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Don't let California execute a peacemaker

By Alan Maass | December 2, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

THE STRUGGLE to save Stan Tookie Williams is reaching a new turning point.

On November 30, people in as many as 50 towns and cities across the U.S. will gather at meetings, film screenings, pickets and protests as part of a national day of action calling for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to the former gang leader-turned-peacemaker.

SW interview with Stan

Read Phil Gasper's interview with Stan, who spoke by phone from his specially secured "death-watch" cell in San Quentin.

 

Stan is scheduled to die in San Quentin prison's death chamber on December 13 for four 1979 murders that he has always maintained he didn't commit.

Since going to prison, the co-founder of the infamous Crips gang in Los Angeles has rehabilitated himself, writing a series of children's books that warn against crime and prison. Those books--plus his efforts to promote peace agreements between rival street gangs--have earned him a series of Nobel Prize nominations since 2001. Last year, the FX cable channel premiered a movie about Stan's life, starring Jamie Foxx.

What you can do to help save Tookie

-- Set up an information table about Stan's case. Hand out fact sheets and collect signatures on petitions asking Schwarzenegger to grant clemency. Make cell phones available for people to call the governor's office on the spot. Set up a laptop so that people can e-mail the governor right there and then. Schwarzenegger's phone is 916-445-4633, and his e-mail address is [email protected]

-- Hold a press conference with community organizers, campus groups and others involved in the fight for social justice.

-- Organize a rally or picket in your city. Call a campus speakout to "save the peacemaker."

-- Hold a screening of Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story.

-- Organize a teach-in on "The Power of Redemption: The Case of Stan Tookie Williams." Host a former death row prisoner to speak in your city or on your campus.

-- Write a letter or story about Stan's case for local or school newspapers, and contact local radio stations to do a segment on Stan.

-- Organize a spoken word event for Stan, a "Rock for Tookie" concert with local bands to raise funds for Stan's defense, or a mock trial focusing on the injustices of the death penalty.

-- Be creative. Come up with your own ideas to get the word out and build support.

For more information about the Save Tookie campaign or to download petitions and fact sheets, visit the Save Tookie and Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web sites. Be sure to send information about the activities you plan to Save Tookie Web site.

 

This October, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Stan's latest appeal, clearing the way for California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, to seek an execution date. But people from all walks of life--ranging from Hollywood and hip-hop superstars to long-time anti-death penalty and anti-racist activists--have come together in a growing movement asking Schwarzenegger to grant clemency.

That effort took a step forward last week when Schwarzenegger announced that he would hold a clemency hearing with Stan's lawyers--something the governator refused to do in one of the two death penalty cases to cross his desk since taking office. But there are no guarantees--so activists have much more planned to keep up the pressure.

With his growing numbers of supporters around the country, Stan is one of the most famous death row prisoners in the country. But many of the issues in his case are the same as those facing the 3,400 other prisoners on death row around the U.S.

In particular, racism played a central role in Stan's case. His murder trial was moved from Los Angeles to a predominantly white, conservative area, the jury in the case was all white, and the prosecutor, in his closing argument, compared Stan to a Bengal tiger in the zoo. Like almost everyone else on death row, Stan also had inadequate legal representation.

The connection to the wider struggle against the death penalty will be highlighted because the November 30 day of action for Stan coincidentally falls on the same day when abolitionists will mark the expected 1,000th execution since the capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976.

From the exoneration of another death row prisoner last month--the 122nd since 1976--to recent revelations that a victim of the Texas execution machine from a dozen years ago was likely innocent, the evidence of what's wrong with capital punishment continues to pile up. The struggle to save Stan is helping to expose this unjust system--which singles out the poorest and most vulnerable in society for the ultimate punishment.

Standing together at San Quentin
By Jenna Woloshyn

MORE THAN 1,000 people gathered outside San Quentin Prison November 19 to oppose the death penalty and demand that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger grant clemency for Stan Tookie Williams. The title of the rally was "Save the Peacemaker," referring to Stan's books that warn children of the dangers of gangs, and his efforts to promote peace agreements between rival gangs.

Police closed off parking near the prison, so the crowd had to walk half a mile to the San Quentin gates, down a street lined by motorcycle cops.

Nevertheless, the demonstration was far larger than any seen at San Quentin in years, with a multiracial crowd that included community activists, youth groups, socialist and political organizations, and religious groups, including a strong showing from the Nation of Islam.

A recently released song "Real Soon" by hip-hop star Snoop Dogg--recorded to support Stan and also featuring actor Jamie Foxx, who portrayed Williams in the TV movie Redemption--played before the speeches began.

Barbara Becnel, an activist and Stan's advocate, opened the rally by outlining the current situation, and noting that San Quentin officials had shut down visiting for all prisoners. "The biggest loss to the community if Stan is killed will be the loss of lives, the loss of hope," she said.

The rally ended with Snoop Dogg, a former gang member who credits Stan with changing his own life, appearing in a "Save Tookie.org" T-shirt. "Stanley Williams is not just a regular old guy--he's an inspirator," the rapper told the crowd. "He inspires me, and I inspire millions. His voice needs to be heard."

In between, a wide range of speakers made the case for clemency. Cassandra Gonzales of Los Angeles, a former gang member and now a community activist with a college degree, said, "I wouldn't be where I am today without Tookie." Vicky Lindsey, who co-founded Project Cry No More in Los Angeles after her son was killed in gang violence, made a moving explanation about why she supported Stan, despite his former role in the Crips gang in LA.

Tony Muhammad, Western regional minister for the Nation of Islam, pounded out that the United States has its roots in the slaughter of Native Americans. "This government needs clemency from God itself," Muhammad said. "Our president needs clemency--a president who has murdered tens of thousands on foreign soil. He needs to show that he is a redeemed man."

Todd Chretien, speaking for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, urged the demonstrators to get involved. "There is no reason on earth to kill him," he said, "and there is every reason to keep him alive."

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