tookieOn December 13, Stanley “Tookie” Williams, co-founder of the Crips, is set to die. He was convicted in 1981 of quadruple homicide. In the 24 years he has been in prison he has reformed his ways and dedicated his life to keeping kids out of gangs and trying to undo the damage he caused in his pre-incarceration life. He has written 10 children’s books, one of which got him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He has started street peace initiatives, met with at-risk youth and developed a program called “Protocols for Peace” which has resulted in an ongoing truce between the Crips and the Bloods in Newark, NJ. In August he received an award for his good deeds, complete with a letter from President Bush praising him for demonstrating “the outstanding character of America.”

All of this has led Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist clerics and scholars to fight for clemency on his behalf. Clemency in this case meaning life in prison without the possibility for parole.

While I do not unequivocally and in all cases oppose capital punishment (Eichmann and Hannibal Lechter come to mind) it is painfully clear that the justice system in place in America is deeply, deeply flawed, especially with respect to the adminitration of capital punishment. Williams, who has never admitted his guilt, was tried by an all white jury within a system which is notoriously unfair to blacks and the underprivileged.

While we may never know the truth of his guilt or innocence in this matter, it is certain that from prison he has become an active member of society who is committed to doing good, saving others and correcting the mistakes of his life.
Requests for clemency have thus far been denied (making one wonder if the purpose of American “correctional” facilities is indeed correction or retribution). Currently, Williams supporters are petitioning Governor Schwarzenegger to spare him.

From the Jewish perspective of course, we believe in the power of Tshuvah. While in theory death is the punishment for no less that 36 crimes in the Torah, in reality, such strict restictions were put into place insuring that it could rarely if ever be doled out; two witnesses to the crime must verbally warn the person that they are liable for the death penalty, and that person has to acknowledge they were warned but committed the crime anyway. Furthermore, an elaborate set of rules for examination of the witnesses existed in order to decrease the likelihood of being able actually to carry out an execution. A Sanhedrin who had doled out capital punishment once in 70 years was considered a murderous Sanhedrin.

In a cover story on Stanley Williams, the Jewish Journal states that “The Mishna tells us that those appearing as witnesses in capital cases were instructed: One who destroys a single soul, it is as if he has destroyed an entire world. And one who sustains and saves a single soul, it is as if that person sustained a whole world (M Sanhedrin 4:5). In other words, even when confronted with a person who is accused of horrendous crimes, we are still obligated to recognize the value and inestimable worth of every human being. We are compelled to consider the potential contribution the condemned might make if spared.”

Personally I believe that justice is being served far better by allowing Stanley Williams to continue actively keeping others from making the mistakes he did and making efforts to end gang violence. If you want to sign the petition to spare his life, learn more or read Williams writings, do so here.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” Martin Luther King Jr.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • Let Jsirpicco Live. Jsirpicco doesnt deserve to die! Let Jsirpicco Live. Jsirpicco doesnt deserve to die!

    Anyway…this is why you need Gedolim in the world…who can answer this question….has he really done teshuva? but hey – I’m dead. Really. I really am. I’m never coming back! (bn)

  • Nice work, Laya… totally agree with you on this one…

    (btw, where do I make my check out for you guys plugging the newspaper I work at?)

  • i honestly believe with all my heart that he has turned his life around. he will never be released from prison anyway. also their is no one with the smicha to give out a religous death. therefore, even if he is to die it will not count as tshuvah. i believe he can do much more good while alive if given the chance.

  • Jobber, they are not asking for his release. They are asking for life in prison without the chance of parole, so i don’t know how relevant your question is, but i wonder if by that logic the fact that i wouldn’t invite you to sleep at my house indicates that we should fry ya?

  • Only in a few years is this retarded Adminstration, that includes federal and state, realize what a grave error they are committing in not pardoning Tookie.

  • Despite all the restriction the Torah still states that Capital Punishment is the right punishment for murder. No matter what he has done since then ,he cannot ask forgiveness from his victims. Whether or not he has recanted is for God to decide.

  • We should not focus on whether he deserves to die. Assuming he is guilty of what he was accused of, what do we gain by giving him capital punishment? Ostensibly we don’t punish people for simple retribution. The intent of our justice system in meting out punishment is to modify the indicted’s behavior and to dissuade others from committing similar crimes. What justification do we have for killing Williams? Killing him obviously won’t modify his behavior for the better–he’ll be dead. As for serving as a lesson to others, surely his current work has a greater positive effect of steering people away from a life of crime than the dissuasion resulting from making an example out of him ever could. Furthermore, those who have gone astray will look at his recompense and lose hope of ever being able to reform. What is most Just and will serve the greatest benefit to society is to allow him to live the rest of his life behind bars and continue his good work.

