first published in Mesh Magazine #12, November/December 2005
Stanley “Tookie” Williams, photographer unknown
SPARING THE CRIPS FOUNDER
by Matt Gonzalez
IN 1974 STANLEY “TOOKIE” “WILLIAMS encountered a body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger outside a Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach who complimented him on his physique. At the time Williams’ arms measured 19 inches and they looked good enough to impress the future seven-time Mr. Olympia. Williams took pride in the passing remark Schwarzenegger made – enough so to include it in his memoir written thirty years later, Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir.
Little did Williams know that the man who took note of the size of his arms would one day be the Governor of California and empowered under Article V Section 8 of the State’s Constitution to make a clemency decision about whether to spare Williams from the death penalty.
Tookie Williams is notorious for having founded, along with Raymond Lee Washington, the Crips street gang in Los Angeles in 1971. The Crips grew to be a criminal enterprise that many credit for the exploding violence in urban America over the last four decades.
Williams was sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of Albert Owens, which occurred during a robbery of a 7-Eleven, and for the murders two weeks later of Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and their daughter, Ye Chen Lin, during a motel robbery. The crimes were particularly cruel. Owens was shot twice in the back of the head, execution style, and the Yang family was killed by close range shotgun blasts.
But founding a street gang and being on death row are not the only things for which Williams is known. Increasingly, he is known for his activities since going to prison in 1981. In 1996, after nearly 7 straight years in solitary confinement — spent largely in self-reflection — Williams repudiated the gang life by issuing a public apology and began working to find ways to improve himself. And although he continues to deny any involvement in the 1979 murders that sent him to prison, Williams has acknowledged the devastating consequences that his founding of the Crips has caused for so many others.
Williams has published impressive written works, including nine children’s books written with Barbara Becnel, which address crime, gang issues, and how to build self-esteem. No one has made a credible claim that Williams’ “conversion” is not genuine.
Since he began his efforts, Williams has received over 50,000 e-mails from young people and others, including many law enforcement officials, acknowledging that his writings have saved lives and helped to steer young people away from gang activity. In 2000, Williams was first nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swiss Parliament who recognized his many contributions to ending gang violence. Other nominations for the prize have since followed.
I oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. But even for those who believe that it is justified, redemption must play some role. Executing Tookie Williams today has virtually nothing to do with punishing the Tookie Williams of 1979, even if it were shown that he committed the murders for which he has been sentenced. Would anyone suggest that one man should be killed for the crimes of another? Then what should a society do when that man has so transformed himself that he no longer resembles the one we want to punish?
Williams’ appellate attorneys have raised a number of important issues during his unsuccessful appeals, including one related to the improper conduct of the prosecutor during jury selection. Nine justices on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal thought these issues were important enough that the entire Circuit should sit to hear the case together, in what is know as an en banc hearing. Unfortunately, those judges were outnumbered.
Amazingly, the prosecutor in Williams’ case, Robert Martin, has twice been publicly castigated by the California Supreme Court for using peremptory jury challenges in a racially discriminatory manner in violation of the well-settled doctrine of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Martin’s conduct was so egregious that the second time the California Supreme Court censured him, Justice Stanley Mosk wrote in an opinion concurring with the majority: “Only a few months earlier, this court attempted to teach this same prosecutor that invidious discrimination was unacceptable when we reversed a judgment of death because of similar improper conduct on his part. He failed — or refused — to learn his lesson. The result is another reversal — and another costly burden on the administration of justice.”
In Williams’ case, prosecutor Martin appears to have again engaged in the same discriminatory conduct. He struck all three prospective African-American jurors from the panel without giving any explanation.
Unfortunately, Williams’ trial attorney, inexplicably, failed to object to this apparent racially motivated action. As a result, Williams was convicted and sentenced to death by an all white jury, and the courts have been reluctant to discuss whether William’s attorney’s errors rise to a finding of “ineffective counsel.” Surprisingly, the Federal Courts also concluded Williams failed to make the showing necessary to warrant a further inquiry concerning the elimination of all prospective African-American jurors from the panel. While it is true that the striking of a single black juror alone would not rise to the Batson case level, striking every black juror as in Williams’ case would certainly sound alarms — particularly in a case where the defendant is black and where the prosecutor has a documented history of this brand of improper conduct.
On June 20 and 21, 2005, I participated in public readings from Williams’ memoir. These readings, held in Berkeley and San Francisco with Barbara Becnel, were held to help raise awareness of Williams’ case, prison story, and impending fate. On both occasions I read passages from Williams’ memoir that address racism and his conversion to a law-abiding life. I believe Tookie Williams’s conversion is real – and I encourage others to read his book and hear his words themselves.
Williams is scheduled to be executed on December 13, 2005.
