Workers Vanguard No. 861

6 January 2006


Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

California Lynches Stanley Tookie Williams

OAKLAND—On December 13, the state of California executed Stanley Tookie Williams. In an act of barbarism, the executioners spent 20 minutes digging in his arms trying to insert needles for the lethal injection. This legal lynching gruesomely underscores the political message that, for the capitalist rulers, black life counts for nothing, a message the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed to all the world. It is meant to underline that the government intends to enforce the racist death penalty despite substantial public opposition to it, and is especially pushing for the execution of America’s foremost class-war prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Addressing black youth horrified by Williams’ cruel murder, Marc Sapir noted in a 28 December 2005 column in the San Francisco Bay View: “The state’s message was loud and clear: ‘If you resist our violence and terror you will be called the terrorist and we will kill you’.”

Capital punishment, a legacy of black chattel slavery, exposes the naked brutality of this class-divided and racially segregated society. We oppose the death penalty on principle—for the guilty as well as the innocent—because we do not accord the state the right to determine who lives and dies. On the night of Williams’ execution, some 2,000 protesters gathered outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison where Williams had been entombed on death row for nearly a quarter century. We participated in the demonstration called that evening with signs demanding, “Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” and calling for “Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!”

To the end, Stanley Williams maintained that he was innocent of the four murders of which he was convicted. Just hours before the execution, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams clemency, and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his last-minute legal appeals. After the governor rejected clemency, lawyers for Williams asked Schwarzenegger for a stay of execution based on exculpatory information of three more witnesses who had come forward in the prior week. Only hours before Williams was to die, a fourth witness signed an affidavit that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department fed police reports to one witness to aid his fabrication of Williams’ hearsay “confession.” California’s top cop, Democratic attorney general Bill Lockyer, presided over the state’s legal pursuit of Williams’ execution, and now any evidence that might have proven his innocence will never be heard.

The Williams case “is a prime example of the racist travesty that is American ‘justice’,” as the Partisan Defense Committee stated in a November 29 protest letter to Schwarzenegger. Williams, a former leader of the L.A. Crips gang, was convicted in a case brought by a prosecutor twice censured by the California Supreme Court for discriminatory conduct. Every potential black juror was struck from the jury. No physical evidence linked Williams to the murders. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and hearsay testimony by jailhouse snitches who faced felony convictions and were offered reduced sentences and other compensation.

Because of Williams’ conversion in prison into an anti-gang and anti-crime crusader, portrayed in the docudrama Redemption, many, including the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, considered him an excellent candidate for clemency. However, in his five-page denial, Schwarzenegger dismissed all evidence of an unfair trial and posed the ultimate Catch-22: Williams could not be “redeemed” because he refused to confess, i.e., he refused to compromise his integrity in order to exculpate the racist injustice system.

From the ghettos of South-Central L.A. to the parliaments of Europe, where the death penalty is illegal in most countries, many voiced outrage over the killing of Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. His numerous supporters included such well-known figures as Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg and Joan Baez. Protests were organized in Schwarzenegger’s Austrian hometown of Graz, after which he demanded that his name be stripped from the sports stadium.

To many black people, protesting on behalf of Williams represented a gut reaction to the racist injustice and violence they regularly experience at the hands of the capitalist rulers and their state. In L.A., thousands of people, overwhelmingly black, turned out to view Williams’ body and honor him at his funeral. They were met with an ominous police presence, as hundreds of riot cops dispatched by Democratic mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lined the streets. In his remarks at the funeral, Jesse Jackson made a point that was on the minds of many people there about the racist and capricious character of the death penalty: “Tookie Williams is dead, killed by the state. However, Charlie Manson is alive, and he tore apart the body of Sharon Tate who was nine-months pregnant.” Manson’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison when the death penalty was briefly ruled unconstitutional in the state of California in 1971.

