“They killed the teacher!” said Snoop Dogg at the funeral services for Stanley Tookie Williams December 20 at the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bruce Gordon, Minister Tony Muhammad, Stan Muhammad, Rev. Dr. Lewis E. Logan II, Minister Lewis Farrakhan and Tony Robbins all listened as Snoop Dogg brought the packed Church to its feet with a poem dedicated to Tookie entitled “Till We Meet Again.” One line that caught my attention was when Snoop said, “Food for thought is better than a meal.” This phrase stuck with me, because it reminded me of man may not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedth from the mouth of the lord and coming from Snoop showed a level of maturity that I wish his Girls Gone Wild, pimps-up-hoes-down, gangsta nigga audiences would adopt.
And I am NOT being critical of Snoop at all! I’ve been watching Snoop settle his beefs with others, start programs in the hood for at-risk youth, seek God and denounce gang-banging publicly. But this is my point. When has a man done enough to be called rehabilitated? What must one do to be actually free from past wrongs? When is a man truly forgiven?
I arrived at the Bethel A.M.E. Church to a beautiful scene. Several blocks before we got to the Church helpful, pleasantly spoken, informative Black and Brown police officers were stationed at strategic corners directing traffic toward the Church. When we arrived at the Church we were greeted by the Fruit of Islam (F.O.I.) and escorted to the press balcony. There was literally nowhere else to be. Even members of Stanley Tookie Williams’ family were in the press balcony! When this was discovered, Rev. Dr. Logan II requested that the first ten rows of people give up their seats to these additional members of the Williams family and everyone promptly did what was asked.
The Church was so packed that many people were in another room outside of the main knave watching the proceedings on a huge flat screen television. When I walked into this room I saw Tookie on the screen saying, “If a man must fight, let it be to the death against the beast within himself. Win that battle? No man, no woman, no racial hatred, no system, no vindictiveness, and no Machiavellianism can ever defeat you! And then he said on behalf of the children; teach them how to avoid our destructive foot steps. Teach them to strive for a higher education. Teach them to promote peace. And teach them to focus on rebuilding the neighborhoods that you, others and I helped to destroy.” And I can’t front, I was renewed even in my own spirit. To know that one of the most significant outlaw figures in modern American history went from criminal minded to spiritual minded gives all of us (especially those on the frontlines of ministry work, counseling, mentoring and rehabilitation work) hope in the transformation of the human heart. That our work is not done in vain.
I was totally impressed with the organization and security of the F.O.I. Hundreds of people was jammed in the Church with even more people outside trying to get in yet the Church and the whole block itself (Western Ave) was at peace. It was beautiful.
But as beautiful as it was, the Church was still teeming with suspicion as to why a completely rehabilitated man could not be offered at least life in prison? How was Tookie (the co-founder of the famous street gang the Crips) who spent 24 years in prison, wrote nine anti-violence, anti-gang, anti-drug children’s books, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from St. Moses the Black Theological Seminary, was nominated six times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and received the Presidential Call to Service Award from President George W. Bush for his volunteer efforts to help steer youth away from gang life not rehabilitated? There’s even an award-winning movie starring Jamie Foxx entitled “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story” that teaches the path of rehabilitation and forgiveness. All of this, in addition to his website and phone mentoring of young people from prison, and let us not forget his plea of innocence, could not have granted this man a stay of execution. He had to die? He was that dangerous to society? Well, no one at the funeral thought so.
“Tookie is dead,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson. “We must kill the idea of killing to stop killing.” Remembering his own prayer time with Tookie, Rev. Jackson quoted Tookie saying, “I admit I was a predator upon my people. We were programmed to attack Black people. Whites were safe around us; I will not be killed for what I did do, but for what I didn’t do. I’d rather die than lie to get clemency.” And the whole Church erupted in applause and cheering! It was like they were ALL used to this process of having to lie along with the police and the District Attorney in hopes of achieving lighter sentences or no jail time at all and Tookie represented that person that never snitched or sold out to the corruption of the Judicial system. I’d rather die than lie for clemency seemed to resonate with everyone there dealing with an already proven to be corrupt California corrections/prison system.
As Rev. Jesse Jackson brought to mind the fact that Charles Manson who is responsible for killing pregnant Sharon Tate and seven others is still alive in California on death row and that President John F. Kennedy’s assassin is also still alive, I was reading some of Tookie’s own words of transformation in a booklet that was being handed out throughout the Church. One paragraph read, “Its impossible for a discriminable mind to fathom the miraculous transition of a redeemed soul. Contrary to the popular misconception, redemption is not a biblical ethos, exclusive to saints, prophets, elitists or the holier-than-thou. It is of earthly accessibility through human initiative. I aver that the process of being redeemed is available to any individual regardless of gender, race, color, creed, social stratum or background. Yes, even a wretched Black man, akin to the former me, can transform and be redeemed.
As I read this, I couldn’t help asking myself over and over again, did Tookie have to die? Did Tookie have to die? Did Stan Tookie Williams really have to die? Son, husband, father of two, grandfather of three, minister, changed man. Was there no other way to pay that debt back to society other than the execution of a transformed man who held on to his claim of innocence all the way to the end? Tookie had to die? I don’t think so. However, I find myself at a peculiar crossroad in American history. First of all, it should be clear to all that the title Department of Corrections is false. No one entering the prison industrial complex is being rehabilitated or rather corrected. With Tookie’s death it seems that no matter what you do to correct your past errors, the American justice system will still show you no mercy. Once a criminal, always a criminal.
Secondly, the idea of an Austrian born White man using the American legal system to murder a Louisiana born Black man just doesn’t sit well with me. And I am not being selective or even prejudice here. But does Governor Schwarzenegger really know enough about American history, even African American history to have made a just decision on Stanley Tookie Williams’ life? Does Governor Schwarzenegger care anything about the message he is sending throughout the African American community, especially to African American youths? Stanley Tookie Williams’ murder by the State also proves the powerlessness of the African American community and its leadership. But I won’t get into that here.
Finally. In a time when Americas State and Federal agencies are being severely criticized for their seeming lack of care for the suffering of African Americans in wake of Hurricane Katrina, Governor Schwarzenegger missed an important opportunity to restore African American hope in the Department of Corrections and America as a whole. While African Americans are dying by the dozen in Iraq, Tookie’s execution by the same regime African Americans are defending seems a little hypocritical justice wise. In a time of so much racial disunity and mass American despair due to mass unemployment, now might not be a good time for Americans to be murdering Americans legally or illegally. Governor Schwarzenegger could have set a new precedent for our time as Americans by turning away from violence and granting Stanley Tookie Williams clemency. But that’s all over now. Violence wins again! Or did it?
Tookie admitted his wrongs and paid the price of total transformation. Before his execution he talked a lot about being redeemed, meaning to recover ownership of something by paying a specified sum for it. In a spiritual sense, meaning to restore to wholeness, to be saved from a sinful state of being, to return to honor and self-worth, to be free from guilt. In his last moments on earth Tookie wrote, “Here and now, I bear witness that God’s bequest of redemption has replenished me with a mission and revealed that the impossible is possible.” This is a strong affirmation for us today.
Stan Tookie Williams was murdered by the State of California on December 13, 2005. We will miss you, teacher.
To comment on this editorial, email AHH columnist illseed at firstname.lastname@example.org.