Mixed Response to Williams' Execution in L.A.

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Many were worried the execution of Crips gang co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams would result in violence in Los Angeles' African-American neighborhoods. Karen Grigsby Bates visited one local black neighborhood, and found a more subdued response.


In the Los Angeles area where "Tookie" Williams had lived and committed his crimes, the clemency debate mattered a lot. Some people thought there would be trouble if the execution took place. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates was on the streets overnight and has this report.


Los Angeles had been tensely awaiting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision about whether he'd grant clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams. There were predictions from some quarters that the city would go up in flames if clemency were denied, but most of the heat was coming from talk radio.

Unidentified Announcer: "The John and Ken Show" presents Tookie must die for murdering four innocent people. Live from San Quentin, here's John and Ken...

BATES: Local shock jocks John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou have been campaigning for Williams' execution for weeks. Their Web site even displayed gory crime scene photos of the people Tookie Williams was convicted of killing, a reminder, they said, of who was really due justice. But in the Leimert Park section of LA's predominantly black Crenshaw neighborhood, things were considerably calmer. For several days before the execution, the park had been the site of a series of vigils. Many residents in favor of clemency gathered to petition the governor on Williams' behalf, some because they believed in his innocence, some because they don't believe in the death penalty.

Earlier in the evening, a silent vigil was held, but by 11:45 PM, the crowd had thinned to a small knot of people under twinkling Christmas lights. Most of them seemed resigned to Williams' approaching death. Timothy Ross dismissed the possibility of post-execution violence.

Mr. TIMOTHY ROSS: No, there's nothing going to happen unless somebody on that side provoke it, you know? You know, it's not going to happen. You know, people are just really just frustrated on a different level. I don't think nobody want to go out and, you know, kill nobody, you know? They just want to just see justice.

BATES: Antoinette, no last name, felt that justice had not been applied equally in Williams' case. Williams, she said, would be executed for four deaths.

ANTOINETTE: But, you know, at the same time the same day, George Bush gets up on TV and said in their endeavors, when they went into Iraq, they killed 30,000 people. And we know they killed 100,000, but he's not on death row and none of them on death row.

BATES: Everyone in the cold quiet park was troubled that Williams' apparent renunciation of gang life and his anti-gang outreach to young people seemed to count for little. Anthony, who declined to give his last name, said he was distressed by the message the execution sent.

ANTHONY: If you've done something wrong in this world, there is never any redemption for you, no way, no how, because if a man can turn his life around, I think that within itself is worthwhile the sparing of one's life for at least for a little while longer.

BATES: But not this time. And after word of Williams' death circulated quietly, people slowly packed up their candles and posters and walked through the silent streets toward their cars. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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