Skip to main content
Select Source:

Williams, Stanley "Tookie"

Stanley "Tookie" Williams

1953–2005

Activist, writer, death row inmate

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was a man with a type of charisma that few people possess; he could get his message across. Half his life he spent spreading a destructive message. From age 17 in 1971 to 1981, Williams' message was violence. He founded one of the most notorious, violent gangs in America: the Crips. From the drug-infested, crime-ridden streets of South Central Los Angeles, Williams built the Crips into a powerful rival to the Bloods, and the gangs' antagonism toward each other, and other gangs, caused unrest and bloodshed that eventually spread a gang culture and violence throughout the nation. Imprisoned on death row for a murder conviction in 1981, Williams began a transformation into an anti-gang activist. In an effort of atonement, he created a series of books for children warning against the dangers of gang involvement and spoke out against violence. Before his death in 2005, Williams made a name for himself as a promoter of peace, winning multiple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Built Powerful Gang

Willams was raised by his mother—his father left when Williams was a toddler. Without a father figure, he learned about black men through stereotypes that labeled them as violent, promiscuous, and criminal. Williams internalized those negative stereotypes and grew up, as he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "mimicking pimps and drug dealers." As a teenager, he rarely attended high school. By the age of 16, he had already earned a reputation outside of the classroom as a street warrior on the South Central's west side. Williams told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) that he was considered a "bully slayer" because he fought kids who picked on his relatives and friends.

In 1971, when small gangs were invading South Central communities and stealing from residents, 17-year-old Williams and his friend, Raymond Lee Washington, organized the Crip—a derivative of "Crib"—gang. The original Crips, with a membership of approximately twenty to thirty young men, formed a front to protect themselves from other gangs. The early Crips divided into the Westside Crips and the Eastside Crips. By 1979 the Crips, who were known to wear blue bandanas, had manifested into a statewide organization. Although the Crips had organized at first in an attempt to defend themselves and their neighborhoods, according to the tookie.com Web site, the Crips became "just like the gang members they had once sought to protect themselves from—Crips had become gangbangers who terrorized their own neighborhoods."

But there was another, more alluring, side to gang life besides violence. The Crips gave Williams a false, but deeply felt sense of security, recognition, and belonging; all of which he had not found outside of gang life. "Let's face it, there weren't any black rotary clubs out there; there weren't any cricket clubs…. So there was a void." Williams told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). "The gang life actually filled that void, though negative as it was, and negative as it is today, it filled a void that nothing else could fill."

In 1979 the co-founders of the Crips no longer ran the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Their terrorist reign abruptly ended when Washington was gunned down and murdered by a rival gang member, and Williams was charged with killing four people in a motel robbery. Two years later, Williams was found guilty of committing the four murders, and he was sent to San Quentin's death row. Although Williams admitted to his violent past, he denied committing those particular murders to the day he died.

Changed His Life in Prison

As a leader of one of California's most notorious gangs, Williams was often approached and praised by other prisoners who either sought or held membership in gangs. During his incarceration, Williams realized that his motivating reality for gang membership was self- hatred. Williams told CBB that when a child is subjected to lies and disparaging myths about his people, "That child, as I did, eventually develops a psychological complex about himself and his people. That's why it was exceptionally easy for me to lash out at my own people … without remorse." Such children, Williams explained to CBB, end up "trying to destroy one another to prove they're better than other blacks who happen to personify that … negative image."

From 1988 to 1994, Williams spent his days and nights between four small walls in solitary confinement. He turned to the Bible, a dictionary, and thesaurus, for education and guidance. While in solitary, Williams underwent a gradual transformation that he has attributed to God. "Gradually I rediscovered that I had a conscience … it took me years, many long years of re-edification, soul searching, and a battle against my so-called hypocritical mentality," he told CBB.

Promoted Positive Behavior

After realizing his mistakes, Williams felt obligated to reach out to young people, with a message debunking the glorified image of gang membership. He decided to channel his message through a series of children's books entitled Tookie Speaks Out. In 1996 Barbara Cottman Becnel, Williams's co-author, sold the idea for the children's books to the Rosen Publishing Group and the wheels were in motion to distribute Williams's books.

