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Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir

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A gripping tale of personal revolution by a man who went from Crips co-founder to Nobel Peace Prize nominee, author, and anti-gang activist

When his L.A. neighborhood was threatened by gangbangers, Stanley Tookie Williams and a friend formed the Crips, but what began as protection became worse than the original gangs. From deadly street fights with their rivals to drive-by shootings and stealing cars, the Crips' influence—and Tookie's reputation—began to spread across L.A. Soon he was regularly under police surveillance, and, as a result, was arrested often, though always released because the charges did not stick. But in 1981, Tookie was convicted of murdering four people and was sent to death row at San Quentin in Marin County, California.

Tookie maintained his innocence and began to work in earnest to prevent others from following his path. Whether he was creating nationwide peace protocols, discouraging adolescents from joining gangs, or writing books, Tookie worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to end gang violence. Even after his death, his legacy continues, supported by such individuals as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Snoop Dogg, Jesse Jackson, and many more.

This posthumous edition of Blue Rage, Black Redemption features a foreword by Tavis Smiley and an epilogue by Barbara Becnel, which details not only the influence of Tookie's activism but also her eyewitness account of his December 2005 execution, and the inquest that followed.

By turns frightening and enlightening, Blue Rage, Black Redemption is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and an invaluable lesson in how rage can be turned into redemption.

ISBN-13: 9781416544494

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Touchstone

Publication Date: 11-13-2007

Pages: 416

Product Dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.10(d)

Stanley Tookie Williams, activist and author, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times and the Nobel Prize in literature four times. He is the only man in history to be nominated while imprisoned. He was executed in 2005. Tavis Smiley is a nationally known intellectual, activist, political commentator, entrepreneur, and radio and television personality. He founded the ground-breaking and historic State of the Black Union series. Mr. Smiley has authored several best-selling books, including The Covenant and The Covenant in Action.

Read an Excerpt

The title of this book represents two extreme phases of my life.

"Blue Rage" is a chronicle of my passage down a spiraling path of Crip rage in South Central Los Angeles. "Black Redemption" depicts the stages of my redemptive awakening during my more than twenty-three years of imprisonment on California's death row. These memoirs of my evolution will, I hope, connect the reader to a deeper awareness of a social epidemic that is the unending nightmare of racial minorities in America and abroad as well.

Throughout my life I was hoodwinked by South Central's terminal conditions, its broad and deadly template for failure. From the beginning I was spoon-fed negative stereotypes that covertly positioned black people as genetic criminals — inferior, illiterate, shiftless, promiscuous, and ultimately "three-fifths" of a human being, as stated in the Constitution of the United States. Having bought into this myth, I was shackled to the lowest socioeconomic rung where underprivileged citizens compete ruthlessly for morsels of the American pie — a pie theoretically served proportionately to all, based on their ambition, intelligence, and perseverance.

Like many others I became a slave to a delusional dream of capitalism's false hope: a slave to dys-education (see Chapter 5); a slave to nihilism; a slave to drugs; a slave to black-on-black violence; and a slave to self-hate. Paralyzed within a social vacuum, I gravitated toward thughood, not out of aspiration but out of desperation to survive the monstrous inequities that show no mercy to young or old. Aggression, I was to learn, served as a poor man's merit for manhood. To die as a street martyr was seen as a noble thing.

In 1971, I met Raymond Lee Washington (may he rest in peace) and we ultimately decided to unite our homeboys from the west and east sides of South Central to combat neighboring street gangs. (An erroneous grapevine suggests that the Crips formed in 1969, or even as early as the 1950s.) Most Crips themselves are unaware that the original name for our alliance was "Cribs," a name selected from a list of many options. But the short-lived label of "Cribs" was carelessly mispronounced by many of us and morphed into the name "Crips," our permanent identity.

Most of us were seventeen years of age.

The Crips mythology has many romanticized, bogus accounts. I never thought it would be necessary to address such issues. But I can set the record straight — for Raymond Washington, for me, and for others who fought and often died for this causeless cause.

I assumed that everyone in South Central knew that Raymond was the leader of the East Side Crips, and that I was the leader of the West Side Crips. A few published chronicles have Raymond attending Washington High School and uniting the neighborhood west side gangs where he supposedly resided. In fact, Raymond attended Fremont High School on the east side, where he lived. A fundamental inquiry would have revealed that I lived on the west side, where I attended Washington High and rallied our homeboys and groups of local gangs. Even our former rivals have a better understanding of the Crips' origins than many social historians.

Most of the public misinformation has been fostered by academics, journalists and other parasitical opportunists, stool pigeons, and wannabe Crip founders who shamelessly seek undue profit and recognition for gang genocide. There is no honor in insinuating yourself as a player in this legacy of bloodletting where your feet have never trod.