Photo of rapper Snoop Dogg holding a polaroid of himself with Stanley Tookie Williams, December 2005.
once a killer always a killer. he violently killed in cold blood not once but four times!
he deserved to suffer a worse fate than he recieved. and for people to defend him shows me just how stupid people are.
woe to humanity
Argyle, there is no question that the crimes Williams was accused of were cold-blooded. But is it your belief that redemption should play no role in subsequent punishment?
Excerpts from my article:
“Williams was sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of Albert Owens, which occurred during a robbery of a 7-Eleven, and for the murders two weeks later of Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and their daughter, Ye Chen Lin, during a motel robbery. The crimes were particularly cruel. Owens was shot twice in the back of the head, execution style, and the Yang family was killed by close range shotgun blasts.
“I oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. But even for those who believe that it is justified, redemption must play some role. Executing Tookie Williams today has virtually nothing to do with punishing the Tookie Williams of 1979, even if it were shown that he committed the murders for which he has been sentenced. Would anyone suggest that one man should be killed for the crimes of another? Then what should a society do when that man has so transformed himself that he no longer resembles the one we want to punish?”
You’re just another bleeding-heart idiot. If good ole’ tookie was such a transformed stand-up guy, he should have taken his medicine like a man, instead of whimpering like the self-absorbed murderer he was. I had to laugh as I saw all these hollywood types and rappers pleading in last-minute efforts to save the life of this low-life reprobate. Folks like tookie always find redemption in front of the hangman.
Whimpering? I’ve no idea where you come up with this, or what possible relevance it has. Williams was working to undue the violence he took responsibility for by trying to lead young people away from the gang life.
Trying to stop a senseless execution is honorable. & if people urged the governor to consider a stay or grant of clemency, what does it matter to you whether they are famous or not?
Williams didn’t need a “hangman” to find redemption. He had come to terms with his personal faults long before this and I believe was doing everything he could from behind bars to make amends for his earlier life.
Read his book before you pass judgment on him.
a cold hearted murder, consequence plays it’s roll well.
YOU ALL ARE HEARTLESS COLD BASTARD ASS REDNECKS!! THE MAN IS DEAD & HAS BEEN FOR 4 YEARS NOW, HE KNEW HE COULDN’T UNDUE WHAT HE DID IN THE PAST BUT U DIDNT GROW UP IN HIS SHOES EITHER U DIDNT HAVE TO GO THRU WHAT HE WENT THRU OR LIVED IN THE ENV’T WHERE HE WAS RAISED EVEN IF HE WANTED TO BE A GOOD KID HE WOULD BE PULLED IN THE WRONG DIRECTION TO BE THE OPPOSITE UNLESS YOU WERE IN THE SUBURBS WITH THE RICH KIDS!!! NO WE ARE MINORITES AND THIS IS THE LIFE WE SEE EVERYDAY, NOW HE DIDNT DESERVE TO GET A SLAP ON THE WRIST BUT NO ONE DESERVES TO DIE!!& THE MAN TRIED TO SHOW KIDS THAT WERE GONNA HAVE TO FACE THIS THAT YOU HAVE TO BE STRONG AND DEAL WITH THE GANG PRESSURE, HE IMPROVED HIS LIFE & TRIED VERY HARD TO HELP HIS PEOPLE AS WELL AS APOLOGIZE TO THEM!!! HE WAS A KILLER YES HE WAS, BUT HE BECAME A GREAT WRITER & A MOTIVATED SPEAKER AS WELL & U STUPID WORTHLESS PEOPLE WITH NO STRUGGLES NEED TO BACK OFF B/C ALTHOUGH HE DID WRONG MANY OF US LOOK UP TO HIM FOR STEPPIN TO THE PLATE ABOUT WHAT HE DID!!! RIP MR.STANLEY “TOOKIE” WILLIAMS YOU WILL LIVE IN THOSE W/ HEARTS & IN THE SAME STRUGGLE HEARTS FOREVER!!!
-COLLEGE GIRL CHAY
I’ve read up on “Tookie” many times, and read a few of his books. I don’t care who you are, being in prison that long, especially solitary confinement for 7 years, will change you’re mind about wanting to go back out in the world and commit crime. Supposedly he changed, only he knew that. You can kill one person and write 100 kids books on why NOT to kill, and you will still be looked down upon as a killer, a crazy hypocrite, not a positive influence still. He shouldn’t of done the killings to begin with. I don’t believe in the death penalty when I look at it from this point of view, but my family didn’t get brutally murdered either. If I found out someone killed someone in my family, or someone I loved deeply AND I knew who the killer was……don’t think for a second that I would hesitate on killing that person. Eye for an Eye people. I think the man is quite interesting really, he started a HUGE gang that, I’m sorry to say, is pretty successful in their line of business. RIP Tookie, you fucked up, but you will NEVER be forgotten.