Written for children from kindergarten through fourth grade, the books were used in schools and juvenile correction facilities in the United States, Africa, and Switzerland, and drew attention from people across the country. All the proceeds from Williams's books goes non-profit organizations including Mothers Against Gang Violence, a group based in South Central. The series prompted Dr. Allen Cohen, executive director of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, to contact Williams and Becnel about launching other anti-gang measures in schools. "The themes in the book were entirely congruent with what I think is the best knowledge of the potential of young people to get associated with negative behavior," Cohen said in the Los Angeles Times.

At a Glance …

Born Stanley Tookie Williams III, on December 29, 1953, in New Orleans, LA; executed on December 13, 2005, San Quentin State Prison, California; children: Travon and Stan "Lil'Tookie."

Career: Gang leader, 1971–1981; anti-gang activist, 1980–2005.

Awards: Five-time nominee for Nobel Peace Prize; four-time nominee for Nobel Peace Prize in Literature; President's Call to Service Award, for good deeds on death row, 2005.

After learning that the Crips had spread with a vengeance, setting up shop in 42 states and on at least one other continent by the late 1990s, Williams wanted to launch an Internet project to promote his anti-gang message on another level. He conferred with Becnel who oversaw the inception of Internet Project for Street Peace and who maintained the Web site, tookie. com. The Internet project aimed at building literacy and peer leadership, and it promoted an anti-gang online chat with youth in America and abroad. On the Web site, Williams posted an apology for pioneering an organization that has sunk its venomous teeth into the lives of so many young people. On the Web site, Williams said that he "didn't expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men." Williams also apologized to the children of America and South Africa who face the wrath and temptation of street gangs on a daily basis.

Won Accolades for Message of Peace

In November of 2000 Mario Fehr, a member of the Swiss Parliament, made an unprecedented move and nominated Williams for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. It was the first time a death row inmate has ever been nominated for the prize. Fehr presented his nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, Norway, on the basis that Williams's books and Internet project have had a positive influence on children and encouraged them to resist gangs. "As far as the nomination, all I can say is it does show the impossible is possible even for an individual on death row. It proves that the most phenomenal of things can be accomplished from the abyss of a prison cell. It shows what perseverance and initiative can accomplish," Williams told CBB.

Williams's nomination was greeted with considerable controversy. Many people lauded Williams's efforts at atonement. Corey Weinstein, a physician and board member of California Prison Focus, a prisoner advocacy group, told the San Francisco Chronicle that society is not forgiving of criminals. "It's interesting to say that a person will get out of a bad marriage, turn their life around, go to school, change their religion or do a variety of things to alter their direction. It's so ordinary." Weinstein added, "It's only with criminals we try to freeze people in their worst moments in life." But, as Mario Fehr said in the San Francisco Chronicle, "This is something that you can show to young people … that no matter what mistakes you have made in your life, you can change for the better." Community Activist Malik Spellman told the Los Angeles Times that he was "elated" to hear the news of Williams's nomination, explaining, "I was so honored because people who are peacemakers in the streets should be nominated."

Still, a number of people felt that a man convicted of multiple murders should not be considered for such a prestigious award. Richard MacMahon, director of the gang unit for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, told the Los Angeles Times, "I do not see [Williams'] contributions as being comparable to those of Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa." Deputy Attorney General Lisa J. Brault told the San Francisco Chronicle that Williams's nomination "was an insult to the victims and an affront to the award itself." In addition, San Quentin prison officials alleged, based on information from inmates in other prisons, that Williams was still involved with the Crips.

When asked about such criticisms, Williams told CBB, "One thing for sure is I'm no Desmond Tutu, nor a Martin Luther King, or a Nelson Mandela. What it boils down to is I'm not in control over other people's prejudgmental (sic) types of opinions." Williams continued, "All I say is this: no one in this world is absolutely loved, nor absolutely hated. It's an impossibility for me to even try to convince everybody to like me or to agree with what I'm doing. The fact of the matter is they can stone me, but they can't stone the message. The message is greater than I am." Williams would be nominated several more times for the Nobel Peace Prize and other prestigious awards. Just before his death in 2005, Williams became the first person on death row to be awarded the President's Call to Service Award.

