12/04/2005 04:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Final Appeal for Tookie Williams

Dear Governor,

New developments compel me to write a third and final letter on behalf of clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams.

First, the recent rejection by the state Supreme Court of the appeal by Stanley Williams' lawyers was on a 4-2 vote, with dissents from the court's Republican chief justice, Ronald George, and its only African-American, Joyce Kennard. Dissents from such experienced jurists once again suggest that there is reasonable doubt over the rush to execution. In the matter of clemency, such reasonable doubt should be given serious weight. A comparable minority of nine federal judges on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals favored Tookie Williams' appeal, and a majority declared him a worthy candidate for clemency.

Second, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Bruce S. Gordon, has offered a proposal that merits your urgent consideration. The NAACP president met with Tookie Williams to propose a new partnership between the former gang leader and the NAACP “to reach people who might be influenced to join gangs.” Coming from the leader of the nation's oldest civil rights organization, this positive proposal is in stark moral and programmatic contrast with the wasted opportunity represented by a December 13 execution.

Third, politics has reared its ugly head with the comments of the state Republican Party chairman that clemency for Tookie Williams would be further proof of a “liberal” betrayal of Republican principles alongside your multi-billion bond program and appointment of Susan Kennedy as chief of staff. The equation is apparently a symbolic one, since the Tookie Williams case is about whether to execute a man, not about future infrastructure programs or the execution of policy. [I might add that the Susan Kennedy I know is a protégé of Sen. Diane Feinstein, known for her strong support of the death penalty, not a pacifist liberal.]

To spare someone's life in hopes that they might save others from their destructive rage is not a Republican or Democratic issue, which is why at least some of your Republican friends in confidence are urging clemency. Clemency, after all, is the middle ground where wisdom grows. It would be a wise centrist decision to neither release Tookie Williams nor execute him in a fortnight. Clemency would mean Tookie Williams would pay a lifetime penalty for the crimes he was convicted of committing. But he would remain alive to serve a useful human purpose, counseling young people against the gang life.

The prosecution has defaulted its responsibility to the public interest by its extreme and fallacious campaign to execute this individual; for example, recently circulating false claims that Tookie Williams “still orchestrates gang activity outside the prison”. The greatest failure of prosecutorial responsibility is the claim of Attorney General Bill Lockyer among others that a 25-year old jury verdict favoring the death penalty should be respected, as if nothing has changed since then that might have influenced the jury's decision. Did the jury have reason to believe, for example, that Tookie Williams would go through a transformative passage leading to the 1992 truce between Crips and Bloods, that he would learn to read and write books for children, that he would express profound remorse for his past involvement in violence, that he would be offered a partnership with the NAACP? Of course not. You are being asked by the prosecutors to uphold what the jury said then, without allowing consideration of anything that has happened since. This is an immoral, unprofessional, even bankrupt argument for which prosecutors who are supposed to represent “the People” should be remanded.

I venture to predict that your decision in this case will be remembered in history, and lodged in your own heart, more than any other decision of your public career - past, present and future. Perhaps that is why you chose the verb “dread” in describing your approach. Though some argue it's about merely following the law, clemency allows no wall of separation between the personal decision and the official act of execution, no end to moral doubt or troubled sleep. This is your chance to communicate to the world that there is a moral line between terminating as entertainment and terminating in real life.

Once understood this way, the choice becomes an exhilarating release from politics as usual.

First, to issue a clemency statement that will command the respect of the whole world.

Alternatively, to issue blanket clemencies until the deliberations and final report of the state commission created by the legislature and governor, which is mandated to report on irregularities, inequities and options regarding the death penalty, due in 2007.

Second, call the NAACP president and propose a roundtable on gang violence prevention, blending your own pro-youth initiatives, and your call for a rehabilitation focus in prisons and the youth authority, in a common private-public approach with the NAACP and the entertainment industry, utilizing reformed gang members to reach the younger generation.