Death and Justice in California

“Should we kill this Crip?” This was the main headline in the December 4 Los Angeles Times’ Current magazine, one of several about Stanley “Tookie” Williams. The subtitle was “He’s a murderer. He should die.”

Umm. This sounds as if an enemy Blood member could have written that. I mean what’s the difference between what a lethal gang member might do on the streets of LA and what the state of California plans to do on December 13? Yes, I’m sure anyone can enumerate various “superficial” differences, but essentially it’s the same emotion, the same pain, the same wound that says “Tookie Williams should die.”

Haven’t we had enough?

Another article had the headline: “Our Real Heroes Don’t Kill Black Kids.” But arguing for Williams to “pay” for what Crips and their wannabes have done is lynch mob mentality (even if the article was written by a black man). Williams is not killing “black kids.” Hyperbole when a man’s life is at stake is not a proper humane response (and to say that Williams may not have had the same level of humanity when he supposedly killed his victims does not justify any inhumanity on our part). Besides, the killing of blacks in our streets can’t be resolved by killing another black man.

I see a certain madness enveloping us when it comes to the death penalty and race. We become caught in a web of hate, revenge, fear, victimization—and now we can’t see straight. Even if Williams actually did what he was convicted of (the murder of four innocent people in particularly brutal armed robberies), what closure can anyone really get from his death?--except the most dark/revengeful kind that ends in blood. Isn’t that what drives gang members to acts of vengeange? Again, how do we rise above this if we get the law and the state to do the same thing?

Here are some facts we shouldn’t overlook: Most gang members are lost youth needing mentorship, guidance, resources for work and life, and strong, cohesive community. Most do not murder (with 125,000 gang members in LA, according to some official numbers, we’re not seeing 125,000 murders). While a couple hundred gang murders a year in LA is bad enough, can we really stop the madness by killing Williams? The fact is so-called gangs form in the spaces where community, family, schools, and real mentoring have stepped out.

Tookie’s death is not going to be a “lesson” to any potentially murderous gang kid with these persistently empty spaces in their lives.

Let's not forget also the possibility, as Williams and his lawyers have consistently stated, that the murders may have been done by someone else. The system is not infallible--no one should die when too many cracks and improprieties continue to condemn innocent people (more than 100 men have been released from death rows around the country these past few years).

On the other hand, someone of Tookie’s stature—something most of us will never have—can do more good if he turns against the violent, destructive aspects of this life and helps young people, black young people in particular, have a vision, a hope, and an imagination for another way to go.

This has more currency in the street where most of us have none. I’ll work with Tookie. Others will help. He’s not going to do this alone (many of us, including former gang members, have been doing this already for years). I wouldn’t just leave this up to Tookie—everyone needs to be positively and actively involved in the lives of our youth.

It’s time for us to be the heroes—forget Tookie’s alleged heroism. Remember, Williams had a longer road to travel to get to where he is now. It may seem harder for us, but I’m sure with real leadership, real caring, real humanity, we can get there as well.

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