  • alexbmn, even capital punishment in Judaism asserts that the death penalty is intended as a corrective action to repent for the mistake. the torah also teaches, and this i learned on yom kippur, that there is no sin that one cannot ask and receive forgiveness for. this includes murder and all sins which deserve the death penalty. fortunately, Jews can no longer administer death for death…i wish america would adopt the same policy.

  • In Jewish law, there is no appeal for death sentences, and no death row. Trial for capital crimes goes straight to the largest, highest court, is thoroughly debated, and any death penalty is carried out immediately.

    Someone who escapes after being condemned to death is immediately put to death upon capture, whatever s/he did with their lives while on the lam.

    What about teshuva?
    The death penalty is part of the person’s teshuva, in addition to their repentence and changed deeds.

    Thieves still have to pay back what they stole, even if they’ve devoted their lives to commmunity service. Same here.

    Human administration of justice is imperfect – but it must happen for the good of all. Teshuva is an extrajudicial calculation in the Jewish system – not least because it is subjective.

  • it’s not true that he can’t ask forgiveness of his victims. not all of them, granted, because some are dead, but what about the mothers and siblings and possibly children that were left behind? there are many more victims of a single murder than the person who loses his or her life. that having been said, i believe he should live. and i agree with laya that sometimes capital punishment is appropriate, but it gets so hairy when it’s time to decide who should live, who should die, who has genuinely repented vs. who hasn’t. it’s tough. i also agree with yitz, killing Williams will only serve to embitter prisoners.

  • Utterly ridiculous… there’s absolutely no proof of any jury rigging or evidence tampering, and yet the idea is floated that somehow the system was biased against him. Has it become politically incorrect to convict blacks of crime if they are deserving? He deserves no sympathy for what he’s done, robbing 4 families of doubtlessly cherished members; an about face, even if legitimate, doesn’t excuse the crimes he committed.

    And just to add, it’s also alleged that this murderer has continued carrying on gang business from behind bars. So before everyone is ready to recite Kaddish on his behalf, how’s about telling the whole truth.

  • MK, do you have any sources for that? See, absolutely everything I came across on him says that not only that he completely and utterly renounced gang life, but that he has been constantly and actively working to end gang violence. His efforts towards this good work is the very basis for asking for clemency.

    It seems to be that he is worth far more to the world alive. While no one can ever really undo what they’ve done, perhaps the families of the victims can take some small comfort in the fact that because of his work for peace fewer families will have to grieve for loved ones lost to senseless street violence.

  • The world would have had a lot less to grieve had he not formed the Crips. He is responsible for many murders, and must now pay the price. A repentant killer should not be spared because he does good work for the world. It would have been better served had he chosen to do anything other than lead a gang. He has also remained unrepentant for what transpired. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth… So says the bible, so said the judge and jury, so why should that change now?

  • michael k, yes you are right. Had he not formed the crips and done all that that came with, the world would be a better place. Make no mistake, whether or not Tookie is guilty of these specific four murders or not, he is certainly guilty of many more for which he was not punished. He did some truly awful things while in the Crips and by no means do I think he should go free. However, there is a difference between him living out the rest of his days in prison and killing him in a month.

    I don’t like the death penalty much in general, but in this specific case I think we lose more than we gain by killing him.

  • there was gang violence in LA before this guy and there is still gang violence today, and while it’s not cool that he killed people, i hardly think the world “would be a better place” if it weren’t for him. the social circumstances that created him still exist.

  • His victims were white and oriental asian, making it 4 times more likely that he’d get the death penalty. Whatever. I oppose the death penalty regardless. Its barbaric and needs loads of reform.

  • I’m amazed, really. Ofri, this guy contributed greatly to murder and mayhem in founding the group. The excuse that “there was violence before” is just plain stupid; that would be tantamount to excusing all crime, because “there was violence before”… As for your comment ck, that lack of any conscious thought in your post demonstrates a complete ignorance on your part of the details of the case, let alone the inner workings of the American legal system. Just read about your beloved Tookie in this article: He murdered an unarmed 7-11 clerk, a kid, while he was unarmed and lying down on the floor.

    It’s disgusting that people are so willing to let time wash away the effects of what he’s done. He deserves to die in the most painful way possible for cruelly and unnecessarily ending the lives of 4 people on a whim.

    Next time you post a useless comment like killing a particular group made him “4 times more likely… to get the death penalty”, post some proof, rather than relying on tired liberal pathos. Not every jailed black is Hurricane Carter and worth saving.

  • Michael K: I dare say I’ve read everything there is online about my “beloved Tookie.” I’ve seen the photos of his victims and I am well acquainted with the details of his case. Some might say I am also possessed of a more than passing familiarity with legal issues in general. The statistic I hastily cited noted that since 1977, 80% of executions involved crimes where white people were murdered (according to this Amnesty International Report). This despite the fact that blacks and whites were victims of murder in almost equal numbers. We could debate this issue ad nauseum but it is clear to anyone with even a passing familliarity with the administration of capital punishment in the US, that the system is far from perfect. Consequently, my position is that I am opposed to capital punishment as it is currently administered. This is a position I share with no less than Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon who stated: “Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death” (Mishnah, Makkot 1:10). Judaism supports the death penalty of course, but only in very specific cases and under very strict circumstances such that it is almost impossible to administer.

