The Stanley "Tookie" Williams Vigil at San Quentin, Monday, December 12, 2005

These photographs and videos were taken outside the gates of San Quentin Prison on the evening of December 12, 2005 during a vigil marking the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, which happened shortly after midnight.

Before arriving at San Quentin, I had been under the naive impression that the crowd in front would be evenly split between anti-death penalty protesters and pro-death penalty protesters. I was sorely mistaken. I quickly learned that the crowd was 99% anti-death penalty. And a substantial proportion of them were avowed socialists, since several radical groups showed up en masse. For example, this group -- the International Socialist Organization -- are hardcore Trotskyites; dozens of ISO members were at the rally, serving as an (un?)official security crew.

Much to my surprise at first, the protesters were not just against the death penalty, but they were actually fervently pro-Tookie. Throughout the evening he was portrayed as a hero, a martyr, even a savior, both by the protesters and by the celebrity speakers.

In case you're wondering in what way Tookie could have conceivably helped children, the answer is: he wrote some children's books about gangs. Never mind that the books were most likely ghostwritten by his "co-author," that his bestselling title sold a whopping 330 copies, and that the only copy of one of his books available on Amazon is currently selling for the kid-friendly price of $84. That didn't stop him from getting nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, in addition to his multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

The villain du jour was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Followed closely by George W. Bush.

In fact, mainstream America in general was demonized as well.

Racially inflammatory signs were commonplace.

Jesse Jackson and Mike Farrell stood behind the podium waiting to speak, guarded by the "Fruit of Islam," the Nation of Islam's paramilitary wing.

Some of the Fruit were nervous about how close I was getting to Jesse, and they kept their eyes on me whenever I came near the speakers' area.

The look
of love
is in
your eyes....

Joan Baez made the unfortunate decision to regale the crowd with a screechy rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

It was literally painful to hear. People in the crowd were plugging their ears.

Why, look -- an authentically sad man!

Oh, wait: he's just posing for a cameraman. Never mind.

This photo unfortunately got a little blurred, but the sign merits a transcription:
"Tookie = greater
integrity worth 100
times as much to our
world as all the neocons
hypocristians & fascist pigs of
profit: schwartzneg, bush..."

The crowd of Tookie supporters and media members grew ever more tightly packed around the prison gates as the evening wore on. Many of the speakers decried not just Tookie's execution, and not just the death penalty, but called for the complete elimination of the "prison-industrial complex" and the freeing of all prisoners in the United States.

Palestinian activist Jess Ghannam took the stage and declared his (and all of our) love for Tookie (QuickTime mpeg video, 2.4mb) (Clicking on this link -- and on all the similar links below -- will open a QuickTime video file in a new window. Below each link is an exact transcription of the speaker's words.)

Jess Ghannam: This is racism, this is classism. And I have a message for our brother Tookie: We love you, brother. We love Tookie! We love you, Tookie. And I wanna say one more thing: Tookie is more dangerous to this society alive, and the governor knows it. He's a unifier. He's bringing peace on the streets, and that freaks out the people in Sacramento and Washington.

Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Mohammed took the mike and relayed a statement from Minister Louis Farrakhan: "Minister Farrakhan said, 'I'm not appealing for Stanley Tookie Williams' life for myself, God is appealing for his life.'"

But it was the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that made the final decision, not Farrakhan or God. And according to this official pdf file (page 87) of the court's decision denying Tookie's appeal of the case, Tookie showed his saintly side during the trial:

The judge called the jury foreman into the courtroom for questioning. The following colloquy ensued:

THE COURT: It has come to the court's attention that there is a possibility that some remark might have been made by the defendant [Stanley "Tookie" Williams] that was heard by the jury on the date that the jury returned its verdict at the guilt phase. Do you have any information concerning that?
THE COURT: What is that?
MR. BRAMHALL: He did utter a statement as we were concluding.
THE COURT: What was the statement?
MR. BRAMHALL: "I'm going to get each and every one of you mother fuckers."

Jesse gave his usual Jesse speech. No need to transcribe it here, as he has been giving the same speech to the major media several times a day over the previous week. (Earlier, Jesse revealed his compassion and knowledge of the case when he was unable to name any of Tookie's victims.)

The Fruit gathered around Mike as a human shield during his re-run of a speech as well, in which he claimed Schwarzenegger "tortured" Tookie by taking so long to deny him clemency.

