Who Was Stanley Tookie Williams?
Stanley Tookie Williams was an American gangster who moved to Los Angeles at a young age and immediately became immersed in the street life. Williams and a friend created the "Crips" gang and would eventually be arrested and convicted of murder associated with the gang's activity.
Crips founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams III was born on December 29, 1953, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Williams' mother, who was only 17 when he was born, was left to care for Williams alone after his father abandoned the family. In 1959, Williams and his mother left New Orleans and headed to Los Angeles, California, by Greyhound bus in the hopes of achieving a better way of life. Williams later recalled the affluent-looking South Central neighborhood where they rented their first apartment as "a shiny red apple rotting away at the core."
Finding the street "more interesting than being at home," Williams began wandering the neighborhood at age six. As the new kid on the block, Williams had to quickly learn how to defend himself from neighborhood bullies, and was often thrown into the middle of physical conflicts. "As a member of the black male species living in the ghetto microcosm, circumstances dictated that I be either prey or predator," Williams later said about his adolescence. "It didn't require deep reflection to determine which of the two I preferred."
Immersed in a culture of violence and drugs and without a strict parental influence, Williams grew up idolizing criminals and "mimicking pimps and drug dealers." During his early teens, Williams was paid a few dollars to water, feed and patch up dogs that had been mauled in illegal dogfights. Later, these dogs would be shot or beaten to death by the gamblers and hustlers in his neighborhood. The betting progressed to fights between young boys, and Williams was paid to box other young boys to unconsciousness. The experiences hardened Williams, who kept the horrors he saw—and performed—from his mother.
Williams rarely attended school, believing that he was destined to be "dys-educated"—a term he coined to describe the impaired and diseased knowledge he received in school and on the streets. Instead, he was convinced he could do better in the streets, and earned his reputation with his fists. Through fighting, he made several friends with whom he frequently stole and made quick money as a bootblack. One of these new friends was Raymond Washington, who Williams met in 1969.
The two boys formed an alliance that became known as the "Crips," a group they initially founded to protect their neighborhood from other, larger gangs. The original Crips consisted of approximately 30 members, but they soon divided into the Westside and Eastside Crips. By 1979, the Crips had evolved into a statewide organization, and Williams and Washington lost control of the group.
This division led ultimately to both Williams' and Washington's downfalls. In 1979, Washington was shot and killed in a shooting in Los Angeles. His murder was blamed on the Hoover faction of the Crips, which led to a war between the Hoover and other Crip factions. No one was ever arrested for his murder, but theories state that Washington knew his killer well.
That same year, Williams and three fellow gang members, under the influence of PCP-laced cigarettes, drove to a convenience store with the intention of robbing the clerk. According to later police reports, 26-year-old store clerk Albert Owens was walked into a back room by Williams while the other members of the gang took money from the register. Williams then shot out the security monitor in the back room and killed Owens with two execution-style shots to the back. The group made $120 from the transaction. Williams later denied killing Owens.
On March 11, 1979, prosecutors say Williams broke into the office of the Brookhaven Motel in Los Angeles. Once inside, he allegedly killed three members of the Taiwanese family who owned and operated the motel. A ballistics expert linked the shotgun shell at the motel to Williams' gun, and several gang members testified that Williams had bragged about the crime. Williams denied this shooting as well, claiming that he was framed by other Crips members.
Imprisonment and Rehabilitation
In 1981, Williams was tried and convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of all four murders plus two counts of robbery, and was sentenced to death. On April 20 of that year, he was sent to San Quentin State Prison to sit on death row. Williams did not adjust well to prison life, and by the mid 1980s he was given a six and a half year stay in solitary confinement for multiple assaults on guards and fellow inmates.
After two years in solitary, Williams started to examine his life choices and repented for his past actions. He attributed his transformation to God and began speaking out against gang violence. He filed for a federal appeal in 1988, and told court officials he was a changed man, but his appeal was denied. In 1994, he was released from solitary. With his new mindset, he began writing a book and in 1996, with the help of co-author Barbara Cottman Becnel, he published the first of eight Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence anti-gang books aimed at children. The next year, Williams wrote an apology for his role in creating the Crips. "I am no longer part of the problem. Thanks to the Almighty, I am no longer sleepwalking through life," he wrote. He also wrote the book Life in Prison, a short non-fiction work explaining the horrors of jail.
In 2002 Mario Fehr, a member of the Swiss Parliament, nominated Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for his work against gang violence. Although he did not win the award, many supporters spoke out in favor of the former gang member's transformation into social reformer. He would be nominated for the honor six times in total. That same year, Williams appealed again for a commuted death sentence. The appeals panel urged the judge to consider commuting Williams' death sentence to life behind bars, citing the former gang member's efforts toward anti-gang education. The appeal failed once again.
In 2004, Williams helped create the Tookie Protocol For Peace, a peace agreement for one of the deadliest and most infamous gang wars in the country between the Crips and their rival, the Bloods. Williams received a letter from President George W. Bush commending him for his actions. That same year, his book Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir (2004) was published. The book was written with the intention to warn kids away from following Williams' life of crime. His story was also turned into a TV movie, Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story (2004), starring Jamie Foxx.
With his death sentence close at hand, Williams petitioned again for clemency in 2005. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Williams to help decide whether the sentence should be commuted to life in prison. Williams' defenders and prosecutors each had 30 minutes to plead their case to the governor. After the meeting, Schwarzenegger denied Williams bid for clemency, citing the forensic evidence linking him to the killings in 1979. Despite protests from the NAACP and various supporters who turned out to fight the decision, Williams was executed by lethal injection on December 13, 2005, at San Quentin State Prison.
His co-author and spokeswoman, Becnel, says she will continue the fight to prove Williams' innocence.
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