Thousands gather to protest at U.S. execution
Tuesday, 13 December, 2005
By Michael Kahn
SAN QUENTIN, California (Reuters) - Some dropped to their knees in prayer, others held candles but many in the crowd of thousands that gathered to protest the execution on Tuesday of Stanley Tookie Williams simply waited silently for the inevitable.
The crowd began gathering early on Monday and quickly swelled with people of all ages to mark one of the largest protests in recent memory during an execution at the gates of the prison overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Dozens of police officers lined the road and television news helicopters hovered above the crowd. Residents stood on their stoops and climbed onto roofs to get a clear view of speakers that included Jesse Jackson, actor Mike Farrell, former gang members and leaders of the Nation of Islam.
Many in the crowd carried signs calling for an end to the death penalty while others read simply: "Save Tookie."
Folk singer Joan Baez sang spirituals.
The execution by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison followed a frenzied but failed effort to reopen the case by supporters of Williams, who repudiated gang life during his 24 years on Death Row.
The case has generated widespread interest and fierce debate over the death penalty in the United States because Williams, 51, has written a series of books warning young people against gang violence.
Shantel Lockhart, 16, a high school senior from nearby Fairfield, said she has followed the Williams case the past few years and wanted to show her support for the former gang leader even though she had school early the next morning.
"For all the good he has done, he doesn't deserve to die," she said.
Protesters who had attended previous executions said this was one of the largest such rallies of its kind. Many smaller and more personal protests broke out among the larger crowd.
At one end, a group holding crosses sang religious hymns while along the sidewalk a number of people sat silently in protest with candles burning in front of them. Others banged drums or prayed.
After midnight, as the execution drew near, the crowd grew quiet and some began to cry. One woman knelt on her hands and knees to pray, clutching prayer beads and bowing her head.
The size of the crowd made it difficult to tell when Williams actually died but shortly after word filtered through the crowd many turned and shuffled quietly back to their cars.
Williams, ex-leader of the violent Crips gang, was put to death for brutally killing four people in 1979 in crimes for which he has maintained his innocence.
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