Another version incorrectly documents the Crips as an offshoot of the Black Panther Party. No Panther Party member ever mentioned the Crips (or Cribs) as being a spin-off of the Panthers. It is also fiction that the Crips functioned under the acronym C.R.I.P., for Community Resource Inner-City Project or Community Revolutionary Inner City Project. (Words such as "revolutionary agenda" were alien to our thuggish, uninformed teenage consciousness.) We did not unite to protect the community; our motive was to protect ourselves and our families.

There are people who say it was karmic justice that Raymond and I, who impinged on society in 1971 with a violent pact, deserved our exit from society in 1979 — Raymond to the grave and myself to San Quentin State Prison. They cry out that I am incapable of redemption. My detractors' attitude toward my redemption is driven largely by my open apology (see the apology at to black folks and others whom I have offended by my helping to create the Crips over thirty-three years ago. My detractors argue that I could not be redeemed because I have not apologized to the family members of the victims I was convicted of killing.

Please allow me to clarify.

I will never apologize for capital crimes that I did not commit — not even to save my life. And I did not commit the crimes for which I was sentenced to be executed by the State of California.

Being a condemned prisoner, I am viewed among the least able to qualify as a promoter of redemption and of peace. But the most wretched among society can be redeemed, find peace, and reach out to others to lift them up. Real redemption cannot be faked or intellectualized. It must be subjective: experienced, and then shared.

In the past, redemption was an alien concept to me. But from 1988 until 1994, while I lived in solitary confinement, I embarked on a transitional path toward redemption. I underwent years of education, soul-searching, edification, spiritual cultivation, and fighting to transcend my inner demons.

Subsequently the redeeming process for me symbolized the end of a bad beginning — and a new start. In time I developed a conscience that empowered me to think beyond the selfish "I" principle. Armed with new insight, I discovered the means to control my ego, which enabled me to reunite with God; to reclaim my humanity; to discover inner peace; and to find my raison d'Être — my reason to be.

Since then, I have written nine antigang and antiviolence books for children, created the Internet Project for Street Peace — an international peer mentoring program that links high-risk youth in other countries to their counterparts in the United States — and wrote a Local Street Peace Protocol that provides guidance on how to initiate a gang truce and is available to anyone who chooses to download it from my website at

Yes, redemption has resurrected me from a spiritual and mental death. And whether people are able to accept my redemption or not, they can never take it away. God chooses to redeem, not the laws of the government, the media, the sanctimonious, or the vindictive.

To be redeemed, I have learned, is to be at peace with oneself. In fact, true virtue is self-victory by a path of redemption to peace.

To avoid damaging others, certain names, nicknames, and quite a few well-known incidents have been excluded from Blue Rage, Black Redemption. For the same reason I have used pseudonyms for some of the people I include in this book. Otherwise, the story I tell is true.

Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Tookie Williams


It started out as a gray Friday morning, and as I rushed into a West Oakland McDonald's to grab a breakfast sandwich, I heard the commotion coming from a table of older black gentlemen in the back of the restaurant. "If he killed those people, he ought to die," said one. "Well, whether he did it or not, if he stays locked up for the rest of his life, that ain't living," said another. "He might as well be dead." Although I tried to avoid this breakfast-table debate, as soon as I was spotted I was summoned to the table.

"Tavis Smiley, what are you doing here?" One brother yelled out. "We're talking about that gang leader Tookie Williams who is supposed to be executed for killing those people in L.A. back in the day." "So, Smiley," asked another, "what do you think? Should he die?"

The whole scene was surreal. I had just flown into Oakland International Airport that morning and, ironically, my radio producer and I were on our way to San Quentin to meet with Stanley Tookie Williams. He asked to meet me in person before doing an interview that would be aired on both my radio and television shows. It was November 25, 2005, the day after Thanksgiving, and I was already riding a sea of emotions long before being confronted by the breakfast club. Of all the McDonald's we could have chosen.

The truth is, at that moment, I wasn't sure how to respond to the brother's question. All I knew for sure is that I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty and, as a person of faith, I believe in the scripture where God says, "Vengeance is mine." So, without going into too much more detail, that was my answer as I wished the brothers a good day.

As I got back in the car, I started thinking about the morning ahead. Although unfortunately I've visited friends or family members in jail over the years, fortunately I had never been to death row. I wasn't sure what to expect. But as for Stanley, I had a little bit of insight. When Jamie Foxx came on my television show, he talked about what it was like to portray Stanley in the television movie Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story. Jamie also told me that in spite of Stanley's imposing figure — a massive chest and bulging arms and legs from bodybuilding — Stanley was very gentle and soft-spoken.

When we arrived at San Quentin a short while later, I found all of that to be true. After going through two metal detectors and security doors, we waited in a small visitors' cell that held an old table, a few chairs, and a small barred window that looked out onto the bay. A few minutes later, a guard escorted the shackled, gentle, soft-spoken bodybuilder with glasses and gray hair to the cell. After his cuffs were unlocked, he reached out, shook my hand, and said, "I'm Stan, and I've been waiting to meet you."

