What is it about the fate of convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams that so engrossed the Hollyleft and Euroleft?
A founder of the Crips, a Los Angeles criminal gang whose record of murder, rape and robbery makes Al Capone’s Cicero crowd look like the Lavender Hill Mob, Tookie was convicted in 1979 of the cold-blooded killing of four innocent people in a pair of robberies.
Albert Owens, a 26-year-old Whittier, Calif., 7-Eleven employee, was shotgunned to death. Days later, an elderly Asian couple who ran a motel, Yen-I Yang and Thsai-Shai Yang, and their 43-year-old daughter, Yee Chen Lin, all got the same treatment.
Convicted of the four murders, Tookie never repented, but protested his innocence right up to the end. He did, however, author children’s books to teach black youth to avoid gangs and violence. Whether Tookie had a ghost-writer remains in dispute.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had played no role in Tookie’s death sentence, but was implored to commute it. After studying the record, however, Schwarzenegger was convinced of two facts: First, Tookie Williams was a cold-blooded killer. Second, Tookie, 25 years later, was still lying about it. No repentance, no absolution. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption," said Arnold.
So, the governor refused to interrupt the execution of the law and, on Dec. 13, Tookie departed via lethal injection. His last request was that he be cremated and his ashes be spread — across South Africa.
Yet, by the time of his death, Tookie Williams had become a legend. His story was made into a cable TV movie, "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, and he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for writing against gangs and violence.
Foxx, fellow actor Mike Farrell and Bianca Jagger all pleaded for clemency. And at his funeral in the 1,500-seat AME Bethel Church in Los Angeles, Jesse Jackson and Snoop Dogg delivered eulogies. A TV screen beamed the services to a large crowd in the parking lot.
Snoop Dogg’s eulogy took the form of a poem, "Until We Meet Again," the most arresting couplet of which was, "It’s nine-fifteen on twelve thirteen/And another black king will be taken from the scene."
Sort of calls to mind W.H. Auden’s "In Memory of W.B. Yeats."
When Snoop Dogg hit his big line, "I don’t believe Stan did it," applause exploded in the parking lot, where a grieving 33-year-old Crips soldier, who identified himself as "Kilowatt the Third," said of Tookie, "That’s my role model … the CEO of the Crips." Kilowatt the Third did not indicate whether he had been impressed with Tookie’s late vocation as the Dr. Seuss of South Central.
But if Tookie’s star is rising, Schwarzenegger’s is sinking, and nowhere more so than in his native Austria. In Graz, where he went to school, Schwarzenegger’s name has graced the 15,300-seat soccer stadium since 1997 — and now city officials have voted to remove it.
Arnold beat them to the punch. He told Graz’s mayor the city could no longer use his name and returned an ornate Ring of Honor given to this most famous American ever to come out of Graz. For it was there Arnold began the bodybuilding career that took him to the Mr. Universe title and on to Hollywood as an action-film star known to the world as The Terminator.
In Europe, where the death penalty has been in bad odor since Hitler, Arnold is probably less popular than Bush. German Green Party leader Volker Beck called his refusal to commute Tookie’s sentence "cowardly." A Christian political group in Graz wants to rename Schwarzenegger Stadium "Tookie Williams Stadium."
"Mr. Williams had converted and, unlike Mr. Schwarzenegger, opposed every form of violence," said Richard Schadauer, chairman of the Association of Christianity and Social Democracy.
According to The New York Times, a separate proposal was advanced to honor not just Tookie, but his entire extended family by renaming the stadium "Crips Stadium."
I am not making this up.
Mayor Siegfried Nagl of Graz, who has his eye on the ball, warns that sweeping de-Schwarzeneggerization of Graz could cost millions in tourist dollars. Moral indignation is fine, up to a point.
But Arnold’s headaches may have just begun. Scheduled for execution on Jan. 17 is Clarence Ray Allen. In 1980, Clarence strangled a 17-year-old girl for telling on him for burglarizing a store. Sent to Folsom Prison for life, Allen ordered the murder of all eight witnesses against him. But his hit man, while killing one of the witnesses, also murdered two teenage bystanders.
Allen would seem unlikely to command much sympathy. The problem for The Terminator is that Allen is 75, blind and a diabetic, has just suffered a heart attack and needs open-heart surgery. As he can’t walk, they will have to wheel Clarence up to the gurney. And after him, five more executions are scheduled for 2006.
Arnold may have seen Austria for the last time.