[News] Two Prisoners Named Williams

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 14 13:48:18 EST 2005

This article can be found on the web at

Two Prisoners Named Williams


[posted online on December 14, 2005]

In denying Stanley Tookie Williams clemency, California Governor 
Arnold Schwarzenegger said the former gang leader had failed to prove 
his redemption. Part of 
analysis13dec13,0,3525451.story?coll=la-home-headlines>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.

Richard faced a series of trials with seven others--two of whom, Jaan 
Laaman and Tom Manning, remain in prison. In 1986 he was sentenced to 
forty-five years for his role in five bombings and, with Manning, 
given a life sentence in 1991 for the death of a New Jersey state 
trooper, killed during a 1981 shootout. With two of his comrades, 
Williams was tried of seditious conspiracy in 1989, a rarely used law 
passed in 1918 that bars "two or more persons...to overthrow or put 
down or destroy by force the Government of the United States." The 
jury failed to convict the trio, and despite the millions of dollars 
it had spent on the case, the government did not pursue the case 
after the judge declared a mistrial. Still, Williams already had a 
lengthy sentence, and he remained in prison.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, Richard was 
inexplicably placed in isolation for fifteen months at Lompoc prison 
in California. According to Diane Fujino, a professor at the 
University of California at Santa Barbara who monitored his case, 
Richard's health soon deteriorated: He had a heart attack, was 
treated for cancer and suffered assorted maladies without adequate 
medical care, including hepatitis C, which caused liver failure and 
ultimately led to his death. He was transferred to the Federal 
Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, last month; he died there 
on the morning of December 8. Neither his post-9/11 isolation nor his 
death captured headlines.

So in less than one week, two prisoners have died--flawed men, each 
of whom had tried in some fashion to promote social justice. One was 
executed openly and deliberately, because his antiviolence work with 
young people was somehow nullified in part by dedicating a book to 
black radicals. The other was killed slowly and quietly, because he 
fought quite literally against the pernicious acts of his own 
government on behalf of the oppressed people of South Africa and 
Central America.

Although the two men had different life experiences, emerged from 
different communities and never met, their lives--and 
deaths--intersect. The government feared both men, not as individuals 
but for what they represented: Stanley Tookie Williams, an ex-gang 
member who commemorated the lessons of Black Power into antiviolence 
messages for youth, and Richard Williams, a committed 
anti-imperialist who never divorced himself from movements opposing 
war and racism. Whether they entered prison with a political 
consciousness or developed it on the inside, Richard Williams and 
Stanley Williams both were inspired by a unique legacy of radical 
social justice.

It is not just tough-on-crime and tough-on-terror policies that led 
Stanley Williams to be executed and Richard Williams to be sent to 
solitary confinement for more than a year. It is that both men were 
inspired by anti-establishment heroes--from George Jackson to Nelson 
Mandela, from struggling black urban youth in America to Third World 
peasants and beyond. Both men embraced the difficult task of 
remembering. Memory can be burdensome, even uncomfortable, because to 
remember requires a conscious choice to pay attention to human 
tragedy. To remember is to choose sides.

The memories Stanley Tookie Williams and Richard Williams invoked 
were, it would seem, more than the government wanted to deal with. 
But the issues their lives and deaths raise--the specter of Black 
Power, anti-imperialism, personal redemption and political 
commitment--will not be buried with them.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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