Remembering Stan Tookie Williams

A Political Killing

Credit: Josh On
By: Mumia Abu-Jamal

The state murder of Stanley Tookie Williams was an undeniable blow to the anti-death penalty movement. But it was also an important opportunity to see the politics of the American Way of Death at work.In its more than 200 pages, the report documents everything that’s wrong with the death penalty in Illinois at every stage of the process -- from corrupt police officers and unreliable testimony to inadequate lawyers and an insufficient appeals process.

The cold, callous and hypocritical act of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in denying clemency to the anti-gang activist, showed either his abysmal ignorance of Black life, or his profound disrespect to the Black community and its long struggle for freedom against monstrous odds.

Perhaps it reveals both.

The governor’s actions also betrayed how similar he is to his predecessor, ex-Governor Gray Davis, for both were in the pockets of the state’s prison guard and police “unions,” bodies which represent the most reactionary elements in any community.

Initially, it must be admitted that no governor is bound to grant clemency. In law, clemency is an act of grace, descended from the powers of English kings. Governors, like presidents, are free to grant or deny such requests for any reason at all.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the midst of the recall election, found himself in need of some redemption when charges of sexual and behavioral impropriety were raised by several of his fellow female actors, and at least one report emerged from his earliest bodybuilding days of pro-Hitler statements and sympathies.

Buoyed by his influential Hollywood friends and supported by the peculiar California penchant for granting second chances, Schwarzenegger cruised into the governor’s office, helped no doubt by the immense popularity of the sitting Democratic governor.

Unlike Tookie, who demonstrated his good works and personal redemption, as shown by thousand of testimonials from kids around the world who were moved to quit gangs, Schwarzenegger demonstrated nothing, but essentially brushed off the charges against him as unimportant.

No one should be damned because of one’s parents’ misdeeds, and Governor Schwarzenegger shouldn’t be tarred simply because his father was an officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht (or War Machine), yet his denial smacks of Nazi-like thinking.

Schwarzenegger completely dismissed Tookie’s Nobel Peace Prize nominations as a factor in the clemency process, as if such things are as common as bubble gum! He then, based upon a book dedication (!), proceeds to argue that this is somehow proof of Tookie’s failure to truly redeem himself.

The governor quotes Tookie’s dedication page, naming those to whom he dedicated the work, almost all of whom he has certainly never met, and many of whom may not have known such a dedication was made! (I can state this uneqivocally, for my name was among them, but as I’ve never read any of Tookie’s books, I hadn’t the slightest idea I was named).

Those listed included Malcolm X, Dr. Angela Davis, George Jackson, Dhoruba al-Mujahid [Bin Wahad], Nelson Mandela, Assata Shakur, John Africa, Ramona Africa, Leonard Peltier, Geronimo ji Jaga, “and countless other men, women and youths who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.”

“Most” of these people, Schwarzenegger announces, “have violent pasts,” and have been involved in violent attacks on law enforcement. This listing convinced him that Tookie was not reformed and believed in violence and lawlessness.

One wonders what list he’s looking at. It’s truer to say that most of those people were targeted by law enforcement for their political actions and beliefs, and the state used unlawful means to cage them.

Dr. Angela Davis, for one, was acquitted of any crime in California courts. Is Schwarzenegger saying that the jury got it wrong?

Dhoruba and Geronimo were targeted by the FBI purely because of their membership in the Black Panther Party, and both had their illegal convictions overturned because the state used false testimony to convict them in the first place. Both men were awarded cash settlements to stop their suits against law enforcement.

Malcolm X did have a violent past, but after finding the Nation of Islam in prison, he underwent his own redemption, and devoted his life to Black nationalism and human rights.

Dr. Nelson Mandela was involved in violence as part of the military wing of the African National Congress, but it was in defense against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, a white settler variant of Nazism. His spirit and his sacrifice helped found a new multiracial South Africa.

John Africa, the MOVE founder, was the victim of a bombing by law enforcement that massacred 11 men, women and children, as well as destroyed scores of homes in West Philadelphia. It is interesting that this man is listed, for it raises the uncomfortable truth that the cops who did the bombing, shooting, burning and killing of MOVE people, and the destruction of the surrounding neighborhood, never faced one day in jail--not even for reckless endangerment! Gives you a lot of faith in the judicial system, and “law enforcement,” doesn’t it?

Ramona Africa was one of the only two survivors of that urban holocaust. “Violent past?’ Hardly. She was a college student contemplating law school when she entered a Philadelphia courtroom, and witnessed how MOVE people were treated. It radicalized her, and she would later join MOVE. (By the way, she was tried and convicted of riot, for daring to survive the bombing! Cops got raises and promotions.)

Assata Shakur was a member of New York’s Black Panther Party, and she was almost killed when police ambushed her and several other Panthers peacefully driving down I-95 in New Jersey. Those cops killed Zayd Malik Shakur, and wounded her. She was shot in her armpit, because her arms were raised. When she didn’t die, the state tried to frame her for murdering Zayd! When that didn’t work, they framed her for killing a Jersey trooper. Again, who is violent to whom?

Schwarzenegger takes great umbrage to the inclusion of former Black Panther George Jackson on Tookie’s list, and tries to argue that this really proved Tookie’s insincerity of redemption.

Jackson spent a virtual life sentence in California dungeons for what (as Dhoruba bin-Wahad has written) would get a “a white boy from suburbia community service.” Under California’s draconian “indeterminate” sentencing, Jackson’s sentence was essentially one year to life, for a $71 gas station robbery! Prison guards murdered George Jackson in August 1971.

Only the perversity of Nazi thinking could look at those names and use them, as Schwarzenegger has, to justify his denial of Tookie’s clemency.

Why so? When the Nazis invaded and occupied neighboring territories, there was, quite understandably, armed resistance. In Nazi responses, such people were labeled “terrorists,” and whole villages, whole communities suffered Nazi repression.

Schwarzenegger sent Tookie to the gallows because Tookie, while in the ‘Hole’ during the ’90’s, read books by and about Black freedom fighters and resisters. If he had read Huey Newton’s books or George Jackson’s books when he was 17, perhaps he never would’ve gone down the path of founding the Crips, or any other gang.

But the state terror and repression against people like George Jackson, Geronimo and others left the streets virtually empty of revolutionaries, and opened the door to the explosion of gangs (and, lest we forget, the CIA-aided and abetted drug explosions). Tookie didn’t learn about the struggles of the ’60s until years later, in a prison cell, reading books.

That it is doubtless this influence that impacted Tookie and helped him turn his life around to one of service and redemption, and it was then used by Schwarzenegger to lynch him, is perverse indeed.

That’s the most cold-blooded killing that there is: for votes.

©2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther and journalist who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. He is the author of several books, including We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party. He wrote this article for the New Abolitionist.