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Stan ‘Tookie’ Williams, R.I.P.

December 15, 2005

As I am sure everyone knows, Stanely Tookie Williams was murdered by the State of California December 13th at 12:35 am PT by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison. He was 51 years old and had spent 24 years on death row. Williams’ execution has inspired an outpouring of support from various people and groups.
Today our friend Brandon Bauer sent us a beautiful stencil in honor of Williams’ death, writing:

Another reason why the death penalty must be abolished. Stanley Tookie Williams is another casualty of the injustice system — I made a stencil in his honor and have attached the template as a PDF. Feel free to download the image, print it out on cardstock, cut out the dark areas with an x-acto and get the image up on the street.

Click here to download the stencil template (1MB PDF file).
Art against the death penalty and prisons has played a vital role in informing the public about the prison system and offering support to those unjustly locked up. One great example was SAW’s Art vs. Prisons. Another comes from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. The following brief history introduces their exhibition, “Can’t Jail the Spirit! Political Prisoners in the United States”:

Throughout the twentieth century, posters have been one of the primary tools for organizing support for political prisoners. Potent graphics give witness to the prisoners’ existence, inform the public about their status, mobilize support on their behalf, and prevent them from being forgotten by future generations. Can’t Jail the Spirit! includes posters from the labor and anarchist movements of the early twentieth century, the McCarthy period, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with current political prisoners. Nearly thirty years of posters demanding freedom for Leonard Peltier remind us that these posters have a life-and-death function for those still imprisoned.

Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in America, over 1,000 “convicted” prisoners have been killed. Though support is still high, it is declining as more and more people become aware of the profound flaws in the judicial system. Governor George Ryan also caused a sensation on January 11, 2000, when he commuted over 100 death sentences in Illinois, saying:

He had concluded that capital punishment was applied unfairly and arbitrarily and risked executing persons who were innocent. For these reasons, the Governor said he would no longer “tinker with the machinery of death.”

More recently, Mumia Abu-Jamal has finally won a chance to be heard in court. It has been nearly 25 years since Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial that put him on death row. During this time he has witnessed wide support for his release, including some of the most inspirational and informative art about the prison system and the death penalty. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed on Decemeber 7, 2005, to hear arguments on three separate defense claims of constitutional violations during his trail and state appeals. The catch however is if he loses, he may end up back on death row as “the Third Circuit is also considering the prosecution’s appeal of a lower court ruling that overturned Mumia’s death sentence.”
Regardless of what your thoughts are about the death penalty or Williams’s case, there probably has not been a better time in recent memory for a productive dialogue about the issue, especially as Abu-Jamal’s case, and others, develop in the coming months. Do your part in any way you can.
As a reminder the deadline for posters on the Prison Industrial Complex that we featured over the summer is quickly approaching. The show is scheduled for Spring 2006 and will be held at the Watts Towers Art Center.
Deadline is January 30th, 2006. Once again the guidlines and where to send:

Criteria for posters CSPG collects: 1). It must be produced in multiples such as silkscreen, offset, stencil, litho, digital output etc. 2). The poster must have overt political content. If you would like to create a poster for an organization doing prison work or to donate posters, please contact:
Center for the Study of Political Graphics
8124 West Third Street, Suite 211
Los Angeles, CA
tel: 323.653.4662
fax: 323.653.6991

a big thanks to Brandon for sending us the stencil!


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10 comments on “Stan ‘Tookie’ Williams, R.I.P.”

I didn’t know much about Williams’ case in particular but i’m against the death penalty on principle. Of all the reactions i think James Wolcott’s is closest to what I think:

The death penalty must be abolished. No former movie action hero–or Yale cheerleader with enough psychological baggage to sink the African Queen–should be entrusted with the power of life and death over his fellow citizens. These are essentially frivolous, uninformed men playacting blue-suited roles of grave responsibility. And, no, I don’t think Bill Clinton should have executed Ricky Ray Rector either. Capital punishment must be de-politicized, and as long as politicians make the final decision, depoliticization is impossible. So abolish it.

