Seven words uttered by a ’former wannabee think’s he still is but when you live in podunk you never really can be’ gangbanger, upon hearing the news that California Governor Arnold Schwarznegger denied clemency to Tookie Williams, former Crips who was awaiting execution yesterday. And although I was sadden at the loss of Williams’ life (yes, I didn’t favor granting clemency on the basis of redemption, but the loss of any life is always a reason to mourn), if even one gangbanger, even a wannabee, stopped gangbanging …
We all know the statistics of black on black crime. And we know those numbers escalate into stupidity when it comes to gangbangers. Like the crime for which Williams was convicted, gangbanging killings aren’t just for crime, initiations, turf protection, or respect. For some it’s now their ‘drug’ of choice. As one gangbanger told me, ‘the fear in their eyes … right before you pull the trigger … it’s higher than any drug I’ve tried and it doesn’t whack your body all up.” He bragged he’d killed over 40 people, and never been jailed, even though he’d been picked up several times. He also cackled remembering the Sunday his gun jammed when he walked up to a car at a red light and tried to shoot two ladies who had just left church. I can’t begin to describe the expression on my face as I listened to this psychotic mess, but I desperately tried to keep it from reflecting what I was actually thinking, which was close to ‘girl, you need to get the heck up out of here.’ If you believe those where the actual words I was thinking. But still if someone like Monster (my name for ‘Psycho Fool’) or Mr. Wannabee could take something positive from the life and death of Tookie Williams …
Okay, I doubt if Monster would get it. In fact, since this exchange occurred in Los Angeles, and I left there over 10 years ago, someone else has probably gotten Monster by now. As for Mr. Wannabee, my hope was built on sinking sand there too. For when he flung out his seven lasting words, he saw Williams not as a symbol to change lives but as a political weapon. Surprise, surprise, surprise on me.
Somewhere in between hanging out on park benches, hustling odd jobs, and singing hey ho on BET, Wannabee had acquired a political conscious. Wannabee was hip to Russell Simmons efforts in New York with the Rockefeller Drug Laws and hopped on P. Diddy’s ‘Vote or Die’ wagon before the band started playing. He thinks that Black preacher in Michigan who’s a Republican will win his Senate seat but that other Black one running in Maryland will lose big. He also says ’George Bush, Jr. doesn’t like Black people,” because of his daddy, George Bush, Sr. – the King of using Black people.
Remember Willie Horton? In 1986, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis signed a Prison Furlough Program that allowed Willie Horton, a “rehabilitated” prisoner, out. Horton subsequently committed a murder in Maryland, so during the 1988 presidential election, Bush, Sr. used Horton’s picture in television ads against Dukakis. Nobody remembers the ads exact words, but the message was clear - ’White America if you don’t want Black men raping and pillaging your women, don’t elect Dukakis as president’ – and Dukakis spent his time defending himself, and not attacking the issues.
Willie Horton was Bush, Sr.’s political weapon to the White House.
Wannabee sees Tookie Williams as a political weapon against government officials and political activists.
Start with Schwarznegger. Although the Terminator has good ideas, he’s not a politician and the recent resounding defeat of his four initiatives in the special election has his poll numbers at an all time low. For some Californians, denial of clemency to Williams will symbolize another example that the GOP doesn’t care about Black folks and someone will surely say, if not think, ’if Williams had been White …’ Schwarznegger could be easy pickings for Democrats to defeat in the next governor’s election, as well as allow them to pick up additional legislative seats and offices.
Williams’ execution could also be used to affect who fills the final vacancy on the Supreme Court. Recently this Supreme Court overturned an appellate court decision by Judge Alito, who has been nominated by President Bush to fill O’Connor’s seat. Ruling to overturn a district judge, Alito kept the defendant’s death sentence intact. On the heels of a Republican governor, Schwarznegger, denying clemency in a high profile death penalty case that ended in execution, some Senators may be hesitant to fill the seat of the Justice who provided the swing vote to overturn the death sentence with the Judge who ruled to keep it intact.
Finally, and most importantly, Wannabee sees Williams’ life symbolizing a wake up for more of us to see how some members of our community continue to prostitute and pimp us for their own needs. They show up for the photo op because it sells them to mainstream media, but opt out for the day-to-day that contributes to what plagues our community. We can’t expect everybody to everywhere, but if someone had been somewhere at some point in Williams’ life … well, the clemency, the conversation, and this commentary would be moot. Right?
Wannabee is right, Williams is a symbol. He’s made his statement. His symbolic dash has been filled in. How we choose to symbolize him and what statement we will make, will be determined by our individual character. Unlike Williams, our dash is still in the race.