M]y lack of fear of this barbaric methodology of death, I rely upon my faith. It has nothing to do with machismo, with manhood, or with some pseudo former gang street code. This is pure faith, and predicated on my redemption...redemption is tailor-made for the wretched, and that's what I used to be….That's what I would like the world to remember me. That's how I would like my legacy to be remembered as: a redemptive transition, something that I believe is not exclusive just for the so-called sanctimonious, the elitists. And it doesn't -- is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one's religious background. It's accessible for everybody...God bless. So take care.”
-Stanley Tookie Williams
In South Los Angeles, there was a club called the Sands at the corner of 84th and Figueora. I only remember this because we lived in the middle of the block and on Friday and Saturday evenings in December, when the asphalt parking lot was filled, the overflow cars would park in front of our house. I was seven and I never really understood why all those people would be so dressed up and not going to church. Back then, I thought the only time one got dressed up was to go to Sunday School or someone's funeral.
I spent a lot of time at both. Conservatively, I remember having attended about ten funerals before my eighth birthday...and, as for Sunday School appearances, the number is interminable.
Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips, is dead. His funeral was held a few days ago. If you lived South of Jefferson, North of Imperial Highway, East of Crenshaw or West of Alameda you knew Tookie Williams. He was every bit as famous as Tom Bradley--and more infamous than Mickey Cohen and Johnny Stompanato together.
South L.A. was different before Tookie. There wasn't as much fear among black people-- this, of course, is despite the Yorty/Parker cabal that ran the city as if it were Pretoria on the Pacific. The Crips and the growth of street gangs in L.A. changed the very tenor and landscape of South L.A. ushering in real fear-- a climate of uneasiness between people of color. Who has not felt dread upon hearing, "What set you from, Cuz?"
I don't know what Tookie was thinking about when he established the Crips. Clearly, however, the long-term implication has had national significance. Much blood has been shed along the way-- most of it belonging to young black men.
It is my belief that Tookie carried this pain to his cremation. There is no empirical evidence that indicates Tookie ever shed blood-- but, clearly, he is not innocent. I believe he changed. I believe he found redemption--whether it was through Jesus Christ or not, I cannot say. I do know that the kind of 'cold turkey' change that occurred in him could only be made manifest through a collision with a much greater force. Humankind, rarely, have this kind of 'Damascus Road' experience without contact with the Lord.
The "Damascus Road" analogy is instructive. The Apostle Paul, though being the savior of Christianity and the craftsman of 2/3 of the New Testament, was forever haunted by the bloodshed he orchestrated in his early years. The book of Acts made it clear that Saul (his then name) was present at the murder of Stephen, holding the cloaks and coats of the murderers. And this same Saul, on a writ from the Sanhedrin Court, went boldly to Syria to in the hopes of hunting "Christians."
Saul, like Tookie, found redemption in God's world, but not in the world of man. Despite the strenuous missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor and the Middle East...despite having founded churches and brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, he was often remembered as the murdering Pharisee. As he grew older, it is my belief that when people discussed his 'past,' it would be, to him, as if they were speaking about a different person. Saul--that other guy-- was long since dead. During his lifetime, few game his credit for changing.
God forgave Paul and entrusted the architecture of the church to his capable intellect. At the end of his life, however, Paul struggled to forgive himself. He, like Tookie, died at the hands of the State. No clemency for Paul...none, either, for Tookie. One by lethal injection--the other by beheading.
The subtle difference is that Tookie's execution was designed to send a message to the world: The life of an black man is excrement. It is not worth a two week stay of execution to determine if new evidence is credible. It is not worth anything. Let the Terminator terminate!
I hope the Crips and Bloods perceive that Tookie's execution transcends colors and signs. The lone sign that I challenge them to see is the one which indicates the worth Gov. Arnold places on the lives of black men. Once a criminal, always a criminal.
It is remarkable to me that within our collective unconscious we can offer the beauty of redemption to a character like Ebenezer Scrooge. The old man wreaked havoc and cruelty on families, shunned his only relatives and made the world a wicked and nastier habitation. No one has difficulty accepting the spiritual redemption of Scrooge. He changes....he seeks to make restitution to those he harmed...he showed a willingness to demonstrate to the world his new found belief structure. And, we easily accept the possibility of such transformation.
Vox Populi is often more willing to excuse Edgar Ray Killen with the "that was too long ago and everyone changes over time' defense. Pastor Edgar Ray (ordained by the Baptist) copped to murdering Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner-- and, he's spending this Christmas Eve just chillin' out-- Tookie--on the other hand, gets the lethal needle based on the testimony of a jail house informant.
Edgar Ray did nothing to correct the wrongs he so ably participated in-- Tookie, of course, dedicated much of his adult life to influencing a generation on the evil duplicity and pain interspersed with the gang life.
Scrooge and Edgar Ray are considered prime candidates for redemption-- much more so than a black man nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Dickens was right: "Bah, humbug!"