Tookie’s Long Goodbye


April 29, 1993—At the Hands Across Watts peace summit between members of the Bloods and the Crips, convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams delivers a videotaped message from San Quentin’s death row to hundreds of gang members gathered in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom. “Working together,” he tells them, “we can put an end to this cycle that creates deep pain in the hearts of our mothers, our fathers, and our people, who have lost loved ones to this senseless violence.”

April 13, 1997—Williams posts an apology for his previous gang activity on, lamenting, “When I created the Crips youth gang. . . in South Central Los Angeles, I never imagined Crips membership would one day spread throughout California, would spread to much of the rest of the nation and to cities in South Africa, where Crips copycat gangs have formed. I also didn’t expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men. . . . So today I apologize to you all—the children of America and South Africa—who must cope every day with dangerous street gangs. I no longer participate in the so-called gangster lifestyle, and I deeply regret that I ever did. . . . I pray that one day my apology will be accepted. I also pray that your suffering, caused by gang violence, will soon come to an end as more gang members wake up and stop hurting themselves and others. I vow to spend the rest of my life working toward solutions.”

August 1997—PowerKids Press publishes Williams’ series of children’s books. Co-written with author Barbara Cottman Becnel, the books offer children alternatives to gang violence. “If you’re going to teach a child, teach him properly,” Williams will say to Mother Jones in 2001. “My books, they are about instilling confidence, trying to convince youngsters that they have the potential to succeed in life, and that they don’t have to succumb to the stereotypes.”

November 18, 2000—Swiss Member of Parliament and death penalty opponent Mario Fehr nominates Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize. United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan ultimately takes the prize in February 2001; Williams would receive five more Nobel nominations, including one for Literature, the latest coming on December 8. “Everybody is not loved and everybody is not hated. . . . I didn’t nominate myself,” Williams tells the Contra Costa Times shortly after news of the nomination breaks. “I let the merits of what I do speak for itself. My main objective is to convince kids that the gang life is a cause-less cause. I try to apprise them of the fact that there are other ways.”

September 10, 2002—The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejects the appeal of his death sentence, but suggests Williams apply for clemency from Gray Davis, then governor of California. “Although Williams’ good works and accomplishments since incarceration may make him a worthy candidate for the exercise of gubernatorial discretion, they are not matters that we in the federal judiciary are at liberty to take into consideration,” Judge Preston Hug writes in the majority opinion.

October 11, 2005—The United States Supreme Court denies Williams’s appeal without comment, setting his execution for 12:01 a.m., December 13.

November 30, 2005—Williams speaks to WBAI’s Amy Goodman from prison in one of his final interviews. “I continue to live my life day by day, or shall I say, minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, as I have been doing since my redemption,” he tells Goodman on Democracy Now! “It has nothing to do with a cavalier attitude. It has nothing to do with machismo or manhood or some pseudo code of the streets, which I formerly used. It has to do with my faith in God and my redemption. . . .I don’t fear this type of stuff. I’m at peace. And when you maintain this sense of peace and you live by truth, by integrity, these things don’t bother me. It doesn’t.”

December 11, 2005—The California State Supreme Court denies a plea to grant a stay of execution and reopen Williams’s case, asserting in its ruling that he “has not made a prima facia showing that his claims, whether viewed individually or in aggregate, could meet the statutory requirements of both due diligence and clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.”

December 12, 2005—Seven months after it rejected Williams’s final appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies a request to issue a stay of the execution—but again suggests that Williams seek clemency.

December 12, 2005—Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denies clemency hours later, saying, “After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency. The facts do not justify overturning the jury’s verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case. The possible irregularities in Williams’ trial have been thoroughly and carefully reviewed by the courts, and there is no reason to disturb the judicial decisions that uphold the jury’s decisions that he is guilty. . . and should pay with his life.”

December 12, 2005—Attorneys for Williams file a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to win a stay of his execution. The high court rejects the appeal without comment.

December 13, 2005—Stanley Tookie Williams dies in California’s San Quentin Prison after receiving a lethal injection. He was 51 years old. According to the Los Angeles Times, he told friends he wasn’t afraid of death. Witnesses to the killing told the paper it took 10 minutes to locate a vein, and that among his last words were these: “Still can’t find it?”