Found Personal Redemption

With his death sentence looming, Williams spent much of his time praying, studying, writing, exercising, and drawing. In 2004, he published his memoir Blue Rage, Black Redemption. The FXChannel released a made-for-television movie based on the book later in the year. In what Back Stage called an "inspiring story," Jamie Foxx portrayed Williams' "evolution from violent street thug to a beacon of hope."

Despite his focus on peace and personal outreach, Williams' status as a death row inmate remained. In December of 2005, Williams' lawyers sought clemency for Williams from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Schwarzenegger ultimately denied clemency because Williams did not express regret or remorse for the murders of a clerk at a 7- Eleven store and three motel owners in 1979, the crime for which he was sentenced to death. "Am I guilty?" Williams told Jet: "No, not culpable of those crimes. I've done many things, but that isn't one of them, and I believe that's why I'm in here because of karma, the things I got away with many moons ago." Williams' execution was scheduled for December of 2005.

Williams was not downtrodden in his final days. "I know of my redemption. Believe me. Mine is real," Williams expressed to Jet. "If you knew me in the beginning and would see me now, you wouldn't believe it. It's like night and day. I have literally made a 720-degree turnaround. A 360-degree wouldn't have been enough." He noted in Jet that he would not change his life if he had it to do over again. "I know for a fact that had I stayed out there in society I would have eventu-ally—the fool that I was thinking that I was invincible—would have gotten a bullet to the back of my cranium—I know that …" He went on to say that his prison sentence enabled him "to help a multitude of young people. Had I been out there, I never would have been able to do that." Williams was executed by lethal injection on December 13, 2005, while more than 2,000 people held vigil outside the San Quentin State Prison walls.

Selected writings

(With Barbara Cottman Becnel), Gangs and Your Neighborhood, Power Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and the Abuse of Power, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Violence, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Wanting to Belong, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Drugs, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Self-Esteem, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Weapons, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Gangs and Your Friends, Kids Press, 1996.
(With Becnel), Life in Prison, Chronicle Books, 1998.
Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir, Damamli Publishing Company, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

America's Intelligence Wire, December 8, 2005.

Back Stage, January 20, 2005, p. 18.

Jet, September 5, 2005; January 9, 2006, p. 46.

Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1996 p.5; December 7, 2000, p. B-1; January 3, 2001.

New York Times, December 6, 2000, p. A18.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2000 p. A 31; December 11, 2000 p. A 17.

Sentinel (Los Angles, CA), December 8-14, 2005, p. A6.

Washington Post, November 26, 2005, p. A3.

On-line

The Coroner's Report, www.gangwar.com (July 19, 2006).

StreetGangs, www.streetgangs.com (July 19, 2006).

Tookie's Corner, www.tookie.com (July 19, 2006).

Other

Additional information was obtained through a personal interview between Stanley Tookie Williams and Contemporary Black Biography on March 20, 2001.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Stanley "Tookie"." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Stanley "Tookie"." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-stanley-tookie

"Williams, Stanley "Tookie"." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-stanley-tookie

Williams, Stanley “Tookie” 1953

Stanley Tookie Williams 1953

Crip co-founder, anti-gang activist

Co-founded the Crips

Sentenced to Death

Tookie Spoke Out

Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Selected writings

Sources

Historically-speaking, gangs are nothing new, but modern day gang culture, which many consider synonymous with drugs, crime, and murder, can largely be attributed to a beginning in South Central Los Angeles. The roots of South Centrals two most prevalent, rival gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, date back to the late 1960s. Though many people dont know him by name, Stanley Tookie Williams was one of the spearheads of modern day gangs.

Williams was raised by his motherhis father left when Williams was a toddler. Without a father figure, he learned about black men through stereotypes that labeled them as violent, promiscuous, and criminal. Williams internalized those negative stereotypes and grew up, as he told the San Francisco Chronicle, mimicking pimps and drug dealers. As a teenager, he rarely attended high school. By the age of 16, he had already earned a reputation outside of the classroom as a street warrior on the South Centrals west side. Williams told Contemporary Black Biography he was considered a bully slayer because he fought kids who picked on his relatives and friends.

