Tribute—Stanley Tookie Williams

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From The Post Newspaper Group
May 21, 2009

If Crips gang co-founder and five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stanley “Tookie” Williams had not been executed by the State of California, could he have made a difference in calming troubled inner city neighborhoods and turning the country’s gangsta youth away from street violence and towards a more positive, productive path?

The question can never be answered, of course, but longtime Williams supporter and political-social activist and writer Barbara Becnel of Richmond keeps pushing us to continue asking it, as well as to continue the work Williams began after his conversion from gangsta to gang peace and street violence prevention while he was incarcerated on San Quentin’s Death Row.

Becnel’s latest project is a powerful and poignant hour-long documentary on the events surrounding Williams’ execution—“Tribute: Stanley Tookie Williams”—now available both in DVD and for showing at large venues.

The documentary is not a biography of Williams, but is an account of the events immediately preceding and following his execution. In fact, Williams himself only appears as something of a spirit-vision, never in motion but only as a series of mostly-black-and-white montage photographs, speaking only once, like a ghostly echo, at the film’s end. The effect is like having just missed an earthquake or a lightning bolt striking a tree in the front yard, or a meteor blazing into the atmosphere across the night sky, and then sitting and listening to a group telling you about the experience.

 “Tribute” switches back and forth in random order between three events—the vigil outside the grounds of San Quentin on the night of Williams’ execution in December of 2005, his funeral services, and a staged re-enactment of his execution held at Berkeley’s Black Repertory Theater on the first anniversary of his death       

Of the three events, the staged re-enactment is the weakest. By many witness accounts, Williams’ execution was botched, with the attending nurse unable at first to find a vein amidst Williams’ powerful arm muscles, and Williams later appearing to violently shake and suffer far longer than the swift passing of sentence the State of California contends. In all, the execution took 35 minutes to complete. The Black Rep re-enactment fails to capture what must have been the horror of those long moments.       

But that is more than made up from the live footage of speakers at the San Quentin vigil and the Los Angeles funeral—the vigil in grainy black and white, the funeral in feature-length movie quality color. The funeral footage includes excerpts from a speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a eulogy by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, who called Williams “the patron saint of all those struggling in gang life.” But more powerful—if that seems possible—are the remarks by film producer Rudy Langlais, who witnessed Williams’ execution and recounts in quiet, understated tones both the execution itself and Williams’ last meeting with a small group of supporters—including Becnel—in his cell six hours before his death. Also included is footage of a poem read by rapper Snoop Dogg at the funeral, who credited Williams with turning him away from the gangsta life, and who breaks down in tears before its ending.

“TRIBUTE: Stanley Tookie Williams” can be purchased through the Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Network. The website also includes a trailer on the movie, as well as information on where and when the movie will be shown.

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