    MichaelK wrote: He deserves to die in the most painful way possible for cruelly and unnecessarily ending the lives of 4 people on a whim.

    He certainly deserves to be punished. Only the most barbaric regimes proscribe death by torture. I would tell you to read up a bit more on the subject but your tone indicates a bloodlust that no amount of reason can quench.

  • That’s why lethal injection is painless. Read up on the process. It’s why they prefer it to “old sparky”, as they affectionately named some electric chairs. I could hardly care less what the statistics say. He killed 4 people, watched them die, and even joked about the gurgling sounds the dying 7-11 clerk was making, he faked mental illness during the trial, and on top of it all, he has NEVER admitted guilt nor sought forgiveness from the families of his victims. He has shown no remorse, and therefore deserves no vindication and acclamation as this great saviour of children. He’s doubtlessly killed more in his time as the leader of the Crips than he’s saved with his little “talks” and books.

    He has unfortunately become the cause celebre of the black community, who once again pull out the race card without cause. Had this been a kangaroo court that convicted him out of malice and prejudice, I’d be standing up along side you protesting this execution. But this is not the case, nor has there been any evidence to show he’s learned anything from his time behind bars. Let him be a martyr to his cause. He doesn’t deserve a stay of execution.

    You believe that barbaric regimes prescribe the death penalty; I advocate that if you are willing to take a man’s life into your hands and snuff it out for kicks, you deserve whatever fate awaits you. Ignorance is not bliss.

  • Michael K: First you herald the importance of the “inner workings of the American legal system” and then you conveniently cast aside as irrelevant any issues that demonstrate its imperfection and unfairness. Life behind bars with no chance of parole is a very harsh punishment, don’t kid yourself. Besides, this blog is called Jewlicious and the Jewish position on capital punishment is very clear. A nearly perfect justice system is required for the administration of capital punishment. The justice system in the US, particularly its administration of capital punishment, is far from perfect. Therein lies my opposition to it.

  • Hmm, I’ll give you that point, it certainly isn’t perfect.

    As for the Jewish position, I can’t quote torah verses, but what of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”? It may sound barbaric, but sometimes, simplicity rules the day.

  • ok ok CK ADOLF EICHMAN? What, you would have waited for him to write some children’s books or maybe even donate some money to Israel or maybe even say that killing people is wrong and all would be beautiful.Or in that case it was alright? But if life is sacred and has inherent value and destroying one life is like destoying an entire world then killing four isnt too different from killing a million

  • Ofri how about this one ” If this is the house of Pancakes why can’t I eat the walls?”

  • alexbmn: re eichmann – You know, the crimes committed during the holocaust were so unprecedented that new words had to be created to describe the extent of the evil involved. Words like Holocaust and genocide for instance. The crimes committed by the nazis were not only witnessed by thousands but they were also extremely well documented. I have no problem with capital punishment for nazis.

    Michaelk: your interpretation of an eye for an eye… is a little simplistic. ie if I was negligent and caused you to lose an eye, the sanhedrin did not gouge your eye out! They made you pay the value of the eye in damages. Judaism allows for capital punishment but rarely applies it – once in seven, some say 70, years was considered too much.

  • I dunno, ck, you and I both agree that targeted killings are well deserved. We both know that often, the killing takes place when the individual is a “ticking” threat. We also both know that often the individual is someone who has been involved in previous attacks and will likely be involved in future attacks. What role does that play in terms of Jewish thinking about capital punishment? Is there an exception for terrorists?

  • Of course there is TM! Judaism REQUIRES you to kill one who is coming to kill you – this person is called a rodeph and not killing him or her is a sin. This is akin to self defense and no doubt justifies pre-emptive strikes against known terrorists. This sanction is carried out by the person or people involved and does not need the intervention of a Sanhedrin. As such, killing a rodeph is not considered capital punisshment.

  • It’s over. The man paid the ultimate price for the ultimate crime. Justice has been served.
    He was guilty and had been proven so mutiple times through appeal courts, both with witness testimony and forensic evidence.

  • Yeah whatever. American “justice” maybe. No Sanhedrin would have ever put him to death. RIP Tookie – here’s hoping the families of his victims find some closure with his death. But somehow, I doubt it.

  • It is a good thing he is dead I feel kinda bad for him though but in the other hand I feel good about it
    you want to know why it is because he co founded the crips
    he killed people
    what kind of a sick person does something liek that he was a sick man!
    I am sorry if my opinion upsets anyone but that is wut I think

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