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The people's clemency hearing
Why Tookie deserves to live

December 9, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

Crystal Bybee | Kevin Tate | Minister Tony Muhammad | Vicky Lindsey | Phil Gasper | Cassandra Gonzalez | Darby Tillis | Marlene Martin

THE WHOLE world is watching as California death row prisoner Stan Tookie Williams and his supporters make their appeal to stop his execution.

Unless California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commutes his sentence or stays the execution--or the courts step in at the last moment--this former gang leader-turned-peacemaker will be killed in San Quentin's death chamber just past midnight on December 13.

But growing numbers of people are determined to stop California's execution machine from being switched on.

The international media have focused on Stan's case because of the array of celebrities speaking out for him--including actor Jamie Foxx, who portrayed Stan in this year's FX cable channel movie Redemption; hip hop star Snoop Dogg, himself a former gang member; actor and social justice activist Danny Glover; and more.

Working at the grassroots are hundreds of people across California and around the country--community activists in Los Angeles; the Bay Area Save Tookie Committee, including Stan's longtime advocate Barbara Becnel; national anti-capital punishment organizations like the Campaign to End the Death Penalty; and international opponents of racism and injustice.

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.


With increasing urgency, they have explained how Stan, who has always proclaimed his innocence in the four murders that landed him on death row, was a victim of a racist justice system. And they have shown that his transformation behind bars into one of the most articulate foes of gang violence has led to gang truces and saved lives.

Schwarzenegger clearly felt the pressure in granting a clemency hearing for Stan, though he has remained non-committal about his eventual decision. His aides have scheduled an hour-long meeting in the governor's Sacramento office on December 8--with equal time for Stan's lawyers and prosecutors. "Of course, our side would like half a day," Becnel told a reporter.

Since the official hearing will be private, Becnel and Stan's supporters plan to hold a "people's clemency hearing" on the steps of the state capitol building, starting at 10 a.m. on December 8. Other events will be held in solidarity around the country. Here, Socialist Worker convenes its own "hearing"--gathering testimony to prove why this peacemaker should not be put to death.

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Crystal Bybee
Member of the Save Tookie Committee in the Bay Area and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

STANLEY TOOKIE Williams deserves clemency because his powerful message of peace is too precious to silence. The thousands of lives that he has saved demonstrate his redemption and value.

But the thousands of lives that he will be able to reach in the future with his books, messages and peace programs make it all the more clear why Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should grant Stan clemency. These lives--the lives of young people who have often been given little to hope for, and nowhere else to turn--are worth saving. So is Stan Tookie Williams'.

Stan's story shows that people can change. While he is a unique individual with a unique impact, his case reaches beyond a personal transformation and demonstrates the flaws of capital punishment. The problems in his case--the racism, police and prosecutorial misconduct, constitutional violations, inadequate defense--aren't unique. They lie at the heart of the death penalty machine.

Despite all of these injustices, on death row for a crime he didn't commit, Stan Tookie Williams embarked on his own path of redemption and dedicated himself to helping young people do the same. For all of these reasons, he deserves clemency.

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Kevin Tate
Cofounder of Saving Ourselves (SOS) who helped negotiate a truce--based on Tookie's "Protocol for Peace"--between rival gangs in Newark, N.J.

TO ME, dealing with the streets, you have to get to the root problem. It's the same thing as on the street--if someone killed my brother, then I want to take their life, which is wrong.

Here's a guy who's supposed to have killed, but now you want to take his life. What statement are you making? Basically, you're saying that if they kill, then they need to be killed.

The effect that Tookie had in Newark is important. Councilman Ras Baraka knew a few guys on both sides, and we started meeting--having sit-downs in the mosque, with the Nation of Islam.

Myself and another guy were always online at the "Tookie's Corner" Web site. So when I saw the Protocol for Peace, I brought that to the table. And we said that we were going to make it fit our issues here.

That was a big impact, because once we did that, it set rules. That's what we really needed--rules and structure. You can't just say we're going to have peace. You have guys where the streets and the gangs are all they know. If we're going to have peace, then we have to have other things for these guys to do. So the Protocol for Peace really gave us structure.

There are lives that were saved here that Stan doesn't even know about.

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Minister Tony Muhammad
Western regional minister for the Nation of Islam and a leader of the community and antiracist struggle in Los Angeles

THIS IS a young man who I have met with Minister Farrakhan. Not only did we get a chance to hear from him, but we also had a chance to observe a redeemed human being--a restored human being.

He is a man who I know is not a fake. If you are a fake, you cannot redeem others. Stan Tookie Williams has done more to redeem young men and women in urban cities in America and around the world--to get them out of a life of gang-banging, to get them out of a life of ill-repute--than many people who are free.

The Bible says you can tell a tree by the fruit that it bears, and you can tell a man by his work. His work is outstanding. He has also professed, "I am innocent of the crimes I have been charged for, but I am guilty of some other things that I have done that I didn't get caught for."

