Funeral Service Celebrates Williams' Conversion From Violence to Peace

Times Staff Writer

Stanley Tookie Williams was remembered Tuesday as a man who transformed himself after an early life of violence into a redeemed peacemaker and advocate for children.

More than 2,000 people waited in line outside the Bethel AME Church in South Los Angeles to attend his funeral service, which included tributes from friends and dignitaries, messages from Williams recorded shortly before his execution and a passionate call for peace from his son. Those who could not fit in the 1,500-seat sanctuary, including dozens of Crips gang members in blue bandanas, watched the service on a large screen set up in the parking lot.

Williams, 51, who was convicted in 1979 of killing four people, was executed Dec. 13 after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected his plea for clemency.

Inside the sunny church in the neighborhood where the 17-year-old Williams helped found the Crips, his white casket lay with a spray of roses and carnations on top and a row of poinsettias behind it.

During the four-hour ceremony, Williams was lauded by those who were certain of his redemption and considered his death a waste.

"Tookie is dead," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "We're not safer; we're not more secure. We're not more humane. We must kill the idea of killing to stop killing."

In a soft, light voice, Williams spoke of his spiritual journey from hardened thug to softened man who had learned the power of love.

"Am I a man or a beast?" Williams said he asked himself. It took him six years of solitary confinement to discover his humanity, he said. "Today and forever more I can honestly say to each of you ... the war with Stanley is over."

Barbara Becnel, Williams' friend and editor of 13 years who worked with him on his children's books decrying gang violence, said he expressed his last wishes as a hope that he provided a legacy of unity and that he "died a man of peace."

Celebrities who knew Williams, including hip-hop star Snoop Dogg and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, spoke of his impact on their lives.

Speakers who choked up were encouraged with shouts of "Take your time," and "It's all right now."

"I wanted to start some ruckus when the governor made his decision," Snoop Dogg said. "If you're black like me you're guilty until you're innocent and furthermore, I don't believe Stan did it."

"We are here to honor a man who many people think doesn't deserve honor," Robbins said. "What's a white boy doing here who's supposed to be a motivational speaker? This man was love."

Applause changed to soft weeping, however, when Williams' friend Rudy Langlais told of his last hours.

"I am wretched," Williams said as he waited with friends for Schwarzenegger's decision. When it came, he was poised, merely shrugging. A flash of anger passed quickly, then he forgave Schwarzenegger.

"He became more powerful and more towering in that moment," Langlais said.

Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who delivered the eulogy, pointed to Williams' casket and told his mother not to grieve for a "warrior" who had been freed first by redemption and then by death.

"That man was touched by a special power and any of us who were ever in his presence, we know it," Farrakhan said. "Stan was a sincere and committed and a redeemed soul."

Travon Williams, Williams' son, brought the church to its feet when he promised to teach Schwarzenegger the meaning of redemption since he could not see it alive in his father.

"I feel it's my duty to go on a worldwide campaign to show that redemption is real," he said.

Williams asked that his remains be cremated and scattered in South Africa.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World