Reflections: Tookie’s Execution

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Along with all of these negative influences, when a troubled Brother felt like a punk, loser or out of control of his ego, life and safety, he might react by violently attacking another Brother. This was the prototypical equivalent of violently attacking himself. This might be done on an individual basis, or in a make-shift group of like-minded, like experienced, co-confused, manipulated males, often called gangs. He desperately desired a context in which he could earn the defectively sadistic but valued social capitol of supreme manhood, some one others feared. It was important to his ruined ego that he put the fear inside of another Black male that the police, Daddylessness, low-self-concept, terror and confusion had put into him!

Inspired by what I observed as a child raised in Watts—Imperial Court Projects—and in Compton, California, I created the AmASSI Health & Cultural Center in South Los Angeles. Then, like now there were few outlets available that were positive, affirming or inspirational to young Black males. Countless times during my youth, I witnessed Black baby boys grow up from being someone’s child to becoming a gang member.

I have first cousins who died in and at the hands of gangs. In my own family I watched adorable, often Daddy-less, directionless, young males inherit the legacy of being bewildered, not trusted, and guilty-until-proven-guilty. Overtime, many became disoriented—receiving no meaningful direction, frustrated and scared. They would join a gang for a sense of belonging and comradery.

I too was often approached to join a gang. Many of us, even if not in a gang, if we hung out in a group too far from the periphery of our front yard we could be accused of being a gang—it happened numerous times. On the streets where we lived, we could get beaten, which happened to me too, or even killed by white, and wish-they-were-white Black police officers. Everybody knew about this. Yet, few in the community said anything about it. Hardly anyone made it clear that we were valuable enough to be protected. We all were very afraid!

I saw boys raised in this terror-filled atmosphere, their trauma typically cloaked by exaggerated, dysfunctional, bullying versions of “manhood� which is the cornerstone of gang behavior. Some, before being seduced into a gang and even afterwards, still tried to find meaning in their lives. But, this was a challenge in a community full of people who were scared to be Black and powerful, where the Brother on the corner drunk was a “that might be me one day� paranoid fantasy, where lots of folks were caught up in jack-leg churches, full of parishioners who cruelly promised love, but primarily offered judgment and exploitation.

Along with all of these negative influences, when a troubled Brother felt like a punk, loser or out of control of his ego, life and safety, he might react by violently attacking another Brother. This was the prototypical equivalent of violently attacking himself. This might be done on an individual basis, or in a make-shift group of like-minded, like experienced, co-confused, manipulated males, often called gangs. He desperately desired a context in which he could earn the defectively sadistic but valued social capitol of supreme manhood, some one others feared. It was important to his ruined ego that he put the fear inside of another Black male that the police, Daddylessness, low-self-concept, terror and confusion had put into him! That he could be killed too was a possible fringe benefit, a means of the ultimate escape—death that would be blamed on somebody else. Because only a punk would take themselves out.

For numerous young, working or welfare class, or dysfunctional family ridden young Black males, being in a gang seemed better than just being a "nigga" (not my word); the son of a mother who’s mad at the absent father (which could bring emotional and physical abuse); or the actual, potential or completely powerless victim of police brutality and criminality. This occurred in a climate where low expectations of Black males could be made demonstratively clear (You ain’t shit, and ain’t ever going to be shit. Like yo daddy!). And being nappy headed could get you even more dehumanized. Tookie's hair was his insecure Black male armor, against just being “a nappy-headed nigga." A tradition kept up by Snoop Doggy Dogg and others! The do-rag under a cap, worn by numerous physically and mentally young Brothers also results from this custom.

This is what and where Stanley "Tookie" Williams came from. In prison he was focused and secluded enough to become a thoughtful man. Tookie tried actively to repent for leading many of his peers into gang-life. He committed his remaining years to reversing the impact of those circumstances that lead him to death row. Yet, despite his having the unique capacity and willingness to discourage gang activity, with the support of historical world citizens, he was killed in the name of the law, at the consent of “The Terminator� Arnold Schwarzenegger. As he wished, his ashes will be spread on the African continent.

Black Folks, in particular, who condone Tookie's execution need help!

The author is a cultural anthropologist, public health professional, noted essayist, speaker and CEO and Founder of the AmASSI Community Health & Cultural Centers. Through a Black male suicide prevention project conducted at the AmASSI Center, several actual and potential gang members were successfully guided toward ending their interest of involvement in gangs. Manago was a featured speaker at the 2005 Millions More Movement March, a widely published writer, and has worked in community mental health and as a Black Human Rights and Improvement activist for over 25 years. Also visit www.amassi.com

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