Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams stands accused of shot-gunning a convenience store clerk for the princely sum of $120.00 and then a series of 3 Asian motel owners for a grand total of $100.00. Tookie was at the same time one of the founders, along with Raymond Washington and (according to vox media) head of The Crips; a blue headscarf wearing gang who was the counterpoint to The Bloods; a red headscarf wearing gang. The Crips were formed to combat random neighborhood violence. So far as I know, shot-gunning convenience store workers and motel owners wasn’t in the charter.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Would the head of what came to be the largest, most organized gang in the United States really go out and small time murder for chump change?” It doesn’t make sense does it? Tookie says he didn’t do it and I believe him. I believe him because my common sense tells me it’s just completely out of character for his role. Tookie isn’t a stupid man; anything but. Does this make any kind of sense? Can you say LA Confidential? I thought you could.
Was Tookie Williams a bad man? According to our imaginary yardstick, which has Charles Manson at one end and a Bambi-faced soccer mom at the other, the answer would have to be yes. Would it be fair to say that, using your logic and objective reasoning capacity; Tookie was probably responsible for murder and mayhem along his way to San Quentin? I’d have to say, “No doubt” If you asked me if he was responsible for the murders he is accused of I would have to say, “It’s unlikely.” If you asked me, "Did the LA police department set him up based on the rational that he’s guilty of it somewhere?" I would have to say; “That seems the most likely scenario.”
Our prison system was developed by Benjamin Franklin and The Quakers. The idea was to put a man in a cell with a Bible and hope that repentance and rehabilitation would be the result. Essentially this means that the idea of redemption is a basic ingredient in the process of incarceration. What is the point of parole I might ask? What is justice?
Murder is against the law right? Well Dick Cheney and George Bush and their band of neo-cons have murdered tens of thousands of people recently but they are not in jail. Why are they not in jail? We know that they murdered tens of thousands of people under false pretenses and as the result of known lies. We know this. How are they any different that Tookie Williams? They are much worse. We know that numerous business associates and political cronies of Bush and Cheney have been indicted for massive theft and fraud. How is this behavior any different than that of any gang members; they didn’t use a shot-gun? Okay.
While he has been in prison these past 20 odd years Tookie has been doing a lot of work. Tookie has worked to reform himself and the gang system he helped to bring into being. He has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace prize. I will not here list his many accomplishments. These are things you can ‘choose’ to learn for yourself. Tookie came up on the rough streets of LA. God only knows what he went through as a kid. I’m not surprised at what happened to him. George Bush and Dick Cheney were given the finest of educations and pampered every step of their lives. They wound up murdering many thousands of times more than Tookie Williams. This is a fact and there is no getting around it. Of course you can attempt to justify it. Would you say that Bush and Cheney have since woven something as great out of their disordered past as has Tookie Williams? No you could not say this.
I’ve been to prison. I knew men like Tookie Williams. I’ve got a blue bandanna I still wear today. It doesn’t make me a Crip, even if one gave it to me. I know something about gangs and the men in them. I know how these gangs come about and the circumstances that give birth to them. Are gangs a good thing? No. Not on the streets of LA and not in the corridor of power in Washington D.C. The only difference in these two gangs is the size of the take.
A man’s life is not the sum of a few moments. The sum of a life is in the totality of the life. It is in what the life comes to. Tookie Williams is an odyssey of redemption. One might say he, “once was lost but now is found.” George Bush will never accomplish as much good as Tookie Williams.
Will Tookie get the chance to go on with his compelling efforts? It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good in a country where another governor once mocked an inmate on her way to execution. That governor was George Bush. He laughed and made fun of her on her way to die. Her name was Karla Faye Tucker and her story is a lot like Tookie’s. She made a big mistake when she was young and she spent the next fourteen years on death row repenting and seeking redemption. She went off to die with the governor’s laughter ringing in her ears.
We all die. It has been said that we do not all die but that we are all changed. I won’t address the varieties of meaning there. I will submit that Tookie has already died and been reborn but I suspect that means nothing to those who do not understand the meaning of, “there but for fortune go you and I.” The only difference between Tookie and you and I is that Tookie knows the date. As Samuel Johnson said "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
The issue here is not what Tookie did or did not do once; it is what he has done since. Either redemption is a part of our system or it is not. Special circumstance should be a two way street. Sometimes the example of a person’s life begins to live in many lives. They stand for possibilities. They remind us of the possible. Killing Tookie Williams does not kill the man accused of particular crimes. It kills the man he has become. We effectively kill the example of hope and transformation that he presently stands for.
What sort of a terrible irony is it that permits the wholesale murders of men like George Bush and Dick Cheney? These swine in human form laugh at their deeds and their victims while dining in the high tower. Their crimes against their own nation and other nations exceed the crimes of Tookie Williams to an immeasurable degree.
When and if Tookie dies he will have paid his bills. He will have done something wonderful with his life; made all the more wonderful given his background and his circumstances. When George Bush and Dick Cheney die, hard laughter will accompany and greet them and God have mercy on their souls.
Vox populi... who knows? Yet in our history many a leader has made many a decision that did not reflect vox populi. Many a leader has made a decision of conscience. Many a leader has acted upon advice and acted against advice. Sometimes a leader finds the unspoken hope in a vox populi that does not know the sound of it’s own voice until someone speaks for them. The job of a leader is not to follow it is to lead. How often have we not known what we felt until it touched our hearts? Hopefully something touches Governor Schwarzenegger’s heart.
'The Mocking of Karla Faye Tucker' is track no. 3 of 10 on Visible's 2002 album
'911 was an Inside Job'
About this song (pops up)