Mike and Jesse bailed out hours before the execution. Or at least tried to: Mike couldn't take three steps without a camera crew accosting him. While the Fruit were off attending to Jesse, I stayed at Mike's elbow for some closeups.

Jesse slipped away to the parking area, but I was waiting for him and snapped a candid closeup and then scampered off before the Fruit could react.

Back up toward San Quentin Village, a hubbub was brewing. The first pro-execution activist had shown up. Unfortunately, he was as uninformed about the case as Jesse Jackson was, and couldn't decide whether Tookie was to be hanged...

...or "cooked" like a "Kookie." (For the record: the execution was a lethal injection.) The International Socialist Organization (ISO) minions (wearing their reflective vest uniforms, which pick up camera-flashes a little too well) made it their mission to escort him from the premises. The guy obviously had not been anticipating what happened. The ISO folks surrounded him and yelled at him in no uncertain terms that they would not allow him to stay.

After a short argument, he gave up and headed back down to the parking area.

A contingent of ISOers stuck to him like glue, chanting slogans the whole way.

The guy looked pretty distressed, but he didn't have the stomach for a physical confrontation. The ISOers were quite pleased with themselves at their early victory. But they did not know what lay in store for them. Not all the anti-Tookie protesters would give up so easily. Before long, a major battle erupted.

When I arrived back at the main vigil area, three more anti-Tookie protesters had unveiled their messages. The ISO and other activist groups went into a rage. Two of the protesters were Christians who held up religious signs; the other was a Protest Warrior type (whom we'll meet later) who held up a forensic picture of Yee-Chen Lin (a.k.a. Yu-Chin Yang Lin), one of the victims that Tookie had shot in the face with a shotgun.

The three Tookie detractors tried to hold their ground.

But the crowd pressed in ferociously. They used their "Save Tookie" signs as weapons to batter the Christians' banner.

They were determined to physically drive the Tookie detractors out of the vigil.

After a tense showdown, one of the Christian protesters was assaulted by a large group of Tookie supporters. Click here to see the action. (QuickTime mpeg video, 7.7mb):

Tookie supporters: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away! [Repeated many times.]

For those of you who can't view videos on your computers, here are a few freezeframes from the movie to give an idea of what it was like:

The Christians found a refuge against a satellite truck (seen here in the background). Most of the network TV crews ignored the fracas; this reporter calmly conducted an interview just a few steps from the raging battle.

Those major media members who did cover the Christians were for the most part unable to hide their emotions; either they gawked with undisguised revulsion at the Biblical banner...

..or (more commonly) they reacted with a bizarre glee at the opportunity to document the antics of some crazed fundies. This camera crew were laughing as they shoved the TV camera in the beleaguered Christian's face.

And this TV crew (lower right) were equally amused by the comical Christian message.

You may notice in some of the photos and video above one of the violent ISO members who intimidated the first anti-Tookie protester and then assaulted the Christian; he's depicted in the oval section of the photo above (a freezeframe from the video), a young man with a stubbly beard and a blue and yellow cap.

When KTVU reporter Ken Wayne selected someone from the crowd to sum up the opinions of Californians about the execution, whom did he choose, out of all the people there? You guessed it. The same ISO enforcer -- who had been shouting communist slogans all night and who just minutes earlier had committed assault on a peaceful protester.

He was granted a long time -- well over a minute -- to spin his opinions to the waiting world. His affiliation and behavior were never pointed out by the reporter.

Nearby, a group of young women performed what has got to be the most inappropriate spectacle ever at an execution: an explicit song-and-dance routine about orgasms.

I didn't record the song, but the lyrics went something like, "We use these hands to touch our clits; we like to come, that's no shit!" I am not kidding. They did this for several minutes. I've seen them do a similar routine at other protests, but I never imagined they'd do it here.

There were Palestinian activist groups on hand as well. Lotsa kaffiyehs in the crowd.

If you squint hard enough, you can see the Socialist utopia in the distance....

The good folks at A.N.S.W.E.R. sent a contingent as well.

This guy apparently took a left turn at Cincinnati and ended up at the wrong execution.

There was one anti-Tookie protester at the vigil who singlehandedly dismantled the Tookie supporters. I don't know his name (and even if I did, I wouldn't reveal it), but he has shown up at earlier protests, wielding his bullhorn and dry humor to devastating effect. I like to refer to him as The World's Most Sarcastic Counter-Protester, but here we'll call him Sarcasm Dude for short.

