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Stanley “Tookie” Williams: One Year Later

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To protest their founder’s execution, a group of Crips in Tacoma, Washington destroyed a valuable chunk of their community. The building that once housed The Northwest Dispatch, Tacoma’s longstanding black newspaper until only recently, was badly vandalized with it’s windows smashed, insides torn up, and outside walls sprayed with Crip insignias that indicated the group had not yet given up their two-decade long war with Tacoma’s Black community.

In it’s heyday, the Dispatch was run with an iron but loving fist by Virginia Taylor. Even though the paper went south after she died, she remained a vital community figure. Her face is painted on a rainbow mural across the street from People’s Park, the epicenter of so much of the violence that has haunted black Tacoma for so long, and the symbol of when that small area of the city made the entire town one of the most dangerous places to live in the country.

On the night I saw them last December, they all stood there within a block and a half radius on the same street: the picture of Taylor, one on a bright beautiful painting highlighting community points of light, the park, and the wrecked Dispatch building, a symbol of the Crips showing just how little one of those points of light meant to them.

A year after Williams’ execution, I contrast what I saw that night with the pageantry outside of the facility in which Williams was executed. The Crip father might have meant one thing to all those too aware of gang activity, but inside that gilded circle of celebrities, politicians, and activists, he was Sacco, Vanzetti, and Alfred Dreyfus rolled into one. The dynamics regarding their complaint were tired enough to make even the most sympathetic of liberals groan: university academics and activists romanticizing a black outlaw while enacting in an orgy of emotionalist radical street theater.

Nearing the minutes leading to his death, drum circles were being played, spoken word poems were being read in protest, and scores of people were actually crying as if an injustice actually happened. Even Tookie’s law team and academic supporters got in the act by screaming at the family members of the victim that they had killed an innocent man.

Personally, the night Williams was executed, I got blind drunk and cried my eyeballs out. I didn’t do it because Williams was going to die, nor did I do it in protest of the radical politics of Williams’ supporters. I did it because those supporters and those civil rights organizations that used so much emotion and exerted so much energy to defend Williams lifted nary a finger in protest of the hundreds of thousands of black lives either ended or destroyed by Williams and the millions of black lives that his gang ended up tormenting.

No drum circles have ever been played for the young men caught up in the death vise of Williams’ gang because of poor fathering, poor schooling, and no culpable opportunities. No emotional, angst-ridden poems were written and spoken for the single mothers trying to raise those young men, or the young women in these neighborhoods that aren’t getting any love and support from those young men, while being bombarded with vicious imagery from MTV and BET in the process.

No tears were shed for the elderly black folks in countless neighborhoods in America who are imprisoned because of Crip activity; people scarred by both Jim Crow and the project industrial complex; people who served as the backbone of working class black communities before crack hit those communities harder than a Joe Frazier left hook; people who can’t go outside or do regular human activities on the fear that they might get robbed or shot. For god sake, just thinking about that makes me want to take a drink.

The Crips, those romantic outlaws that Williams’ amen corner cried and bled for, have done more damage to the black people they supposedly love than any of them could comprehend. Much of that ignorance from black leadership has to do with the outlaw fetishizing nationalism that the black political establishment adopted in the post civil rights era. Many people believed that Black America had to begin anew 40 years ago, led by a critical male intelligentsia whose sole goal and purpose was to express their anger at the white man and teach the unwashed, unlearned masses pure rage, the only expression they deemed fit for black thought.

Another part of that ignorance comes from the fact that the overwhelming majority of those leaders and that select circle of “modern civil rights intellectuals” come from communities where they don’t have to deal with Crip activity. To many of them, however, that’s beside the point: the Crips and the people who are victimized by them aren’t people, but bargaining chips. The students playing in the drum circles can get status as “community activists.” The professors writing “poetry” and going on national television can get tenure, and the lawyers who throw temper tantrums in the execution scene can get money and notoriety.

It would have been something, however, if conservatives had mounted a reasoned defense of the people Tookie victimized, but they didn’t. On the night of his execution, conservative pundits from FOX , CNN, and MSNBC either took the usual route in either assuming that a group of educated loons spoke for 30 million people, played up the criminality and threat Williams was to their communities, or brought up the idea that it was a double standard that Williams wasn’t charged with a hate crime in killing four non-blacks.

I have as little a stomach for the professional race lobby as anyone in America, but they can’t force and bogart their way to studio airtime. There comes a point when constant presence of race baiting loons on the television isn’t as much about what is wrong with them as it is about what a great portion of America wants black people to be.

Although Larry Elder was right when he said Tookie wasn’t being charged with a hate crime because he was black, his elevation of those four people who he killed, a grotesque tragedy in its own right, over the hundreds of thousands of lives he helped either kill or ruin, shows as much a disdain for those victims of gang activity as those students, professors, and lawyers could ever drum up.

For me it comes down to what those vulgar Crip hieroglyphics sprayed in the old Dispatch office mean, and they mean radically different things to different groups. In the eyes of too many liberals, that graffiti only means the cry and struggle of downtrodden young men. In the eyes of too many conservatives, it means the moral poverty of a people and a culture. In the eyes of the people in that Tacoma block and neighborhood, however, those Crip insignias mean they have no rights that gang members respect. They are in a territory partly occupied by those gang members, and they better not even think of doing anything about it under the threat of violence and even death.

If you, dear reader, have your opinion fall in either of the first two categories, and refuse to acknowledge the third, I will not stoop to say that you should check your conscience; for if you do, you don’t have one at all.

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About Robert Lashley

  • Matthew

    I think that Stanley Tookie Williams would have a good chance to make it out of the priosion if he did not get the death penalty. I blieve when Tookie wrote the children books that he had changed.I don’t believe he would have took time to write those books if he really didn’t want to change he would have done stuff inside the prision. I blieve that he had changed but what he did was so bad that he could not have a second chance in life. he would have made a differenc.

  • STM

    I don’t believe in the death penalty anyway except in certain cicumstances where there are no mitigating factors, but it’s true that you have to weigh up the advantages of sparing his life with the damage he had done.

    Actually, if Tookie Williams had at some stage found his way out of the system, you’d hope that he’d have been genuinely taking a stand against the gangs.

    But given his behaviour in jail and the fact that he never acknowledged his guilt or the heartbreak caused by his crimes, you’d have to doubt whether that would be the case. Perhaps he did deserve a second chance, as do many people, but he remained angry and quite defiant to the end and thus signed his own death warrant.

    Had that not been the case, the story might have been somewhat different. Sad, really, the whole thing, but also a salutary lesson in what happens when the envelope is pushed that bit too far.