As we sat down, Stan immediately opened the window and we began to talk. We talked briefly about the childhood he discusses at length in this book. We talked about what it was like to be in prison for nearly twenty-five years — what an average day was like — and how he had coped for all that time. We talked about his children's books and his Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Then I asked some of the tough questions.

I asked him about his life as a gang leader, and how he felt about all the death and destruction caused in the black community by gang violence in Los Angeles, where I live, as well as many other parts of the country. I asked him about the murders for which he was convicted, and how he felt about the victims' families. I also asked him about the fact that he reportedly refused to assist law enforcement with information in their efforts to arrest, prosecute, and convict other gang members.

Stan solemnly and candidly answered all my questions. He told me that he was sorry for his gang involvement and for the havoc he had personally wreaked in the community. He said that he was sorry for the losses suffered by the Owens and Yang families, but maintained that he was innocent of the murders. He told me that he believes God allowed him to go to prison to pay for some of the horrible things he had done in his life, although ultimately he was being punished for crimes he did not commit. Regarding his cooperation with law enforcement, Stan gave me a somewhat more complicated explanation: he said that it was a violation of a prison code for him to discuss certain gang-related matters because of broader implications that could lead to more violence for him and other prison members.

Then we talked about the power of redemption. Stan told me that prison had afforded him the time to read and learn and grow. He shared how through prayer, reflection, and discipline he had changed from a young, violent man filled with rage to a man whose life revealed redemption. Throughout our conversation, Stan held my gaze and his calm never wavered. And then we talked about his impending death. He told me that he had already told the prison that he had chosen to deny his last meal and, with the exception of Minister Louis Farrakhan, he would deny last rites or counsel with any clergy. I told him about the brothers at McDonald's and the questions that I had been asked. In particular, I wanted to know how he felt about fighting to spend the rest of his life — which could be another twenty-five plus years — behind bars. Death or life in prison? What does it feel like to face that inevitability?

Stan smiled as he told me that his ability to influence young people to stay out of gangs was reason enough to want to live. He said that in spite of the soul-stripping regimens of prison, he had learned how to create and experience his own joie de vivre, the French term for joy of life. As our conversation ended we stood, shook hands, and, as I patted him on the back in a brief embrace, he reminded me to "keep the faith." I realized that this could be the first and last time I would see him. It was.

Three weeks later, Stan was executed by lethal injection by the State of California. The night before he died I couldn't sleep. I stayed awake past midnight, and after he was pronounced dead I felt numb. Even after such a brief encounter I felt a connection to another black man whose life, through bad circumstances and bad choices, like so many others, had ended way too soon. I also felt sorrow for all the mothers and fathers and communities that have lost loved ones to gang violence. After wrestling with these thoughts, I realized that Stan's legacy can be one of tragedy and triumph. It is also a legacy that helped me grapple with the power of redemption.

I believe that Stan reminded our society that we send people to prison to rehabilitate them, and we have to believe that process is real and possible for even some of the worst offenders. Ultimately, if we don't believe in redemption, we don't believe in America.

For many reasons, meeting Stan was a life-changing experience that reminded me that but for the earnest prayers of my mother, and the grace of God, as a black man, I too could have been one of the four black men in prison, on probation, or on parole.

I was blessed to have the personal encounter with Stan, but for all those who will never be able to witness his courage, conviction, and commitment to prevent young people from taking the same path he did, you can experience some of that pain and passion throughout this book, Blue Rage, Black Redemption. I sincerely hope that for many young men and women in Los Angeles and throughout the country, Stan's death will reaffirm the importance of life.

