FinalCall.com One-on-One with human rights activist and author Barbara Becnel
The legacy of Stanley “Tookie” Williams will not only be remembered by many for what true redemption of the human spirit is about, but also the true injustices being faced by millions of men and women incarcerated in America’s prison systems due to judicial inequalities and hypocrisy.
For as long as she could, Barbara Becnel, a human rights activist, author and the executor of Mr. Williams estate, fought for his life and for justice she believed worthy of a man who was self-rehabilitated and who was proving every day that he was willing to do what he could to help rehabilitate others.
Although the immediate subject of her fight for justice was stripped away by San Quentin State Prison executioners in 2005, she continues to battle for his legacy and work, assured that it will save the young lives he intended. Ms. Becnel has always maintained, as she and friends (Shirley Neal and Rudy Langlais) declared after they witnessed their friend’s execution, that “The State of California just killed an innocent man!”
In the July 30 edition of The New Yorker magazine, Vernell Crittendon, former San Quentin State Prison spokesperson, admitted to writer Tad Friend that he helped to wage a state-sanctioned smear campaign against Mr. Williams, in an effort to green light his execution. During an interview with Final Call Staff Writer Charlene Muhammad, Ms. Becnel outlined her battle plans in light of Mr. Crittendon’s admissions.
FINAL CALL (FC): According to the article, Mr. Crittendon’s smear campaign included suggesting to the media that Mr. Williams’ heart had not changed; that he was still orchestrating gangland activities and had a suspiciously large bank account.
When asked whether he now considered his campaign unusual or unwarranted, Mr. Crittendon said it, “was approved through the department.” The article states that he had approval to “correct public misimpressions” from the state attorney general’s office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) spokesman in Sacramento, also a liaison to the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office, which would have to rule on Mr. Williams’ petition for clemency. Do you feel any type of vindication from this?
BARBARA BECNEL (BB): I do feel vindicated, but that doesn’t make me feel good because I still have to remember that what they did to Stan was dishonorable, unethical, disgusting and possibly criminal. I can’t feel good about it because I know what it meant, how badly Stan was treated as a consequence, and that he’s not alive in part because of their antics.
FC: How has this impacted your current work of fighting for justice in his physical absence?
BB: We are looking at the fact that the California State Attorney General’s Office, according to Vernell Crittendon, approved him making false statements to help kill a human being. This is our highest level of law enforcement–of prosecutorial arm of the state–so typically when something bad happens within a state government, you go to the state attorney general’s office for them to prosecute, but they are at fault.
The federal government has to be brought in to oversee and investigate the state office. We will also demand that the California State Legislature investigates and holds him immediately to investigate the CDCR. They, as well as the attorney general’s office, are funded by the State Legislature and it has oversight and the responsibility to see to it that the CDCR behaves in a lawful manner. And we want the Office of the Inspector General to investigate whether the office of Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved. Prosecutors are attorneys–first. The Bar Association is supposed to oversee the unethical behavior of attorneys, and we want to turn them in and file a formal complaint against the primary attorneys who are the leadership in the California Attorney General’s Office.
FC: Do you believe the smear campaign conspiracy reaches far beyond California?
BB: First, how could he have agreed to an article where he said all of these things and how did he even have the presence of mind to be a part of a conspiracy to initiate a public media campaign to help execute a man where the campaign is based on lies? The only thing I can assume from that and all of these institutions to be involved with him in doing this is that there’s arrogance and they have gotten away with institutional abuse, maybe for years, decades. In life, part of the human condition is we do what works. We learn from what works and I have to assume that this has worked for him and for the Office of the Attorney General and for the CDCR. Do I think that the only ones who do this is the State of California? No. Does California have the only high level law enforcement officials who are arrogant? No. I’ve never known one to do an article and tell on himself before. That’s a first.
FC: What is most striking to you about his statements?
BB: There are several things, including when he talks about all of those people who have been executed and sacrificed for the greater good of him being able to serve as an example to Europeans and a role model, of an articulate Black man on public occasions. Another is when he said that he tried to talk me into “persuading Williams to renounce the Crips” and so on. We never spoke of any such thing on any occasion, and he had to admit that he in fact lied to the writer after The New Yorker magazine called me to fact check his statements.
FC: What is your plan of action?
BB: Foremost, to continue the work of the Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Network, which is a membership network (www.stwlegacy.net) that promotes his street peace work for youth, advances his literacy project by donating books to high schools, and supports opposition to the death penalty.
They may have killed his body, but they did not kill his legacy.
FC: Thank you.