California now has a death row population of 647, the largest in the country. So many innocent people have been sentenced to die that the California State Senate established a Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice to investigate, and there are proposals that there be a moratorium on executions at least until the Commission issues its report in 2007. Perhaps for this very reason, Williams’ execution date was moved forward. The state machinery of death presses on: the next legal lynching is scheduled for January 17, of 75-year-old Native American Clarence Ray Allen, who is wheelchair-bound and almost blind.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Williams’ case became a referendum on the enforcement of the death penalty, which is supported by politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties. In executing Williams, they declare their intention to carry out the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal—a former Black Panther and MOVE supporter known as the “voice of the voiceless”—who was framed up for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

Williams was not a fighter for black freedom imprisoned for his political beliefs. But after years in San Quentin, he came to appreciate the fight waged by those who were. In denying clemency to Williams, Schwarzenegger cited the fact that Williams dedicated his 1998 book, Life in Prison to “Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths, who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.” Schwarzenegger ranted: “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.”

On the contrary, it is Schwarzenegger’s objections that are “curious”: Mandela is a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa; Angela Davis was acquitted of all charges; Assata Shakur is in exile in Cuba with a $1 million bounty on her head; Malcolm X was murdered; Pratt and Dhoruba, both former Panthers, are now free after their convictions, both blatant COINTELPRO frame-ups, were reversed; Ramona Africa spent seven years in prison for the “crime” of being the sole adult survivor of the 1985 bombing of the MOVE commune by the Philadelphia police and FBI; John Africa was among those killed in the same bombing; American Indian Movement leader Peltier is in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Schwarzenegger’s statement singles out Black Panther Party member George Jackson for special slander: “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.” In fact, George Jackson, a revered leader of the Panthers and a fighter for prisoner rights, was never convicted of anything more than a $71 gas station robbery; he was assassinated by prison guards at San Quentin on 21 August 1971.

But the main target of Schwarzenegger’s lies and slander is Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man! Another man has confessed to Faulkner’s killing—evidence the courts refuse to hear (see article, page 3). Jamal’s case exposes what the death penalty is all about: a weapon of repression by the capitalist rulers, employed not least against fighters against racist oppression. By branding Mumia and other freedom fighters murderous criminals, Schwarzenegger and his racist supporters are sending an ominous message to Mumia’s defenders, as well as any black people, particularly young blacks, who would take up his struggle for freedom.

The bourgeois press, too, is joining the lynch mob. Among others, journalist Michael Smerconish published a column titled “How Mumia Helped with Tookie’s Sendoff” (Philadelphia Daily News, 16 December 2005), gloating over Tookie’s death and looking forward to Jamal’s. Vile radio shows like the “Kill Tookie Hour” in Los Angeles fomented race hate and bloodlust.

In his funeral oration, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan claimed that Williams “paid a price, not just for his redemption, but for ours” (San Francisco Chronicle 21 December 2005). For its part, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) declared in an article titled “They Murdered a Peacemaker” (Socialist Worker, 16 December 2005): “The state of California rewarded redemption with cold-blooded murder.” “Redemption” amounts to blaming the victims for their own oppression—as though they need to “redeem” themselves before the eyes of “God and country”—thereby alibiing the racist capitalist rulers. As Marxists, we reject the very concept of “redemption,” the sickening religious notion of being “saved” through repentance.

In its article, the ISO describes Schwarzenegger as “better” than his predecessor, Democratic governor Gray Davis, praising him for “promoting parole for prisoners and last year adding the word ‘rehabilitation’ to the name of the Department of Corrections.” One might as well point out that the words “Work Brings Freedom” were above the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. Meanwhile, ISO spokesman Todd Chretien called the execution of Williams “a great moral failure on the part of our government” in a 15 December press release announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate on the capitalist Green Party ticket. “Our government”? This cabal of murderers, liars and robbers is not “our government.” The ISO is promoting illusions in the nature of the capitalist state. As we said in “Free the San Quentin Six,” an article about George Jackson and his comrades (WV No. 122, 20 August 1976):

“Prisons are the concentrated essence of the repressive power of the state, which upholds capitalism with its enforced poverty and inequality, driving many lumpenized elements to crime to survive. But once in prison, ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘correction’ become sick and empty lies, as harassment and torture of those seeking to maintain even a minimum of human dignity lead to ever longer sentences and deepening repression.”

Rather than “redemption,” black people need class-struggle leadership in the form of a revolutionary workers party that can lead the fight to overthrow this thoroughly rotten imperialist system. Abolish the racist death penalty! For black liberation through socialist revolution!