Food for Thought

Linda was washing the dishes when the phone rang. It was Chuck, her ex-brother-in-law. “Linda, I want you to sit down,” said Chuck, “Al was killed.” Linda crumbled over the dishes, crying, her 8 year old and 5 year old daughters standing behind her.

Earlier, at the Seven-Eleven where Al was working, 3 men walked in. Two of them went to the cash register, the other took Al to the storage room. Al was made to lay down on the floor. The man chambered a round into his shotgun and shot the security monitor. He paused, reloaded the weapon and shot Al in the back as he layed face down on the storage room floor. The man fired a second shotgun round into Al’s back. Both wounds were fatal. The robbery netted less than $120.

The year was 1979. The man was Stanley “Tookie” Williams. When asked by his accomplices in the robbery why he shot Albert Owens in the back, he gave two reasons. He didn’t want to leave any witnesses, and because he was killing all white people.

Less than two weeks later, Williams, using his shotgun, killed seventy-six year old Yen-I Yang; Williams also killed Yang’s wife, sixty-three year old Tsai-Shai Yang; lastly, Williams killed Yang’s daughter, forty-three year old Yee-Chen Lin while robbing the office of the motel that Yang owned and managed.

Through all of the “Save Tookie” that we have been hearing recently, I have heard little sympathy for the families of the victims. We only hear token stories by the muffled few that aggree with the execution of Williams. The far more vocal cry was that for clemency of this brutal murderer.

Williams has been described as “a peacemaker on death row.” He has been nominated 5 times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to prevent gang violence, yet while he sat in prison, he refused to name names to police. He has been nominated four times for the Nobel Literature Prize for his children’s books that warn young people about the pitfalls of joining a gang and exposes them to alternatives, yet it is widely understood that these books were ghost written and he merely allowed the use of his name.

During the protests of the execution, one particular sign that stood out to me was “End the Racist Death Penalty”. Somehow, I don’t think the sign-holder is referring to the fact that Williams put Albert Owens to death because Owens was white.

For nearly two decades, Williams’ has been granted appeal after appeal in his case, something that was denied his victims. In fact, Williams never expressed remorse to the families of his victims. He maintained his innocence for 26 years. Interestingly enough, while maintaining his innocence, one reason in his request for clemency was his rehabilitation. My question is if he was an innocent man, why would he consider himself rehabilitated?

After California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency, Williams was put to death early this morning. The families of his known victims have waited 26 years for this sentence to be carried out. Yet, in the days to follow, we will likely continue to hear about the reformed and gentle man who wrote children’s books and was nominated for the Nobel Prize more than we hear about how Albert Owens, father of two, lay face down, unarmed and unresistant, on the floor of a storeroom and was brutally shot in the back.