SAN QUENTIN, Calif. – A peaceful, multiracial crowd including religious leaders and rapper Snoop Dogg crammed onto a street outside San Quentin State Prison on Saturday to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare the life of convicted murderer and former gang leader Stanley “Tookie” Williams.
More than 1,000 people attended the protest, described by a California Highway Patrol official as one of the largest ever against an execution at the Marin County prison.
“He should be in jail, but the death penalty, that’s way too much,” said Nobel Broach, 16, of Oakland, who explained that he was moved by Williams after watching “Redemption,” a TV movie about the convict in which he was played by Jamie Foxx.
Later in the day, Williams himself addressed a youth conference at a Santa Clara hotel, calling from prison to urge them to work hard against gang violence.
Williams, who has gained celebrity and Nobel Prize nominations for his behind-bars campaign against gangs, is scheduled to be executed Dec. 13 for convictions in four 1979 murders in Los Angeles. The co-founder of the Crips street gang, Williams denies he committed the killings, which occurred during two robberies less than two weeks apart.
The 51-year-old convict and his supporters, including a notable contingent from Hollywood, are asking the governor to commute Williams’ sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Los Angeles County prosecutors, a statewide prosecutors group and relatives of his victims have adamantly opposed clemency. They say Williams deserves to die for his crimes and for helping start a gang that has claimed thousands of lives over the years.
They also doubt his conversion, noting that he has not admitted to the crimes and has refused to provide information to law enforcement about other gang members. Williams has said he doesn’t want to be a “snitch.”
“The family of the victims of Williams’ crimes have been living with this for 25 years,” said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. “It’s been a very long and difficult time for them. Some of the individuals expressing support for Williams have not lost a loved one to murder.”
Schwarzenegger told reporters on Thursday that he has not made up his mind on whether to grant Williams clemency.
At Saturday’s rally, Snoop Dogg, who has spoken with Williams by telephone, told the crowd that he considered Williams to be an inspirational figure. He said he was so moved by Williams’ decision to renounce gangs that he also wants to spread the anti-violence message.
After watching the television movie “Redemption,” the rapper said, he decided that he “really needed to be contacting the kids.”
The entertainer said he used to belong to the Crips street gang in east Long Beach but “learned how to better control myself and my attitude.”
The rapper was acquitted of murder charges in Los Angeles in 1996 and pleaded guilty the following year to being an ex-felon in possession of a handgun.
Williams’ “influence is really rubbing off on me, and I control lots of people on the streets, and what I do right, they do right,” said Snoop Dogg, who wore a white T-shirt with the words “savetookie.org” in large black letters.
Williams has said that he decided while in solitary confinement more than 10 years ago to try to help youngsters avoid his fate. He has written nine books aimed at youths.