R.I.P TOOKIE WILLAIMS
it was stupid why tookie got killed the amount of lives he could of saved. he was a well new and could of change a lot of lives cause evre one in the crips gang respected him.
Im so sick of you people talking about this guys “struggle” chay you have no idea what your saying, do you have any idea the things this man has one to peoples lives? YA you say hes remorseful how do u know his remorse? oh thats right hes only remorseful when the executioner steps up to the plate and asks him if he has any last words. This man is responsible for many deaths by his words and even by his own actions so go fuck yourself if you think u believe his sob story, i bet he would kill your grandmother and have no remorse if he got away with it please people go read your childrens books elsewhere
he was notorious fuk yall rip tookie fuk them slobs
Need I say more?
I believe that just cause he did a wrong he can never give it back but he can and more than likely has and will be saving lives and people from doing the same mistake that he made… I would have to make tookie williams a good guy in my book. R.I.P. Stanley “Tookie” Williams.
i think he was a nobel man even if he did start the crips it shouldnt matter because he is touching people with children and trying to make their lives better. and he is making peoples an childrens lives amazing and im glad to know his story and to tell everybody i know
We cannot change the decisions’ of history. Some may feel thankful and others regretful that they ever occurred. But remembering the achievements, good qualities and attributes about William and refraining from his mistakes is better for us than disputing whether he deserved to die or not.
Satan said to his lord: ‘In your name I will mislead the humans’
And God replied: ‘And in my name, if they turn unto Me, I will keep forgiving them’
Mercy is far superior to revenge. There is a lot more to gain with forgiveness so be merciful.
r.i.p tookie fuck every1 tyhats dissin him i belive tookie was a ledgen cz up
for the amount of people he couldve saved i think it was worth letting him live… you need to look at the over all cause. Even if he was just saying that because of being recommended for the death penalty, people should have let him live his sorry life so that he could inspire the sorry lives of others
I think the bigger issue is why was he even given the chance to transform himself. He was sentenced to death, but instead was able to breathe the air he deprived his victims of for the next 25 years. Hooray, he was transformed. That’s great for him and, possibly, a future generation, but these condemned killers should not be given the chance.
Tookie got exactly what he deserved. He took snuffed out the lives of four innocent people. His life is over b/c of himself and his actions/behavior. Being a gang member high on PCP spells “danger to society” where nobody’s safe walking down the street, in their own homes, or place of business. The four people Tookie killed hadn’t done anything to him or his homeboys. Ni**ers/Ni**as have taken on the identity of the KKK. Only differences is that the KKK weren’t heavily involved w/ drugs. And the KKK had enough sense NOT to hunt, stalk, shot, and kill their own people. The KKK didn’t regard other whites as enemies like ni**ers/ni**as. These s**t-for-brains nit-wits walk around itching to pull out a gun and shot anybody black. Doesn’t matter if they know the person or not. They don’t even think about the consequences. Even the fact that so many black males are behind bars doesn’t phase them one bit. The majority of ni**ers/ni**as who are locked up are supposed to be behind bars. They are/had been a constant threat to society. They refuse to admit or take responsibility for their crimes against innocent people, which includes children. A bullet ain’t got no name on it, they’ll say. Well I say, here’s a jail cell with your name on it. There’s always gonna be ni**ers like Tookie who AFTER the reality sets in begins to think differently about life. Like they have any choice. Having limited excess to FREEDOM enabled him to read a book. Then came the idea of writing books to prevent children from joining gangs. Didn’t he realize how dangerous gangs were BEFORE murdering four people? Hell, he was co-founder of a gang. The fact of the matter is that when he knew the grim reaper was fast approaching his only option was to play the sympathy card. BEFORE his execution, Tookie wants to make a speech. He had so much to say. He even said how dangerous and wrong it is to join gangs. He could’ve said that years ago b/c it was true back then when he started
the Crips with that Washington dude. He was killed a long time ago. I am thrilled when a drug dealer gets killed whether it’s by execution or even a white cop. The less drug dealin gang bangers walking around, the less drive-by shootings, and the safer it will be for children to play outside. Speaking of children, it wasn’t until he was placed behind bars that Tookie began writing books on how children should stay out of gangs. He should/could of wrote those books while he had his freedom. But he didn’t because ignorant niggers think reading means you are corny and trying to be white. Hell, Tookie didn’t even pick up a book and read it until he went to jail. Goes to show he only thought of writing books assuming it would put him good enough graces with the govenor. Tookie thought wrong.
I wanted to celebrate when he was executed. Just like Tookie celebrated after he brutally shot and killed his victims.