Skip to comments.Supporters, detractors clash over what Williams' legacy will be
Posted on 12/14/2005 7:58:27 AM PST by SmithL
Even before the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the struggle to define his life -- and shape his legacy -- had already begun.
In the convicted killer's failed pleas for clemency, in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's denials, from the mouths of his supporters and detractors, there emerged contrasting portraits of a peace activist and a jailhouse con man. It is a paradox that will follow him to his grave.
On one side are those who believe in Williams' redemption and the good he did through his anti-gang speeches and children's books.
Fresh from the San Quentin Prison chamber where she had just watched her friend die early Tuesday, Barbara Becnel told a cheering crowd that she is "now a woman on a mission."
"That mission is one: to obtain justice for Stanley 'Tookie' Williams by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt his innocence, (and) continuing to preserve the incredibly remarkable legacy of this man who personifies redemption," she said.
Part two of her new mission is to defeat Schwarzenegger in the next election.
Rudy Langlais, who produced "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story," also witnessed the execution and spent most of Monday with Williams.
"All day long he was talking about the children," Langlais said. "All he talked about was how we needed to save the children."
The portrait painted by families of the victims and the governor, however, is filled with violence and Williams' stubborn refusal to take responsibility for the pain he inflicted on the world.
Schwarzenegger wrote that Williams presented "little mention or atonement in his writings and his plea for clemency of the countless murders committed by the Crips following the lifestyle Williams once espoused. The senseless killing that has ruined many families, particularly in African-American communities, in the name of the Crips and gang warfare is a tragedy of our modern culture."
Williams was 17 when he co-founded the Crips, a violent Los Angeles street gang that has crept all across the United States and into many other countries.
A jury convicted him in the 1979 shotgun killings of convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, during a 7-Eleven robbery in Whittier; and of Yen-I Yang, 76, his wife, Tsai-Shai Yang, 63, and their daughter, Ye-Chen Lin, 43, during a robbery at the motel they operated in Los Angeles.
For many, however, the gruesome, unprovoked murders do not negate Williams' personal transformation, and the story even gives hope to others who are trying to turn around their lives.
His message of peace, not his acts of violence, which are denied by Williams and his supporters, will be his lasting legacy, said Phil Gasper, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont and an anti-death penalty activist.
"I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Price (after) finding out more about what he had done and meeting many of the people who had been influenced by his writings," Gasper said.
"It's impossible to make the argument that this is all some kind of phony act to save himself. He used the money from the books that he wrote to do anti-violence work. He didn't spend it on his defense."
Williams is credited with writing nine children's books warning of the dangers of gang life and drafting a template to end gang violence. His autobiography was made into a TV movie starring Jamie Foxx.
"He managed to have this enormous impact sitting in his cell in San Quentin," Gasper said. "His voice really connected to young people, and he knew that was going to be the case. He used that credibility in his final years to do something very, very positive."
But Williams' efforts to reach out beyond prison walls may fade as the memory of his high-profile fight to save his own life retreats into history. His plea for peace, after all, was aimed at a notoriously unpredictable audience: the young, the disaffected and the desperate.
"It's really hard to say, but I think young people, they think about how he was a former gang member, he started the Crips. They don't think about him writing children's books. They don't think about his anti-gang talks," said Richmond police Sgt. Michael Booker, who heads up an anti-gang unit and coaches basketball at Kennedy High School.
"All I can tell you is the kids I've seen over the years have responded to more positive role models."
As long as adults continue to hold Williams up as an example, however, his ideas will live on in classrooms and counseling centers around the country.
Jim Weber, 78, of Oakland said he worked for about five years in juvenile halls and alternative schools in Los Angeles, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
He would post Williams' picture in the classroom and ask students to read passages from his book about prison life.
"They think it's glamorous to be in prison," he said. "They think, I'm in the big house and that makes them manly."
"I was trying to scare them into realizing how terrible it would be in prison."
At Richmond High School, several teachers had their students read Williams' books and used newspaper accounts of his pending execution as a springboard for discussions about gang life, redemption and the death penalty.
On Tuesday afternoon, students had mixed reactions about the execution.
Crystal Alexander, 17, said that Williams' execution was cruel and that the state, by taking his life, is as guilty as Williams was.
Rocky Nunez, 14, said he was unconvinced of Williams' redemption and that he received justice. "I think 27 years was much too long to wait, they should have killed him right away," he said. "He killed four people."
I read on another thread that Tookie hasn't committed any crimes since his execution.
Yes, and while he is at it, he can send the California taxpayers a check for 26 years of room and board.
He was only a cause celebre because he was famous enough to draw out the usual death penalty crowd, lead by Mike Farrell. He'll be forgotten by the time of the next high-profile execution.
How about less than a semen stain on a blue dress?
What's a "Tookie?" Anything like a "Sheehan?" Time marches on. Hehehehe....
Yeah, when he wasn't busy murdering innocent people.
...Which sold the sum total of 300 copies. What a crock!
I notice the "on the other side" part got mighty short shritf in this puff piece. There wasn't one victim in all this, there were four, and Mookie wasn't one of them.
Legacy: more and swifter executions. DNA will make it possible.
What to argue over? He's a executed mass murderer.
Stanley "Tookie" Williams is not a bonafide BLACK martyr.
Glorifying Tookie to mythic proportions is REALLY an insult to American Blacks and TRUE MARTYRS of racism.
It seems a deliberate joke by perverse leftists to elevate a less than lesser cause to a cause celebre status. It is clear to rational persons that leftists indulge in evil manipulations to express their contempt for truth and for the truth of the matter.
Maybe she can get O.J. to help her find the real murderer.
I like Rocky...
I took me one seconds to figure what his legacy should be. "Murderer"
He will have no legacy. He was just a murderer. Nothing more. Now he's a DEAD murderer. Nothing more. Ten years from now, nobody will remember his name.