People interested in fighting for a death row inmate unjustly sentenced should familiarize themselves with the case of Corey Maye.

you can hear williams from prison in the Wake Up call and Democracy Now archives over the last couple of weeks. Even under the unjust rules for capital punishment we currently have, Williams sentence should have been commuted. The inhuman and arbitrary nature of the death penalty comes through in these recordings; in each one, you can hear the 15 allotted minutes beep by. When time runs out, Williams is cut off whether finished or not.

I don’t know if Williams was innocent, but the law is the law. I would have got myself another lawyer and put him to WORK! The track record of last minute reprieves is not a good one. Far too little to late in the area of last minute witnesses, statements, exonerations.
If he was innocent, it is a terrible tragedy. If he was guilty, well… a killer is a killer. In California that can cost you your life.

There are way too many variables in a world based on inequality and power. There are many “killers” on one side of the law that will never be indicted and charged for their crimes, so yeah im willing to go far enough with you to say there are consequences in this world and people who violate other people’s safety should be held accountable.
Really though, a killer is a human being, a racist is a human being, a comfortable wall street working yuppie is a human, a ,gulp, cop is a human being. All of these people commit crimes daily some even murdering people, figurativly and literally, Many of them are walking the streets today. I wanna see them brought to “justice.”
I just dont buy that logic.
Maybe someone else can articulate this better than me…

Though williams claimed to be innocent of the 4 murders for which he was sentenced to die, he amitted to murdering other people. As the co-founder of the Crips, he also accepted partial responsibility for the deaths of countless members of the Crips and the Bloods, as well as innocent bystanders, that took place as a result of gang warfare during the ’80’s and ’90’s.
In addition to comparing the murders that resulted from Tookie’s actions to those that result from the similarly heartless founders of legitmate business institutions, I’d argue that the death penalty is wrong, as it is practiced, because it is applied in a demonstrably racist way, and that its wrong because it is inherently fallible, in part becasue of its racist application. For the same crimes, white people dont get death. Black people are more likely to be sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit.
Even if the death penatly were perfectly applied, however, it would still be wrong. Stan Williams committed terrible crimes, by his own admission. But he also considered himself reformed and worked from prison to reverse the effects of his actions as much as possible, focusing on anti-violence programs for young offenders. Instead of being allowed to continue that work from prison, he is now just another digit added to the body count. The death penalty is cruel, its a waste, and reflects an ugly view of humanity.

in the 19th century, death sentences were commuted in something like 1 in 5 cases. today it’s closer to 1 in 1,000. it was not uncommon then for a governor to issue a large batch of reprieves upon leaving office or on christmas day. it was understood at the time that commuting a death sentence was an act of mercy, and had little or nothing to do with the inmate’s guilt or innocence. mercy was considered an integral part of the concept of justice, and these governors often argued that it was essential for society to show forgiveness, not just vengeance.
(of course it should be noted that these same governors often showed no mercy to strikers, radicals, native americans and other enemies. those people were ruled only by a wrathful god, and shown mercy only when safely in the grave).
today, this concept of mercy is anethema to the empty suits who play politics with people’s lives. the need to be seen as ‘tough on crime’ precludes the possibility of having any kind of public moral dialogue on crime and punishment. the need to be seen as ‘strong on national security’ precludes any kind of intelligent discussion on safety and peace.
in the end i don’t think schwarzenegger — or especially bush in his days as texas governor — care any more for human life than a direct murderer does. the decision to take or spare a life is not a moral one for them; it’s business. a bump in the road to power. and so they’re different from gang leaders and mafiosi how, exactly?

i agree with k.see. both the afore mentioned posters make very valid points which mirror many of my own beliefs. however, though i am a staunch protester of the death penalty for the very same reasons, to make a martyr of a man who may not have been killed for the right reasons, and yet contributed to many deaths indirectly through his affiliation with the ‘crips’, only serves to discredit people like you and me.
he was a bad man, but still, he was reformed. his acts of reformation could be seen as a repayment to society for the wrongs he committed, but that doesn’t wipe the slate clean… it is one thing to voice your opinion about men sentanced to die by circumstantial evidence, or those being held for political reasons, but when we rally for a man who is self admittedly a menace to society, someone revered by those who base thier life on violence and drugs, it ulimately appears as if we just really, really like yelling at people who don’t share our beliefs.
i don’t think killing a man is right in any regard but at the same time i feel prudence is a wise course to take in matters of such importance.

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