Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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No justice in Williams’ death sentence

In mid-September, I attended a prejudice conference. There I saw racism circumscribed on a line, represented in the height of a bar graph, removed of all its venom and made as innocuous as a snakeskin. All the dropouts, the crime, the poverty, the lost identity, the self hatred — even the cold waitresses and the too-profuse praise were reduced to benign charts and data. At the end of this four-day vivisection of American racism, a question was posed to the audience. "How far have we gone from those Jim Crow days?" And despite the solidity of the presentations and the confidence of the speakers, there was no satisfying answer.

So how far behind are those Birmingham days? Before that question can even be approached, one must first ask, "Where are we now?" I could tell you that approximately 12 percent of all black men in their 20s are in prison or in jail. I could say that although blacks only comprise 5 percent of the Wisconsin population, they are the majority in our prisons. I could also mention that there are currently 1,432 blacks on death row in our nation, making 42 percent of all death row inmates. But these are just the numbers. They do not reach the heart of racism; they don't even feel the pulse.

On Dec. 13, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, co-founder of the Crips street gang, will be put to death in San Quentin State Prison of California. In 1981, he was sentenced to die by an all white jury as punishment for the murders of four people during two separate robberies. None of the physical evidence from the crime scenes has been linked to Tookie, and all of the witnesses were facing felony charges. To this day, Tookie maintains his innocence in regard to these crimes.

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Since his incarceration, he has written nine children's books denouncing gang life. He has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and four times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His efforts to stop gang violence have garnered accolades from the international community. In 1999, Tookie was visited by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former African National Congress Women's League President and the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela. In 2004, his story was made into a television movie, "Redemption", with Jamie Foxx starring as Tookie. In August, President Bush praised him for his work, which has reached oppressed youth across the world.

However, this has not been enough to save him. Every level of the judicial system has rejected his appeals. If the Coalition Against Legal Lynching (CALL) and the National Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty fail and Governor Schwarzenegger does not grant Stanley "Tookie" Williams clemency, then he will die like so many marginalized black men before him. Except today, there will be no heavy drop, no awkward suspension and no upward-gazing children wrapped around broad American shoulders. (They can get that kind of entertainment at home these days.) Tookie's death will be smoother. Cleaner. Efficient. He will be our shameful legacy of judicial failure. And for those who capture racism in slopes and graphs, he will be that clear answer to the question, "How far have we gone?"

Not one inch.

Summer Wilken ([email protected]) is a freshman and member of the Coalition Against Legal Lynching.

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