by Frances Edstrom
A man was executed yesterday in California. He was found guilty of murdering four people in the course of robberies while he was a member of a gang, the Crips, which he is credited with co-founding.
Until recently that man, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, was hardly a household name, unlike the gang he helped to gain national notoriety. Crips members terrorized Los Angeles neighborhoods during the 1970s, and gang members continue to prey upon the people of their own neighborhoods, spreading drugs and violence to the very populations they purport to be "protecting." Yet Williams, convicted of blowing away four people with a shotgun (arrested after he bragged about the killings), had a coterie of supporters, many movie stars among them (and of course Rev. Jesse Jackson) who tried to put political pressure on the state of California to spare his life.
The question of whether or not this country should use capital punishment is a thorny one, and many of those demonstrating to save Williams' life were doing so not because they thought he might have been unfairly tried, but because they oppose the death penalty, a position that must be respected.
Others of Williams' supporters, however, took a different tack. They argued that he had reformed in prison, so much so that he wrote childrens' books (with the help of a professional writer) that were meant to discourage kids from joining gangs. An admirable goal. But one that Williams undermined by his refusal to help law enforcement root out Crips leaders, drugrunners and gunmen who were still on the streets preying upon the poor and vulnerable.
As I read the news accounts leading up to Williams' execution, it appeared that much of the support he was able to garner came about because of a television movie, "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, that told Williams' story in a sympathetic light.
Foxx himself became a vocal protester of Williams' execution. It is worrisome that online (of course Tookie Williams has a webpage) discussions about Williams were overwhelmingly about the movie, not about reality.
Shouldn't people be able to tell the difference between a fictional representation and reality? One would hope so, but when entertainers like Foxx and other Hollywood stars themselves confuse their movies with reality, what can we expect of our children? How can we impose order on the lawless in our society if we have a public whose opinions can be so easily manipulated by creative writing, special effects and clever actors?