Sarcasm Dude held up postmortem photographs of Tookie's victims, which attracted a crowd of angry Tookie fans. He would then proceed to mock and taunt his detractors relentlessly with his signature brand of deadpan indignation. This went on all night. I have compiled here a video montage of snippets of his hilarious repartee -- The Sarcasm Dude Highlight Reel (QuickTime video, 7.5mb). (Because there was no illumination, the video is fairly dark, but the audio portion is clear; quotes below in [brackets] indicate difficult-to-hear dialog.)

Sarcasm Dude: '...We don't need your stinking war' whatever, c'mon. C'mon -- keep going!
Tookie Supporters: 1, 2, 3, 4, We don't need your stinking war! 1, 2, 3, 4, We don't need your stinking war!
SD: How's Tookie doing, by the way?
TS: [Laughter] 1, 2, 3, 4, We don't need you any more.
Protester #1: [That's what dead people look like.]
SD: I know what they look like. Right here [holds up picture of Yee-Chen Lin]. Right there. But, see, they don't like to see this, 'cause they like Tookieeeeee. Tookieeeeee! Tookieeeeee! Tookie shot a woman in the face with birdshot, but we love him! He wrote a children's book!
SD: [Holding up autopsy picture.] 'Cause of Tookie. 'Cause of Tookie. Tookie. 'Cause of Tookie, your boy!
SD: C'mon, step it up a little!
TS: Racists go home! Racists go home!
SD: You're dropping off, you're getting weaker.
TS: Racists go home!
SD: Weaker.
TS: Racists go home.
SD: All the Red Bull people, let's get with it!
TS: Racists go home. [Getting quieter.]
SD: We need some Red Bull over here. Stat! Need some Red Bull. Get me some Red Bull for these people -- they're dyin'!
TS: [Laughter.]
TS: You're alone! You're alone!
SD: Yes, I know.
TS: You're alone! You're alone!
SD: Not really. There's actually millions of people for me. Millions of people think just like I do! You're the minority!
SD: Keep going!
TS: Bigots go home. Bigots go home.
SD: You're getting weaker.
TS: Bigots go home.
SD: Bring it [...]. Go, go go! You got more!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: What are you waiting for? Let it all out. Let it all out!
TS: Bigots go home! Bigots go home! Bigots go home!
SD: C'mon! That's all you got? C'monnnn! C'mon Nazis! Let's go!
SD: Keep talking. You got more than that, right? C'mon, you green-vested Nazis.
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: F You!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: F You!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Nazis!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Look at these Nazis.
Protester #2: Give it up.
SD: I'll give it up when you guys give it up. Give it up! Get the hell away from me!
Protester #3: [...] throw another bottle at you!
SD: Yup! Keep throwing the bottles, you intolerant motherfuckers! Keep throwing the bottles. Peace, love and granola. Keep throwing the bottles. [Piece of paper thrown at him from crowd.] There you go! Keep throwing trash. That's all you've got!
SD: I got more balls than all of you put together!
Protester #4: He can only -- y'know...
SD: Yeah, I can only -- y'know. Y'know. Nice scarf.
SD: What else would you expect from socialist Nazis? Nope -- no freedom of speech here! Can't have any of that, can't have any of that freedom of speech.
TS: [Chasing other anti-Tookie protesters toward us] Bigots go home! Bigots go home!
(Anti-Tookie) Protester #5: Commies go home!
SD: Oh yeah, that goddamn freedom of speech.
TS: Bigots go home! Bigots go home!
SD: I hate it when people try to--
(Anti-Tookie) Protester #5: Commies go home!
SD: I hate it when people try to have free speech. That's disgusting.
TS: Bigots go home! Bigots go home!
SD: Yeah, no free speech! Communism! Socialism!
TS: Bigots go home!
SD: Go communists! Go communists!
TS: Racists go home! Racists go home!
SD: I'm a racist? You don't know anything about me, and all of a sudden I'm a racist.
TS: Racists go home! Racists go home!
SD: [Bottle (off-camera) thrown at SD.] Who threw that, you pussies? Bring it over here, asshole!
TS: Racists go home!
SD: Nice job! Nice job, you pussy. Nice job. Nice job.
TS: Racists go home!
Protester #6: Why the fuck you stand up with your fucking white privilege, bitch? Yeah, that's right, asshole.
SD: Keep talking, here [gesturing to Protester #6]. Keep talking! We want this man to keep talking.
TS: Racists go home!
Protester #7: It's all about the love, man.
Protester #6: What the fuck do you know about Tookie, hunh?
SD: Keep talking! Just keep talking!
TS: Racists go home! Racists go home!
Protester #6: What the fuck do you know about Tookie?
Protester #7: They bottled you because they love you, just like you love everybody here, right?
SD: Go fuck yourself!

