Gomez murder.

Over the past 30 years since the Death Penalty was re-instated, forensic and DNA evidence have shown via the Innocence Project that 164 People (so far) who had been sentenced to die were, like David Garza, innocent of the crime they were accused.

Those against Tookie argue that the evidence against him is "overwhelming". Well, I'm certain that was said about Garza and the other 164 innocent persons. (In many of these cases, there was prosecutorial misconduct and coerced witness statements which led to conviction) They argue that Williams has "failed to admit his crime and repent" - (which has fervently done for his involvement with the Crips) but why should he do that in the case of these murders if he didn't do the crime? Does our system of justice require that people LIE in order to stay alive?

In addition, just yesterday new evidence that Tookie's own conviction isn't as solid as many have claimed has appeared.

With the deadline fast approaching, Williams' supporters said Sunday that they had found new evidence that might help exonerate him, which they had passed on to Schwarzenegger. The evidence reportedly came from a former Los Angeles county jail inmate who says he can back up Williams' allegation that he was framed by police working with a jailhouse informant. The inmate reportedly said he saw officers deliver police reports about Williams' case to George Oglesby, an inmate who later testified against the gang leader. The informant said he didn't come forward until now because he didn't know until last week that Oglesby had testified in Williams' trial.

Still, innocence isn't the ultimate answer to the death penalty. Those who hold a principled position against state sponsored murder have to do so even if it looks like the perpetrator is guilty. Murder is a crime, whether it's is commited by an individual - or the state. "Innocence" can not be used as a rationalization or excuse, because that is exactly how some extreme anti-abortionists manage to navigate the waters of protecting unborn life by attacking and bombing medical clinics. It's a schizophrenic position, those who oppose capital punishment should avoid it.

Schwarzenegger is scheduled to release his decision on clemency today at 3pm. Some are afraid that a negative decision will ignite a firestorm of protest in LA -- and many doubt that a Republican Governor (which his polls in the toilet) would be likely to commit political suicide. No California Governor has granted clemency to a prisoner since Ronald Reagan in 1967. But you never know, some people I've met have claimed that Tookie and the Gubernator used to work-out together on Venice beach. Be that as it may, I have my doubts that Arnold will do the right thing - or that any King-styled riots will erupt.

We should all know the answers fairly soon. For all the reasons I've stated I'm hoping for clemency, but expecting the worst.


No comments: