Our Turn Now: The Needed Redemption of Injustice

By Carol Chehade (cmchehade@yahoo.com) for Street Gangs Magazine
February 1, 2005

If ever there was a better argument as to why violence on screen influences violence in society, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenenegger should be the poster boy. Killing people on the movie screen was not enough for the Governor; he had to make his murderous characters a reality by playing them out onto the canvass of life. His latest blockbuster was permanently wrapped on December 13, 2005, when he legally lynched Stan “Tookie” Williams. Only in a schizophrenic society can a black man be both paradoxically described as a powerful enough symbol that evokes the command of fear while at the same time have no power in the system that efficiently kills blackness. Williams reminds us of our society’s mental sickness.

Williams was the co-founder of the infamous gang known as the Crips. He was the first to admit living the thug life, but maintained until his death that his former life as a gang member did not lead him to kill the four people who caused him to be sentenced to death. Williams’s trial was marred with incompetence and ignorance. First of all, there was nobody from his peer group, meaning no black jurors. Second, he was repeatedly referred to as an animal, specifically a “Bengal tiger” that resided in the “natural habitat” of South Central Los Angeles. Third, Williams’s fingerprints were never found on the crime scene. Fourth, police informants who were criminals trying to broker their own deals to get leniency were used as witnesses looking out for their own self-interest, which often conflicted with the truth. Finally, a former witness against Williams released a sworn statement that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department brought unrelated files of different cases and told the prosecutor’s witness to creatively use the files until they were manipulatively customized against Williams. There were many other miscarriages of justice. In short, enough reasonable doubt existed to grant clemency.

Despite his unbalanced trial, Williams deserved clemency based on his great works for humanity. Besides being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times, Williams is responsible for saving the lives of countless youth from the prison of gang life, has wrote over several books, counseled thousands of incarcerated people, brokered peace treaties between Bloods and Crips across the country by using the methods outlined in one of his books, Tookie Protocol for Peace: A Local Street Peace Initiative. Williams has been used as a consultant and mediator by everyone from kids at risk to law enforcement. He also received the 2005 Presidential Call to Service Award from President George W. Bush, no novice in applying the death penalty in Texas. Was that an award for Williams’ work or a consolation prize to prepare him for his death? His accomplishments are too numerous and the lives he has touched and positively changed is even greater.

The Governor justified his rejection of clemency by using Williams’ book Life in Prison: “The dedication of Williams’ book Life in Prison casts significant doubt on his personal redemption. This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams’ redemptive experience. Specifically the book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, George Jackson, Mumia Abu Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths, who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars. The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders including the killing of law enforcement. But the inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems.”

This statement coming from a man who battled sexual misconduct allegations around the time of his election as Governor; the same man who also used the argument that he was not the same person he was around the time of when the allegations occurred. Well he certainly is not the same person he was when those allegations happened because he has officially graduated to higher crimes. Evidentially part of the reason Williams was executed was based on his personal choice to whom he dedicated his book. If that is the criteria we apply to define whether or not a person is to die, then the U.S. government should also face trial for some of the deadly alliances it has formed.

Williams’s case is bigger than the death penalty. It is about how much a person can emancipate themselves from their destructive selves and embrace their creative selves. To some, Williams’s case is a symbol against the death penalty. To others, his case is less about the death penalty and more about granting clemency in cases where redemption has been reached. Redemption is rare and divine. Seemingly, those few who truly reach it are killed. Certainly Williams reached the epic heights of redemption.

The movie Redemption, which was based on Williams’ life, educated many people who have faced incarceration as well as those of us who have never been incarcerated. It held many lessons. One of those lessons is that very few people are wise enough judges to determine innocence and guilt, and even fewer are wise enough to know when to apply the death penalty. Clemency did not mean releasing Williams from his physical prison. It meant releasing him from the clutches of death. Clemency has been granted to lesser people who have not done an iota of work to improve humanity as Williams has done.

The reformed co-founder of the Crips repeatedly expressed the regret he had in helping to shape the negativity perpetuated from gang life. He has put actions behind his regrets by organizing a positive movement that has dwarfed the negative beginnings of the Crips. He had saved lives that would have otherwise been lost to gangs. His execution did not only exterminate one life that was useful, but it exterminated the light of hope for many. This was an act of vengeance and not justice.

Injustice does not like to be punished of its racist and classist hypocrisies. O.J. Simpson fits this class. Unlike Williams, Simpson’s wealth afforded him to avoid the death penalty and prison time. Whites didn’t really feel the flaws of our justice system until Simpson used it in the same way many whites have used it. Whether you believe he is guilty or innocent, Simpson was acquitted using the same justice system that whites have long used against Blacks. With Simpson’s acquittal, white America felt the injustice of the system that has long imprisoned black people. The lessons from receiving retribution from a racist system were ignored. Instead white anger followed Simpson by creating the harsh bars of public censure against him. In contrast, it took John Demjanjuk, an Ohio autoworker who was controversially dubbed Ivan the Terrible, 30 years to face justice in the U.S. despite allegations showing his role in killing hundreds of Jews. The Israeli court did not proclaim Demjanjuk’s innocence before releasing him back to the U.S. Instead they had reasonable doubt as to whether he was the same Ivan the Terrible they wanted. Despite his infamy and despite the controversial question of his identity as Ivan the Terrible, the majority of Demanjanjuk’s existence in the U.S. has been lived as a quiet, modest life insulated by a supporting community. Williams was not white or rich. In a flawed judicial system, you can be white and poor and use whiteness in your favor, you can be black and rich and use wealth in your favor, but to be poor and black will get you killed.

Like the Governor, I wasn’t born in this country. I was born to Arab parents. But the American dream to me didn’t include fighting for the rights of the elite here in America or anywhere in the world. My vision isn’t limited to the nationalistic boundaries of the American dream. Instead, I have a World dream that includes uniform liberation of all oppressed people and the redemption of both oppressors and oppressed. Like the founders of the U.S. I am a full proponent of liberation from the clutches of tyranny. I am not like the governor who comes into the American system as a recent immigrant and starts killing a group of people that helped forge the way so that others can pursue the dream. Malcolm X once said that the first word an immigrant learns is “nigger.” Now the first thing an immigrant does to prove his patriotism is to kill people of color, this of course includes people of color killing other people of color. I respect my hosts, both black and white and everyone in between. I try to understand this racial and class-ist issue, instead of taking a sword out to cut away who I do not like.

The State wanted Williams to apologize for murders he did not commit. If Williams did indeed kill four people it would be consistent in his character to admit his crimes as he had admitted his enormously regrettable role in the gang world. Given he was facing death, he still held on to the truth when he could have simply lied and told the Governor what he wanted to hear so that he could live stating, “I cannot lie in order to live.” Williams chose death over lying. Lesser humans would have gone back to their animal instincts and done anything to live.

Let us uniformly apply the concept of redemption. If governments can judge the level of our redemption, then we should also apply that right. I judge the governor as not having reached redemption. I judge the U.S. government as not having reached redemption. I judge the World governments as not having reached redemption. I do not believe our leaders are truly redeemed when they find it logical to spend billions of dollars to free oil, when it could be used to free people from the clutches of genocide, slavery, trafficking, poverty, racism, disease and hunger. The only difference in how each side applies redemption is that the government doesn’t die from my accusations when we, the people, can die because an institution deems us expendable. Indeed, true and complete redemption cannot be carried on the hunched back of one person saving us all of our sins. It can start with one but it must be reached by all.

When is redemption proven to be reached? If we are sucked into the vortex of perpetuating negativity then some may view Williams’s execution as an example of the uselessness of trying to change our lives if it is only going to be met with death. However, if we rise up from that vortex of darkness, we see the sacrifice and power we must evolve toward in order to stand up for righteousness. The redemption of injustice is not for the weak of heart. Williams’ death showed us that only the strong can participate if we are to win true justice. Williams died as a soldier. He showed us you can never convince a mere human being, even a human being who has played the “Terminator,” of your redemption. Williams’s true road to redemption proved itself in the way he lived and in the way he died.

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