Communists for Tookie
ZombieTime.com | Thursday, December 15, 2005
These photographs and videos were taken outside the gates of San Quentin Prison on the evening of December 12, 2005 during a vigil marking the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, which happened shortly after midnight.
Before arriving at San Quentin, I had been under the naive impression that the crowd in front would be evenly split between anti-death penalty protesters and pro-death penalty protesters. I was sorely mistaken. I quickly learned that the crowd was 99% anti-death penalty. And a substantial proportion of them were avowed socialists, since several radical groups showed up en masse. For example, this group -- the International Socialist Organization -- are hardcore Trotskyites; dozens of ISO members were at the rally, serving as an (un?)official security crew.
Much to my surprise at first, the protesters were not just against the death penalty, but they were actually fervently pro-Tookie. Throughout the evening he was portrayed as a hero, a martyr, even a savior, both by the protesters and by the celebrity speakers.
In case you're wondering in what way Tookie could have conceivably helped children, the answer is: he wrote some children's books about gangs. Never mind that the books were most likely ghostwritten by his "co-author" and that his bestselling title sold a whopping 330 copies. That didn't stop him from getting repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The villain du jour was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Followed closely by George W. Bush.
In fact, mainstream America in general was demonized as well.
Racially inflammatory signs were commonplace.
Jesse Jackson and Mike Farrell stood behind the podium waiting to speak, guarded by the "Fruit of Islam," the Nation of Islam's paramilitary wing.
Some of the Fruit were nervous about how close I was getting to Jesse, and they kept their eyes on me whenever I came near the speakers' area.
The look of love is in your eyes....
Joan Baez made the unfortunate decision to regale the crowd with a screechy rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
It was literally painful to hear. People in the crowd were plugging their ears.
Why look -- an authentically sad man!
Oh, wait: he's just posing for a cameraman. Never mind.
This photo unfortunately got a little blurred, but the sign merits a transcription:
"Tookie = greater integrity worth 100 times as much to our world as all the neocons hypocristians & fascist pigs of profit: schwartzneg, bush..."
Palestinian activist Jess Ghannam took the stage and declared his (and all of our) love for Tookie (QuickTime mpeg video, 2.4mb) (Clicking on this link -- and on all the similar links below -- will open a QuickTime video file in a new window. Below each link is an exact transcription of the speaker's words.)
Jess Ghannam: This is racism, this is classism. And I have a message for our brother Tookie: We love you, brother. We love Tookie! We love you, Tookie. And I wanna say one more thing: Tookie is more dangerous to this society alive, and the governor knows it. He's a unifier. He's bringing peace on the streets, and that freaks out the people in Sacramento and Washington.
Jesse gave his usual Jesse speech. No need to transcribe it here, as he has been giving the same speech to the major media several times a day over the previous week. (Earlier, Jesse revealed his compassion and knowledge of the case when he was unable to name any of Tookie's victims.)
The Fruit gathered around Mike as a human shield during his re-run of a speech as well, in which he claimed Schwarzenegger "tortured" Tookie by taking so long to deny him clemency.
Mike and Jesse bailed out hours before the execution. Or at least tried to: Mike couldn't take three steps without a camera crew accosting him. While the Fruit were off attending to Jesse, I stayed at Mike's elbow for some closeups.
Jesse slipped away to the parking area, but I was waiting for him and snapped a candid closeup and then scampered off before the Fruit could react.
Back up toward San Quentin Village, a hubbub was brewing. The first pro-execution activist had shown up. Unfortunately, he was as uninformed about the case as Jesse Jackson was, and couldn't decide whether Tookie was to be hanged...
...or "cooked" like a "Kookie." (For the record: the execution was a lethal injection.) The International Socialist Organization (ISO) minions (wearing their reflective vest uniforms, which pick up camera-flashes a little too well) made it their mission to escort him from the premises. The guy obviously had not been anticipating what happened. The ISO folks surrounded him and yelled at him in no uncertain terms that they would not allow him to stay.
After a short argument, he gave up and headed back down to the parking area.
A contingent of ISOers stuck to him like glue, chanting slogans the whole way.