Co-founded the Crips

In 1971, when small gangs were invading South Central communities and stealing from residents, 17-year-old Williams and his friend, Raymond Lee Washington, organized the Cripa derivative of Cribgang. The original Crips, with a membership of approximately twenty to thirty young men, formed a front to protect themselves from other gangs. The early Crips divided into the Westside Crips and the Eastside Crips. By 1979 the Crips, who were known to wear blue bandanas, had manifested into a statewide organization. According to tookie.com, the Crips had also become just like the gang members they had once sought to protect themselves fromCrips had become gangbangers who terrorized their own neighborhoods.

But there was another, more alluring, side to gang life besides violence. The Crips gave Williams a false, but deeply-felt sense of security, recognition, and belonging; all of which he had not found outside of gang life. Lets face it, there werent any black rotary clubs out there; there werent any cricket clubs. So there was a void. Williams told CBB. The gang life actually filled that void, though negative as it was, and negative as it is today, it filled a void that nothing else could fill, he continued.

Sentenced to Death

In 1979 the co-founders of the Crips no longer ran the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Their terrorist reign abruptly ended when Washington was gunned down and murdered by a rival gang member, and Williams was charged with killing four people in a motel robberya charge he has always denied. Two years later, the man who had been nicknamed Big Took was found guilty of committing the four murders and he was sent to San Quentins death row.

At a Glance

Born on December 29, 1953, in New Orleans, LA; children: Trevon.

Career: Co-author of the Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence series including: Gangs and Your Neighborhood, 1996; Gangs and the Abuse of Power, 1996; Gangs and Violence, 1996; Gangs and Wanting to Belong, 1996; Gangs and Drugs, 1996; Gangs and Self-Esteem, 1996; Gangs and Weapons, and Gangs and Your Friends, 1996; co-author, Life in Prison, 1998.

Awards: Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, 2000.

Addresses: CDC # J16565, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974.

As a leader of one of Californias most notorious gangs, Williams was often approached and praised by other prisoners who either sought or held membership in gangs. During his incarceration, Williams realized that his motivating reality for gang membership was self-hatred. Williams told CBB that when a child is subjected to lies and disparaging myths about his people, That child, as I did, eventually develops a psychological complex about himself and his people. Thats why it was exceptionally easy for me to lash out at my own peoplewithout remorse. Such children, Williams explained to CBB, end up trying to destroy one another to prove theyre better than other blacks who happen to personify thatnegative image.

From 1988 to 1994, Williams spent his days and nights between four small walls in solitary confinement. While in solitary, Williams underwent a gradual transformation that he has attributed to God. Gradually I rediscovered that I had a conscience it took me years, many long years of re-edification, soul searching, and a battle against my so-called hypocritical mentality, he told CBB.

Tookie Spoke Out

After realizing his mistakes, Williams felt obligated to reach out to young people, with a message debunking the glorified image of gang membership. He decided to channel his message through a series of childrens books entitled Tookie Speaks Out. In 1996 Barbara Becnel, Williamss co-author, sold the idea for the childrens books to the Rosen Publishing Group and the wheels were in motion to distribute Williamss books, which he wrote and then dictated to Becnel.

The books were used in schools and juvenile correction facilities in the United States, Africa, and Switzerland, and have drawn attention from people across the country. All the proceeds from Williamss have gone to non-profit organizations including Mothers Against Gang Violence, a group based in South Central. Dr. Allen Cohen, executive director of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, was prompted to contact Williams and Becnel about launching other anti-gang measures in schools after reading the Tookie books. The themes in the book were entirely congruent with what I think is the best knowledge of the potential of young people to get associated with negative behavior, Cohen said in Los Angeles Times.

After learning that the Crips had spread with a vengeance, setting up shop in 42 states and on at least one other continent, Williams wanted to launch an Internet project to promote his anti-gang message on another level. He conferred with Becnel who oversaw the inception of Internet Project for Street Peace and who maintained the website, tookie.com. The Internet project aimed at building literacy and peer leadership, and it promoted an anti-gang online chat with youth in America and abroad. On the website, Williams posted an apology for pioneering an organization that has sunk its venomous teeth into the lives of so many young people. On the website, Williams said that he didnt expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men. Williams also apologized to the children of America and South Africa who face the wrath and temptation of street gangs on a daily basis.

Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

In November of 2000 Mario Fehr, a member of the Swiss Parliament, made an unprecedented move and nominated Williams for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. It was the first time a death row inmate has ever been nominated for the prize. Fehr presented his nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, Norway on the basis that Williamss books and Internet project have had a positive influence on children and encouraged them to resist gangs. As far as the nomination, all I can say is it does show the impossible is possible even for an individual on death row. It proves that the most phenomenal of things can be accomplished from the abyss of a prison cell. It shows what perseverance and initiative can accomplish, Williams told CBB.

Williamss nomination was greeted with considerable controversy. Many people lauded Williamss efforts at atonement. Corey Weinstein, a physician and board member of California Prison Focus, a prisoner advocacy group, told the San Francisco Chronicle that society is not forgiving of criminals. Its interesting to say that a person will get out of a bad marriage, turn their life around, go to school, change their religion or do a variety of things to alter their direction. Its so ordinary. Weinstein added, Its only with criminals we try to freeze people in their worst moments in life. But, as Mario Fehr said in the San Francisco Chronicle, This is something that you can show to young peoplethat no matter what mistakes you have made in your life, you can change for the better. Community activist Malik Spellman told the Los Angeles Times that he was elated to hear the news of Williamss nomination, explaining, I was so honored because people who are peacemakers in the streets should be nominated.

Still, a number of people felt that a man convicted of multiple murders should not be even be considered for so prestigious an award. Richard MacMahon, director of the gang unit for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, told the Los Angeles Times, I do not see [Williams] contributions as being comparable to those of Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa. Deputy Attorney General Lisa J. Brault told the San Francisco Chronicle that Williamss nomination was an a insult to the victims and an affront to the award itself. In addition, San Quentin prison officials have alleged, based on information from inmates in other prisons, that Williams was still involved with the Crips.

When asked about such criticisms, Williams told CBB, One thing for sure is Im no Desmond Tutu, nor a Martin Luther King, or a Nelson Mandela. What it boils down to is Im not in control over other peoples prejudgemental types of opinions. Williams continued, All I say is this: no one in this world is absolutely loved, nor absolutely hated. Its an impossibility for me to even try to convince everybody to like me or to agree with what Im doing. The fact of the matter is they can stone me, but they cant stone the message. The message is greater than I am.

Williams has spent much of his time praying, studying, writing, exercising, and drawing. In 2001, he planned to publish more books, including Homeboys to Heroes, Letters, and Thoughts of Thunder. He has also sought a habeas corpus appeal on his case. For Williams, each day on death row has been a reminder of his own mortality. While awaiting his destiny, Williams has dedicated himself to funneling his anti-gang message in any way that he can.

His website guest book has served as a testimonial of his message. Pages upon pages of messages offered words of encouragement and heartfelt appreciation from children and adults whove been touched by Williamss story. A thirteen-year old girl who signed the guest book said she had been smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, and sneaking out, but after reading about Williams, she decided to make a change. I read about Tookies life and the road he went down and I dont want to be like that in my life. I want to get married and have kids and just have a great life and not be in jail, she wrote. Williams, determined to reach every child he can, told CBB that I just want them to know that there is such a thing as transition, that individuals can change, that individuals can redeem themselves. Although sceptics have been critical of Williams, he real concern is redeeming himself with God. Williams told CBB, Whether humanity accepts my redemption or not, Im more concerned with what God thinks.

Selected writings

Gangs and Your Neighborhood, 1996.

Gangs and the Abuse of Power, 1996.

Gangs and Violence, 1996.

Gangs and Wanting to Belong, 1996.

Gangs and Drugs, 1996.

Gangs and Self-Esteem, 1996.

Gangs and Weapons, 1996.

Gangs and Your Friends, 1996.

Life in Prison, 1998.

Sources

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1996 p.5; December 7, 2000, p. B-l; January 3, 2001.

New York Times, December 6, 2000, p. A18.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2000 p. A 31; December 11, 2000 p. A 17.

Online

http://www.tookie.com

http://www.gangwar.com

http://www.streetgangs.com

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on March 20, 2001.

Shellie M. Saunders and Jennifer M. York

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Stanley “Tookie” 1953." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Stanley “Tookie” 1953." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-stanley-tookie-1953

"Williams, Stanley “Tookie” 1953." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-stanley-tookie-1953