The Strange Case of Stanley Williams, Icon
The astonishingly strange saga of Stanley Williams, a murderer found guilty by four courts, reached the zenith of its narrative arc yesterday when the Los Angeles Times published a full-page advertisement (paid for by celebrity supporters, one assumes) in which the convict pledged his allegiance to God and asserted his dedication to “redemption.” He did not, however, acknowledge responsibility for personally ending the lives of four innocent people.
Williams, the founder of the Los Angeles street gang, the Crips, repudiated all allegiances to the hoodlums he mentored, if not invented. He did not, however, offer any apologies to the families whose lives he ruined with his brutal acts of violence.
Two sectors of society that would normally appear to be working at cross-purposes — famous hip-hop entertainers and the NAACP — have joined together in a crusade to garner clemency for Williams, whose execution date looms after 24 years of legal appeals. Although he has never taken responsibility for his crimes — indeed, his culpability is not in question except among the same group of skeptics who felt O.J. Simpson was wrongly accused — Williams’ high-profile defenders assert that he should be spared because he is a great role model who has forsaken his wicked ways and dedicated his life to dissuading others from making the same mistakes, i.e., founding and managing one of the largest and most destructive criminal enterprises in America.
On the surface, where people who manipulate the media for personal gain are most comfortable operating, Williams is what the movie studios like to call a “great story.” Here you have a bad-ass thug who saw the errors of his ways (sort of) and wrote a bunch of children’s books meant to deter youngsters from being naughty like him. Evil transformed into Good, etc, etc.
Looked at practically, though, one can safely conclude that Stanley Williams’ efforts, however earnest, have been an abject failure. Either the tens-of-thousands of young black men locked in our prisons (or still on the streets committing gang crimes) didn’t care for his prose, or the fact that a vicious murderer is presently writing kiddie books is largely irrelevant. Gang crime is worse than ever. If young blacks and Latinos generally aspire to be something more than an Escalade-driving pimp packing a Glock-9, then the record companies, television stations, and magazines dedicated to their fantasies of “‘ho’s and bling” have badly misjudged the market.
Why the NAACP, an increasingly toothless organization, would choose Stanley Williams to be their new poster boy is puzzling, especially since the gangster lifestyle he embodied is responsible for setting back the ambitions and achievements of the black community by 50 years. Rallying to the defense of a gang leader hardly advances the larger and more troubling issue of how many black men in the United States end up in prison, many of them on spurious drug charges.
More than a few black leaders think that one of the enduring reasons for this horrible trend is the popularity of “gangsta” rap, which glorifies the violent lifestyle of gang members “looking to get paid.” In a scene out of Kafka, the rapper Snoop Dogg, who sings about never hesitating to “shoot a nigga in the back” and who has parlayed his street credibility into a successful recording and pornography career, has leaped to Williams’ defense (along with numerous other well-intentioned famous people.) How deliciously ironic that Mr. Dogg, who enjoys something akin to the American Dream, is defending a man who speaks out against the gangster lifestyle that has made Snoop fabulously rich. Fershizzle!
The real shame in the Stanley Williams case is not that a violent criminal is on the verge of being put to death for his heinous crimes. It’s that our jurisprudence system is so badly broken that someone guilty of capital offenses is allowed to overstay his welcome for so many years. Perhaps the NAACP ought to dedicate their resources to that outrage instead of chartering private jets for intra-state press conferences.