The guy looked pretty distressed, but he didn't have the stomach for a physical confrontation. The ISOers were quite pleased with themselves at their early victory. But they did not know what lay in store for them. Not all the anti-Tookie protesters would give up so easily. Before long, a major battle erupted.
When I arrived back at the main vigil area, three more anti-Tookie protesters had unveiled their messages. The ISO and other activist groups went into a rage. Two of the protesters were Christians who held up religious signs; the other was a Protest Warrior type who held up a forensic picture of Yee-Chen Lin, one of the victims that Tookie had shot in the face with a shotgun.
After a tense showdown, one of the Christian protesters was assaulted by a large group of Tookie supporters. Click here to see the action. (QuickTime mpeg video, 7.7mb):
Tookie supporters: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away! [Repeated many times.]
For those of you who can't view videos on your computers, here are a few freezeframes from the movie to give an idea of what it was like:
(Later I'll be posting more eye-popping pictures and videos of this ongoing showdown between the anti- and pro-Tookie forces.)
You may notice in some of the photos and video above one of the violent ISO members who intimidated the first anti-Tookie protester and then assaulted the Christian; he's depicted in the oval section of the photo above (a freezeframe from the video), a young man with a stubbly beard and a blue and yellow cap.
When KTVU reporter Ken Wayne selected someone from the crowd to sum up the opinions of Californians about the execution, whom did he choose, out of all the people there? You guessed it. The same ISO enforcer -- who had been shouting communist slogans all night and who just minutes earlier had committed assault on a peaceful protester.
He was granted a long time -- well over a minute -- to spin his opinions to the waiting world. His affiliation and behavior were never pointed out by the reporter.
Nearby, a group of young women performed what has got to be the most inappropriate spectacle ever at an execution: an explicit song-and-dance routine about orgasms.
I didn't record the song, but the lyrics went something like, "We use these hands to touch our clits; we like to come, that's no shit!" I am not kidding. They did this for several minutes. I've seen them do a similar routine at other protests, but I never imagined they'd do it here.
There were Palestinian activist groups on hand as well. Lotsa kaffiyehs in the crowd.
If you squint hard enough, you can see the Socialist utopia in the distance....
This guy apparently took a left turn at Cincinnati and ended up at the wrong execution.
This protester urged the media to be more biased.
But she needn't have bothered. One of the standard activities of radicals at protests these days is to physically cover up the messages of people they don't agree with. At the vigil, the socialists did everything they could to cover up the Christians' signs. And, as you can see here, the media joined in: a sound technician from one of the leftist radio stations used his boom-mike to try to cover up the Christian protest sign. Using a microphone to stifle free speech -- could you get more ironic?
Media was everywhere. Total saturation. Here, a radio show is being broadcast live from someone's front yard.
TV camera crews were a dime a dozen.
Even bloggers were blogging (or perhaps sending stories to their editors).
Here, a very serious network anchorman psyches himself up for a live segment. Will he be reporting on the kind of stuff you're seeing here? Not likely. He already knows what he wants to say. His narrative is pre-planned -- forget about the facts on the ground....
Here's the handwritten script he worked up for the report. The usual bland whitewash.
Another fearless anti-Tookie protester refused to be intimidated by the crowd. Despite their attempts to drown him out and mute his bullhorn, he soldiered on (QuickTime mpeg video, 2.2mb):
Anti-Tookie protester: Tookie deserves the death penalty.
Tookie supporters: Born-again bigots, go away!
ATP: Tookie deserves the death penalty. The wages of Tookie's [sin] are death.
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away!
ATP: Quit being so liberal. You guys are making a murderer an icon!
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots, go away!
ATP: You're making [him] a hero, an icon. Something is wrong with this picture.
TS: Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Right-wing bigots...
California Penal Code regulations stipulate that no public protest is allowed to proceed without at least one sign that mentions Hitler, no matter how irrelevant to the theme of the protest. (Nice cigar!)
Queers for Palestine decided to branch out a little thematically by making a new banner. Those wacky queers -- they're always thinking up something to be for or against!
And of course it wouldn't be a true protest without some comforting "9/11 cover-up" signs.
After I left, apparently, some anarchists burned an American flag outside the prison. I missed that glorious moment, but it was captured by an Associated Press photographer and included in the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the event.
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