— Tavis Smiley Los Angeles, 2007
Foreword copyright © 2007 by Tavis Smiley

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Group Guide
The following questions serve as a foundation for your exploration of Blue Rage, Black Redemption.
1. What are your initial impressions of the author's style, tone of voice, and perspective? How does he manage to capture and hold your interest in his story? Do you trust his retelling? Why or why not? How does Stanley's use of foreshadowing affect your reading of his story?
2. Although Stanley is quick to defend his mother and acknowledges her love for him, he believes that he and his mother's mindsets about the world and the best way to live life differ and are in conflict. How would you characterize Stanley and his mother's views? How do they develop? Can you foresee a middle ground between their perspectives? Do you gravitate toward one more than the other? Explain.
3. Stanley's mother sought to help her son adjust to life in South Central Los Angeles in a number of ways. Identify the strategies she took. Why are her methods unsuccessful in changing Stanley's troublesome behavior? Why does Stanley believe her efforts failed? Can you envision other methods that may have been more successful to help deter Stanley from the gang life he followed?
4. What does Stanley mean by the term "dys-education"? Who or what provides opportunities for dys-education?
5. What are Stanley's initial perspectives on gangs? What strategies does he employ to deal with gangs? How and when did his view of gangs begin to change? 6. Define the purpose and the value of the Crips for Stanley. What are some of the metaphors that Stanley uses to illuminate his relationship to the Crips? Discuss the values, codes of conduct, and rites and rituals within the culture of the Crips gang.
7. Discuss the differences between Stanley and his alter ego, Tookie — his real middle name and the name he was called by his gang friends as well as enemies. What does this alter ego provide for Stanley? Is one more real than the other? How so? Does the exploration of these values change your perspective on the Crips?
8. Stanley and Buddha's time at Banning High School and the boys' camp outside of San Diego stand in stark contrast to their lives in South Central Los Angeles. What do their experiences in both locations allow us to see about Stanley and his friend Buddha? What does it reveal about their lives and the roles they either choose or are forced to play?
9. What impact does Buddha's death have on Stanley? How does Stanley come to view his own mortality in light of Buddha's death? How does Stanley's perception of death evolve throughout his story?
10. Stanley's bus to trip to San Quentin reminds us of his fateful trip to South Central Los Angeles with his mother. How does the world he encounters in prison differ from the world he leaves behind in South Central? How are they similar? What approach does Stanley take to deal with the prison world?
11. Stanley leaves the Hole as if with new eyes. Describe his perceptual shift. What role does compassion play in his awakening?
12. What does Stanley mean by the process that he calls "instinctual consciousness"? Have you ever used such a process? Discuss occasions when this process may be necessary or useful.
13. Stanley's transformation reaches its zenith when he is given the name Ajamu Niamke Kamara by his peers and is acknowledged by others as a changed man. What is the significance of naming in Stanley's story?
14. What do you believe it means to be redeemed? Do we have commonly accepted ways of evaluating or talking about redemption? Do you believe in Stanley's redemption? Why or why not?
Enhancement to Your Book Club
1. Read one of Stanley Tookie Williams's children's books and discuss his approach to writing about gangs for children. Does the book reveal new insights about the author? What do you believe is the appropriate age for the book? If any members of your group have children, discuss whether they would share this book with their child. Consider reading the book with a child you know and discuss the relevant themes. Were there challenges to raising the topic of gangs with the child? What did you discover about gangs based upon your discussion with the child?
2. Reading a memoir provides ample opportunity to envision our own lives and the choices and paths we took or failed to take to arrive at our current state. Stanley conceived of his life in two parts, Blue Rage — and later, Black Redemption. Try to locate a significant event or series of events that similarly divided your life into a before and an after period. Who did you believe you were before the event(s)? What were your values? What were your hopes and dreams? How did they change? Could others notice any of your changes? Why or why not? If you could name your before and after periods, what would you call them? Create your own memoir book cover with a brief introduction and bring it to share with your group.
3. Visit and print out his Protocol for Peace. Review the document prior to meeting with your group and make two concrete additions to any section of the document. Write each addition on separate 3-x-5 index cards. Bring your two index cards to the meeting and place them in a bowl. At some point in the meeting, perhaps during a snack break, have the group leader read all cards aloud. Discuss the merits of group members' suggestions. Stanley calls on all of us to participate in helping to create a safe and healthy community. How did it feel to contribute to the Protocol? What were your challenges to imagining a way to create peace? Which elements of the Protocol seemed doable?
Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Tookie Williams
Epilogue copyright © 2007 by Barbara Becnel

Table of Contents

Foreword by Tavis Smiley Introduction Part 1: Blue Rage 1 Born in the Bayou 2 South Central 3 Sibling Feud 4 Hallelujah, Hallelujah 5 The Art of Dys-education 6 Voodoo Medicine 7 Stepfamily 8 Adolescent Blues 9 Point of No Return 10 The Institutional Shuffle 11 Seeds of a Gang 12 Crip Walk 13 The Criplettes 14 Tookie's Law 15 Boys Republic to Factor Brookins 16 Mr. Buddha! Mr. Buddha! 17 Compton Ambassador 18 Straddling the Fence 19 Invincibility Shot Down 20 The Big Comeback 21 The Old Stomping Ground 22 Float On, Float On, Float On 23 Schemes and Things 24 Living the Funk 25 The Longest Day 26 Rage of Another Kind Part 2: Black Redemption 27 The Missing Years 28 Inside the Beast 29 Things Happen 30 Change Will Come 31 Trials, Tribulations 32 Let There Be Light 33 Human Angel 283 34 Moto Ndani (The Fire Within) 35 Redemption . . . Step Forward 36 A Woman Called Mother Africa 37 Black Phoenix Rising 38 Sons of the Father Afterthoughts Epilogue by Barbara Becnel Special Acknowledgments The Tookie Protocol for Peace: A Local Street Peace Initiative