In denying Stanley Tookie Williams clemency, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the former gang leader had failed to prove his redemption. Part of his argument rested on the fact that Williams had dedicated one of his books to a group of political activists, mostly black, who have all served time in prison, as well as a general dedication to those “who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.” The governor was particularly incensed that Williams included George Jackson in the dedication list, saying that the late black militant’s inclusion “defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed.”
In 1958, at the age of 18, George Jackson was given the brutally vague sentence of one-year-to-life for his role in a $70 gas station robbery. While in prison, Jackson began to change his life: He read voraciously, was an outspoken political analyst and became a leading figure in the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s. The Black Panther Party made him a field marshal, and support committees sprang up nationally after he was charged in 1970, along with John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, of murdering a prison guard. Jackson’s book of prison letters, Soledad Brother, became a bestseller, complete with an introduction by noted author Jean Genet. Jackson was killed August 21, 1971, during an alleged escape attempt from San Quentin.
By 2005 George Jackson is far from a household name, and yet Schwarzenegger found him appalling enough to merit silencing forever the 51-year-old Williams, who had endeavored in the last ten years of his incarceration to dissuade young people from joining gangs. On December 13, the state of California executed Williams by lethal injection for four 1979 murders. To the end, Williams maintained he was innocent.
Five days before Tookie Williams’s execution, another man by the name of Williams died in prison. Fifty-eight-year-old Richard Williams came from a different background but shared some similarities with the Crips co-founder. From a white working-class area outside Boston, Richard Williams had several brushes with the law and by the time he was 23, was serving time for robbery. It was 1971–George Jackson had been killed and one month later the rebellion at Attica Correctional Facility took place. Richard Williams began organizing for better conditions in the New Hampshire prison, where he was incarcerated.
He got out a few years later and threw himself into an array of antiracist organizing efforts: Among other things, he helped organize the historic 1979 Amandla Concert at Harvard Stadium, an antiapartheid benefit show featuring Bob Marley. On November 4, 1984–his thirty-seventh birthday–Richard was arrested in Ohio with four others. All were accused of membership in the United Freedom Front (UFF), a group of white activists who bombed a select collection of government or corporate buildings in the early 1980s, mostly in and around New York City–including General Electric, IBM, Union Carbide, Army and Navy offices–to protest US financial and political support for the apartheid regime and death squads in Central America. No one was injured in the blasts.