I have visited almost 20 of the 33 state prisons in California. There is no atmosphere of rehabilitation. For someone like Tookie Williams to conquer his demons on death row, to use his life to reach out and save the lives of others, to be a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee--that is a redeemed man. I have seen his works. I have seen real-life gang members--hardened criminals--hear his work and have tears rolling down their face.

And if we are going to try Stan for starting the Crips, than let's also try the Los Angeles Police Department for their crimes. They don't have a very good track record.

Stan Tookie Williams deserves clemency.

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Vicky Lindsey
Cofounder of Project Cry No More in Los Angeles, whose son was killed by gang violence

IT ISN'T about his book, it isn't about his redemption, it isn't about any of that. I base my support for clemency for Stan on his innocence, because he said he won't apologize for a capital crime that he did not commit, even if it means his life.

Am I for the death penalty, either by the street or by the system? I am a mother of a young man who was gunned down. I'm not going to lie and say I don't want the person who killed my baby dead. But only if it's 100 percent certain. There cannot be an ounce of a doubt.

If there's an ounce of a doubt, and you execute someone and later on find out that the doubt could have saved his life, you can't bring them back. That's where I stand on it.

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Phil Gasper
Professor of philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in California and initiator of the Educators for Tookie calling for clemency from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

IT OUGHT to be blindingly obvious why Stan Williams should not be executed. If Stan lives, he can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of young people and help establish more gang truces. If he is killed, there is no one who can continue to reach out to youth in the same way.

Some of those clamoring for his execution are claiming that Stan's transformation is not genuine. This requires forgetting that his anti-gang campaign has saved hundreds of lives.

Others say that nothing can absolve him of the four murders for which he was convicted. But Stan has always maintained his innocence, and the case against him consisted of ballistics evidence that one expert has described as "junk science," and testimony from people granted immunity for serious felony charges, who thus had strong incentives to lie. False testimony from witnesses with immunity is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in murder cases.

Even supporters of capital punishment ought to concede that executions should not take place when there is even a shadow of doubt about guilt, and there is much more than a shadow in Stan's case.

It makes no sense to execute a former gang leader who has become a peacemaker. But whatever Schwarzenegger decides, the debate around clemency for Stan has further exposed the irrationality and barbarity of the entire death-penalty system.

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Cassandra Gonzalez
Los Angeles activist with the Youth Justice Coalition and Families to Amend California's Three Strikes

FROM A former gang member's perspective, and a young mom and a victim of gang violence more recently, I feel that if the state executes Stanley Williams, they have made it known that Tookie Williams is their enemy. It sends the same message to the young people out on the street that it's alright to kill your enemy. If we send that message, then you can't cry about these gang members killing people--because you're the ones setting the example.

The reason that our neighborhoods are running amok is because we don't have the guidance of the older guys who have been there and done that--because they're all incarcerated. They're doing life for stealing a piece of pizza after 15 years of sobriety and doing well.

If we don't have somebody who's been there and done that using his knowledge and experience, no young person growing up in Watts and South LA and Long Beach is going to listen to somebody with a PhD who grew up in white suburbia. They want somebody who knows what they're talking about, who talks their language.

By us not having these people, we're going to have a generation of lost young people who are going to fall victim to the streets, guns and gang violence.

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Darby Tillis
Exonerated Illinois death row prisoner and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

WHAT DO they expect of this man? He sits in a tiny cell, one that doesn't measure the size of most rooms in people's houses. That's how big your life is on death row.

If you're in that little cell, living through the agony and pain, and facing death, and you can pull yourself up, that's a special thing. He lives in that environment--someone who lives in a tiny cell that smells like urine and Lysol and cigarette smoke--and still writes books that give hope to people out in the world. Which is something they can't do--the preachers can't do it, the politicians can't do it.

It was jailhouse snitches who testified against Stan. If they had a case, why did they have to get jailhouse snitches that they paid to come up against this man. That's what kind of system we have.

What do they expect of Stan Tookie Williams? You can read his book and hear the strength and dignity in this man. He's a special man.

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Marlene Martin
National Director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

STAN IS one of the most famous death row prisoners in the U.S. today. But what is so striking about his case is how similar it rings to the other 3,400 prisoners on death row in the U.S.

Hurricane Katrina showed that not everyone's life is valued equally in our society, and the death penalty system shows the same thing. Scratch beneath the surface, and you see that the death penalty is reserved for the poorest in society, and its victims are much more likely to be minorities, especially if they are accused of killing white victims. In only one case among all the prisoners on Texas' death row was the murder victim Black and the murderers white.

Much media attention is given to the fact that Stan was a cofounder of the Crips, one of the most notorious street gangs in the history of the U.S. But what do you call the gang in the White House--the gang that lied and cheated its way into launching a war in Iraq that has cost many, many times more lives than gang violence has.

Isn't this the most dangerous gang? Don't they roam the world threatening and killing innocent people for territory and conquest and power?

It reminds me of the words of Martin Luther King, when he said in opposing the Vietnam War that he would no longer raise his voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken out clearly against the greatest purveyor of violence in the world--the United States government.

These statements were gathered by Dana Blanchard and Alan Maass.

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