Clemency For Tookie

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Williams’ has never strayed from his plea of innocence and has gone so far as to say that even if it would save his life, he would not admit to something that he didn’t do. On the other hand, he has admitted and tried to make amends for his role in creating the Crips gang, something else that quite frankly he have to he didn’t do. For these reasons and more, I support clemency for Williams. My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for the families of all of the victims of senseless gang violence

Two months ago I attended a small and informal meeting at the Lucy Florence Coffee House in Leimert Park to discuss the pending execution Stanley Tookie Williams.

I knew that I didn’t support the death penalty but I wasn’t that motivated to fight for clemency for the co-founder of the Crips gang. To be more specific, I was downright bitter about the whole situation and reminded the group that my feelings represented a segment of our community that was upset over the mayhem of gang violence in our communities.

That was two months ago. Today, I eat, breathe and sleep clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams.  My first introduction to Williams came two years ago via the Pan African Film Festival’s opening night showcase of the film of Williams’ life Redemption starring Academy Award winning actor Jamie Foxx. I have to admit that I didn’t give Williams much thought in the years that passed after the film festival.

After the announcement of his execution date, I decided to revisit the Williams case and my feelings. I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I actually did care whether Williams’ lived or died. I think the tipping point for me was KFI 640’s “Kill Tookie/Tookie Must Die Hour,� so it’s only appropriate that I thank the hosts John and Ken for motivating me to get involved. Thank you.

In researching Williams’ case, I realized that as a reasonably intelligent person, I found real doubt on whether or not Williams’ actually committed these murders. I added my real doubt with the racism and discrimination that was running rampant through the Los Angeles Police Department at that time and California’s criminal justice system and I found myself questioning whether or not Williams’ was actually guilty or the victim of a racist D.A. and criminal justice system. But then there’s the issue of the Crips gang and he did admittedly co-found this street gang. But Williams was not tried and convicted for founding the Crips and I think that’s a hard pill for most Blacks to swallow.

By now everyone is aware of the books that Williams’ has co-authored with Barbara Becnel that have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Williams’ opponents say that all of his work from death row is not a reason to commute his sentence. I disagree.

Look around you. We’re not winning the domestic war against gangs on our own. It would seem to me that the man who is credited with starting this madness would be able to offer us a way out and it looks like we may be getting ready to kill him. And let’s be crystal clear.

Williams’ is under no obligation to assist us in the war on gangs. If he wanted to sit on death row and twiddle his thumbs until 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, December 13 he would be perfectly within his rights. But he isn’t just sitting there.

Williams’ has never strayed from his plea of innocence and has gone so far as to say that even if it would save his life, he would not admit to something that he didn’t do. On the other hand, he has admitted and tried to make amends for his role in creating the Crips gang, something else that quite frankly he have to he didn’t do. For these reasons and more, I support clemency for Williams. My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for the families of all of the victims of senseless gang violence. My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I know Williams is innocent. I don’t know, none of us know for sure. But I do have doubt. My supporting clemency doesn’t mean that I have overlooked Williams’ role in co-founding the Crips, I haven’t. But my supporting clemency does mean that I recognize redemption when I see it and I see it in Williams.

It means that I know that civilized societies, like Americans believe that they belong to, don’t commit murder to justify murder. It means that I recognize that we are not winning the war on gangs and that Williams is making tangible efforts to assist us in that war when he doesn’t have to. It means that a community who is forever hollering “Lord have mercy� should be able to show some of that mercy. It means that I remember that lynching, racism, and discrimination were once a part of America’s moral fabric like the death penalty is today.

It means that I understand today, that Williams represents everything wrong with the death penalty and that killing him will not bring back any of the people that are already dead. I do not know if California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to grant clemency to Williams. I do know that if Williams is executed on December 13, I will probably stay in bed all day and cry.

I’ll cry for Williams and I will cry for us for we are not a civilized society if we insist upon justifying murder with murder.  The author, Jasmyne A. Cannick, was chosen by ESSENCE Magazine as one of 25 Women Shaping the World. At 28, Cannick is a social and political commentator and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She can be reached via her website at
www.jasmynecannick.com.

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