A Dec. 21 article about the funeral of Stanley Tookie Williams, the co-founder of the Crips street gang who was executed for murder on Dec. 13, incorrectly described one of the speakers. Rudy Langlais was a producer of "Redemption," a movie about Williams's life; he was not one of Williams's lawyers.
Standing Room Only at Funeral for Crips Co-Founder
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 20 -- Stanley Tookie Williams's mourners began arriving hours before his noon funeral, hoping to secure seats inside the church.
By 10 a.m., police had blocked the streets surrounding the Bethel A.M.E. church, citing gridlock. By 11, hundreds of mourners formed two snaking lines -- one for men, one for women -- outside the church, and the 1,500-seat sanctuary was standing room only. Police began lining up in anti-riot mode across the street, watching Crips gang members arriving by the dozens.
This was a funeral perhaps unlike any this humbled patch of South Los Angeles has seen. A few thousand people made their way through the narrow streets to pay their respects to Williams, who was executed at California's San Quentin State Prison on Dec. 13, 24 years after he was convicted of four murders that he swore he did not commit.
Williams, 51, had co-founded the notorious Crips in South Central Los Angeles but had become an anti-gang crusader in his last decade or so on death row, writing nine children's books and sparking worldwide appeals to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to spare his life. And Williams received the statesman's funeral that his supporters had promised.
Speakers at the four-hour service included civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson, rapper Snoop Dogg and motivational speaker Tony Robbins; Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, delivered the eulogy.
The funeral was open to the public, and the crowd spilled into the aisles, jammed the balcony and filled the parking lot, where people could watch the service on television. Scores of Crips, wearing blue and white, stood in the parking lot among reporters, neighborhood residents and security guards from the Nation of Islam.
Gunfire a block away startled those outdoors, but police said no one was injured.
Snoop Dogg, a Los Angeles native who had been a Crip, read a poem he wrote for Williams, "Until We Meet Again." In it, he mentioned that people questioned why he had become so public with his support for a convicted former gang leader. "If you're black like me, you're guilty until proven innocent, and furthermore, I don't believe Stanley did it," he read. His remarks drew wild cheers inside and outside the church.
He and other prominent speakers provided star power, and a taped message from Williams urging peace riveted the crowd. But mourners were most visibly moved by Rudy Langlais, one of Williams's lawyers.
He described Williams's last day, from waiting to hear whether Schwarzenegger had granted him clemency to Williams's acceptance of his fate. "He told us he didn't want anyone to witness his execution," Langlais said, choking up. But Barbara Becnel, Williams's closest confidante, persuaded him to let her and a few others into the death chamber, Langlais said, "because she didn't want the last people Stan saw to be people who hated him."
Schwarzenegger denied clemency, he wrote, on the grounds that Williams had not proved that he had changed and had never apologized for the four 1979 murders that sent him to death row.
Williams had been convicted of killing Albert Owens, a 7-Eleven clerk; and Yen-I Yang, 76; his wife, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and their daughter, Yu-Chi Yang Lin, 43, in two separate robberies.
Two Crips, wearing T-shirts decorated with Williams's likeness, said they were paying respects to a strong leader in and out of the gang. They declined to give their names.
Shaheena Muhammad, who brought her daughter, Precious Jones, 3, said Williams's execution was a shame because "he could have contributed so much to getting rid of the gangs that he helped start."