Over 2,000 death penalty opponents and supporters of Stanley “Tookie” Williams rallied and kept vigil outside San Quentin prison Dec. 12 on the eve of Williams’ execution by lethal injection just after midnight. Many others joined vigils across California and around the U.S.
Calling Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s refusal to grant Williams clemency “a serious blow to our efforts to end gang violence,” NAACP State President Alice Huffman told protesters at San Quentin, “We are deeply saddened by the governor’s decision. … We believe every child Williams took away from gang violence is precious. Obviously, the governor does not.”
In the weeks leading up to the execution, the NAACP campaigned intensively for clemency. Its leaders toured the state, and the organization submitted over 52,000 letters urging Schwarzenegger to halt the execution. “The NAACP and other groups calling for clemency were not heard,” Huffman said.
Professor and civil rights activist Angela Davis called the execution “a direct inheritance of slavery,” while the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Schwarzenegger “missed the moment to choose life over death, redemption over revenge.”
Following Williams’ death, anti-death-penalty activists were keeping up their campaign this week, urging support for state Assembly Bill 1121 to establish a moratorium on executions while the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice completes its investigation concerning wrongful executions and convictions.
“For the first time in years, there is a bill in the Legislature to put legs on a death penalty moratorium,” said Eric Moon of the American Friends Service Committee’s Death Penalty Project. He said hearings on AB 1121 are slated for the California Assembly and Senate next month, and supporters are urged to send messages to their own state legislators. The bill has over 15 co-sponsors.
Hundreds of organizations and over a dozen cities and counties are already on record for a “time out” on executions in the state.
After Schwarzenegger’s Dec. 8 hearing on clemency, death penalty opponents began holding vigils and rallies around the state. But their hopes were dashed when just hours ahead of the execution, the governor issued a harshly worded, six-page statement. In it, he not only rejected evidence of Williams’ rehabilitation and his work to end gang violence, but also criticized Williams’ refusal to apologize for murders he maintained he did not commit. Schwarzenegger also cited the dedication of Williams’ autobiography to Nelson Mandela, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and others who have been imprisoned as grounds for denying clemency.
In 1971, at the age of 17, Williams helped form the Los Angeles Crips gang, an action for which he later expressed great regret. In 1981 he was convicted of four murders, and had been on death row at San Quentin ever since. Williams always maintained he was innocent, and supporters said his trial was based on circumstantial evidence and testimony of witnesses who were themselves facing felony charges — one of whom allegedly testified falsely that Williams had “confessed” to him.
While on death row, Williams turned his life around, writing a series of books educating children and young people to avoid gangs, and participating by phone, Internet and video in peacemaking projects. He was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace and Literature prizes.