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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW : Stanley 'Tookie' Williams : The Crips Co-founder Now Realizes Violence Does Not Solve Anything

August 22, 1993|Barbara Cottman Becnel | Barbara Cottman Becnel is writing a book about the history of the Crips and Bloods, to be published by Macmillan Books in the fall of 1994. She interviewed Williams in San Quentin state prison

When Stanley (Tookie) Williams' face appeared on a huge screen in a hotel ballroom at the recent Los Angeles Gang Peace Summit, an audience of some 400 people froze. The 39-year-old Williams, co-founder of the Crips, was addressing the group from San Quentin's Death Row. His videotaped message condemned urban violence and promoted gang peace. When he finished and the screen went blank, people leaped from their chairs, cheering and applauding.

Until that event, Williams hadn't uttered a public word in 14 years--not since he was jailed and convicted of murder. Yet, his reputation in the 'hood continued to grow: Williams has earned his "props"--his proper respect--because he has taken his years in prison like a man, not snitching on or complaining to anyone.

Williams was nicknamed "Big Took" because his heavy weightlifting gave him Incredible Hulk-like proportions. Only 5 feet, 10 inches tall, his neck measured close to 20 inches, he flexed 22-inch arms and he weighed nearly 300 pounds. His mythic status in the community is based on stories, told and retold, of his exploits. For example, he never bought tickets to music concerts; instead, he would approach a locked entryway, grab the knobs and rip out the doors.

Twenty-two years ago, it was Williams' "heart"--his courage to do as he pleased--that prompted Raymond Washington, 18, to pursue him. Washington wanted his followers, young men from South-Central's eastside, to form an alliance with Williams' westside recruits so they would not be overrun by other local gangs. Williams eventually saw the potential and agreed. Their alliance became the Crips.

Washington was murdered by a rival gang member in 1979.

These days, Williams no longer identifies with the "Big Took" persona. Nonetheless, he cuts a powerful figure, even though handcuffed at the waist and ankles and allowed to wear only blue, prison-issue clothes. Now slightly less muscular (18-inch neck, 19-inch arms, 250 pounds), Williams moves with such precision and purpose that he appears to be traveling in slow motion. His voice reflects the same restraint--he speaks softly, each word considered.

Only his left leg betrays excitement, twitching throughout our conversation, particularly when he discusses his twin passions--a children's book series and the memoirs he is now writing. These are projects he hopes will aid in reversing the legacy of black-on-black violence the Crips helped create.

Question: When you first heard about the gang truce, what did you think about it?

Answer: I was somewhat skeptical. I'd heard about certain things like that in the past which had failed. So I wasn't too enthused about it. I just didn't think that it would work because of the level of violence that was out there now. But I got a new perspective after the April rebellion.

Soon after the uprising, I was down in the Los Angeles County Jail on an evidentiary hearing. So I had a chance to talk with a lot of individuals who had been arrested. I had a chance to hear their views, to find out how they felt about certain things. And it was amazing to see individuals from different gangs talking to one another like they'd been together for many years.

Everywhere you would go, you would see things written on the walls, stuff like "Crips and Bloods Together Forever." Now that was in the County Jail. But it was also written on the walls in the court holding tanks. I'd never seen that before in my life. So seeing all those things helped me to develop an entirely new opinion about the truce. . . . So I started thinking about what I could do to help black youth.

Q: Are you surprised by the way the Crips turned out?

A: Oh, quite naturally, yes. Initially, Raymond and I started the Crips for protection. There were so many gangs prevalent during that era, and in our neighborhoods, that we had to band together against them to protect each other and to protect our family members, our loved ones. See, these other gangs were attacking people--robbing and stealing and jumping on individuals.

So in 1971, I met Raymond Washington at school (George Washington Preparatory High School). As a matter of fact, he came looking for me. I'm not sure how he managed to know my name, but he did. We got a chance to sit down and talk and eventually we created an alliance so that we could combat gangs on the eastside, where Raymond lived, and on the westside, where I lived.

So we started off combatting the other gangs in order to create an atmosphere in our communities where it would be safe for all of us. And, in the beginning, we were doing a pretty good job of it.

Q: How did you go about "combatting" the rival gangs?

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