Dear Governor

An open letter regarding Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams

Help save Williams’ life: Urge Governor Schwarzenegger to do the right thing by calling his office at (916) 445-2841 or sending an e-mail to

Welcome back, Governor. We’re glad your trip to China went better than the special election. We know things have been rough for you lately, that your approval ratings have plummeted. You’re probably wondering why you ever wanted this job anyway.

Allow us to remind you: You wanted to be governor because you knew you were different. You didn’t need the money, the power or the fame. You already had those things. You wanted the job because you wanted to rise above politics as usual and have a positive impact.

That’s why you must save Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

You remember Tookie, don’t you? You met him once in Venice Beach, during your bodybuilding days. Besides being a serious weightlifter, Tookie was one bad dude: a gang member, a co-founder of the Crips and, in 1981, a convicted murderer sentenced for killing four people. But in the past 10 years, he’s become a model of jailhouse rehabilitation, working to curtail youth violence and winning both a citation from President Bush and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. He’s written nine books on the evils of gang life, made tapes, held talks and had a positive impact on thousands of young people who might not have been willing to listen to advice from parents, teachers, police or anyone lacking the street credibility of a Tookie Williams.

But right now, Williams is on death row and scheduled for execution December 13, and only you can save him. With a wave of your pen, you can grant clemency, change his sentence to life without parole and allow his anti-gang work to continue. The announcement that you’ll hold a private clemency hearing next week gives us hope that you might do this.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: Your political advisers would never recommend this. They’ll point out that most Californians support the death penalty, and tell you that the safe thing to do is to try to ignore this issue.

But you know, in your heart of hearts, that capital punishment is wrong. You’re Austrian, and you’ve seen what can happen when government assumes ultimate power over life and death. You’ve admitted that your background has led you to have conflicted feelings about the morality of capital punishment, and you’re also familiar with all of the practical reasons why it’s bad policy: It doesn’t deter crime, it’s incredibly costly, and all too often it kills people who turn out to have been innocent.

Tookie Williams claims he’s innocent, but that’s almost beside the point. If you grant clemency, and he lives, his anti-gang work will go on. If you don’t, he’ll die, his work will die with him, and we’ll never know how many young he might have saved.

Please do the right thing. (Even those who support the death penalty will respect you for it.) Please save Tookie and his work. Who knows? You might save yourself in the process.