This protester urged the media to be more biased.

But she needn't have bothered. One of the standard activities of radicals at protests these days is to physically cover up the messages of people they don't agree with. At the vigil, the socialists did everything they could to cover up the Christians' signs. And, as you can see here, the media joined in: a sound technician from one of the leftist radio stations used his boom-mike to try to cover up the Christian protest sign. Using a microphone to stifle free speech -- could you get more ironic?

Media was everywhere. Total saturation. Here, a radio show is being broadcast live from someone's front yard.

TV camera crews were a dime a dozen.

Even bloggers were blogging (or perhaps sending stories to their editors).

Here, a very serious network anchorman psyches himself up for a live segment. Will he be reporting on the kind of stuff you're seeing here? Not likely. He already knows what he wants to say. His narrative is pre-planned -- forget about the facts on the ground....

Here's the handwritten script he worked up for the report. The usual bland whitewash.

This TV crew from CBS was trying to coordinate their live broadcast with the anchor crew back in the studio -- a task made almost impossible by the continuous din.

This sign encouraged us to "repent like Tookie" (i.e. not at all, apparently, since Tookie never admitted to the killings, an essential first step to repentance), and tossed in a nice swastika for good measure.

The media, as usual, ignored such messages; the only way the average viewer might ever get a glimpse of signs like this is when they flit by in the background of a TV broadcast.

Another fearless anti-Tookie protester refused to be intimidated by the crowd. Despite their attempts to drown him out and mute his bullhorn, he soldiered on (QuickTime mpeg video, 2.2mb):

Anti-Tookie protester: Tookie deserves the death penalty.
Tookie supporters: Born-again bigots, go away!
ATP: Tookie deserves the death penalty. The wages of Tookie's [sin] are death.
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away!
ATP: Quit being so liberal. You guys are making a murderer an icon!
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away!
ATP: You're making [him] a hero, an icon. Something is wrong with this picture.
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots...

California Penal Code regulations stipulate that no public protest is allowed to proceed without at least one sign that mentions Hitler, no matter how irrelevant to the theme of the protest. (Nice cigar!)

Queers for Palestine decided to branch out a little thematically by making a new banner. You've always got to be for or against something.

This rather out-of-place-seeming Star of David dragged poor Anne Frank into the Tookie camp.

Gandhi joined Anne in the list of unwitting historical figures on Team Tookie.

These well-heeled protesters showed up in a convoy to wallow in group shame. Nothing like a big serving of sanctimonious self-loathing!

One wonders if they'd feel the same once they learned what Tookie said after the first murder:

Williams also said he killed Owens "because he was white and he was killing all white people."

These two women brought their daughter to the execution, pulling her through the crowd in a portable bed before taking a break to belt out a few Hindu chants on the tabla.

My guess is that this child is named Tookie as well, and so his mom brought him out to protest for his namesake (and for his football team!) on general principles.

And of course it wouldn't be a true protest without some comforting "9/11 cover-up" signs.

This Christian protester seemed a little overwhelmed by the barrage of Socialist slogans.

From left to right: a Christian anti-Tookie protester with his eyes closed, trying to stay calm in the middle of a screaming fight; a newspaper photographer getting the perfect picture; and an International Socialist girl yelling for all she's worth.

After I left, apparently, some anarchists burned an American flag outside the prison. I missed that glorious moment, but it was captured by an Associated Press photographer and included in the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the execution.

Additional links:

Phony official "apology" written by Tookie's supporters and falsely attributed to him. (Notice the tone of the language.)

Tookie possesses "humanity" because he didn't rape or murder me during a momentary power outage, says an idealistic young reporter.

San Francisco Chronicle article about the vigil.

Europeans just love Tookie.

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