The Story of the Struggle from Los Angeles

By: Dana Blanchard

Credit: Sarah Knopp

Just a little more than one month before Stan Tookie Williams was executed, we held our first Save Tookie Committee meeting in a high school in South Los Angeles, a few blocks from where Tookie grew up. At this first meeting, held on November 7, about 60 people turned out on short notice to help fight to save a man who had become an anti-gang hero in their community.

Our movement over the next month brought together people who had never worked together before but had one thing in common: we did not want to see the state murder an innocent man. Every week after that initial meeting, hundreds of people came out to Bethel AME church in South Los Angeles for planning meetings to try to organize enough public pressure to make Gov. Schwarzenegger grant Stan clemency.

Our Save Tookie Committee consisted of religious groups like Nation of Islam, local Black churches and clergy. It also had a large group of people who do anti-gang work, using Tookie’s books. Several mothers whose sons had been murdered by gangs came out as well.

One of the backbones of the Save Tookie Committee was the Community Call to Action and Accountability (CCAA), a grassroots organization that had been meeting since February of last year, when an unarmed Black teenager was shot by police in the neighborhood near Bethel AME. The CCAA was a place were people concerned about the way Blacks are treated in Los Angeles had been organizing already, and it was one of the reasons the Save Tookie Committee grew so fast so quickly.

Credit: Sarah Knopp
Stan’s former wife Bonnie Williams

The Save Tookie Committee was able to put together many great events over the next month after that first meeting. We had a town hall meeting of over 250 people, a large rally of 400 in a local park, and pickets at the Schwarzenegger’s mansion in Brentwood, as well as pickets at the governor’s church and the restaurant he owns in Santa Monica.

Through all this work, we came face to face with the racism of the system in the form of the smear campaign waged by the district attorney’s office, the police and the governor. The radio station KFI had a daily “Kill Tookie” hour, where racist disc jockeys read Tookie’s books in mock voices and announced plans for a celebratory BBQ for the night that “the murderer will fry.” We continued to counter the racists and speak about Stan’s innocence, and when the governor scheduled a clemency hearing for December 8, many of us felt we had made a difference, and we might be able to spare Stan’s life.

It was a bitter day on December 12, mere hours before Stan’s execution, when the governor issued a racist declaration denying Stan clemency. His denial cited the dedication of Stan’s book Life in Prison as an example of how he was not “redeemed.” By dedicating his book to people like Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, George Jackson and Mumia Abu-Jamal, Schwarzenegger said that Stan was glorifying criminals. We believe he was actually honoring men and women who stood up to injustice, while being victims of the prison system themselves.

This callous document sparked anger and sadness in our movement, but it did not stop our fight. Up until the final moments, people came together at San Quentin and at the federal building in Los Angeles to stand up for truth and justice–for a man who had done so much in our communities and been a force for change for us all.

Credit: Sarah Knopp
The struggle for Tookie in LA brought together many different organizations.

We mourn the loss of a great fighter but we must see we are at the beginning of something, not at the end. The Save Tookie struggle has not stopped and will not stop until we have an end to executions in California.

On what would have been Stan’s 52nd birthday on December 29, we helped launch Stan Tookie William’s Worldwide Redemption Day in Los Angeles by having a celebration and reading of his work. We put out 52 chairs, one for each year of Stan’s life, and they were all filled. Last weekend, we had a Live from Death Row meeting with 100 people in attendance, the majority of them from the Save Tookie Committee, to hear Kenneth Clair, an innocent man on death row, speak from San Quentin.

We are continuing the fight to stop the execution of Michael Morales, who is scheduled to be executed in February. We may have lost the battle to save Stan, but we have no doubt that we will be strong enough and organized enough to win the war against the death penalty.

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