Highlights Of The Struggle

Campaign reports from across the country

Austin, Texas
By Lily Hughes

This year, Death Penalty Awareness Week fell on October 13-17, and our annual March to Stop Executions was scheduled for October 18. So the two events went together, with the march being an exclamation point on the week of activity. During the week, we had information tables every day on the West Mall, the main area on the University of Texas campus where students congregate. We held a meeting and video screening one night of the week.

Probably our biggest event during the week was a speakout that we held on the main plaza, which featured a "Live Off Death Row" call-in from Illinois death row prisoner Ronald Kitchen. Hundreds of students passed through the area on the way to and from classes, and many stopped to listen for a few minutes, some for the whole time. We passed out tons of information, as well as stickers for the upcoming march. Several of the brand new students took to the mic, to talk about their opposition to the death penalty.

The march has been organized the last few years by a coalition of groups. The Campaign decided that if the event was to be a success, we would have to do all we could to make that happen. We plastered the town with posters, organized great speakers who we have met in our work, including Sandra Reed and Jeannine Scott, who have both been personally touched by Texas’ race to execute.

One of our members handmade silk-screened placards that said "Abolish the Racist Death Penalty" that had pictures of innocent men on death row on them. Plus, we made our own CEDP shirts to all wear at the march. The attendance was a little smaller this year, with close to 300 people marching past the governor’s mansion and Capitol building to rally in front of the federal court building. The energy was high, and the event was an inspiring finale to the whole week of activity.

Georgetown University
By Phil Marcelo

The Georgetown University chapter of the Campaign held a successful third annual Death Penalty Awareness Week in October. Highlights of the week including a screening of the film Dean Man Walking, a display of chalk outlines of executed juveniles, an interactive display on issues of morality and the death penalty and a march against executions at the Maryland Supermax prison in Baltimore, which houses Maryland’s death row.

The keynote speaker for the week was Ray Krone, a former death row prisoner in Arizona who last year became the 100th exonerated death row inmate to be freed since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. "I’m ecstatic to be here," Krone said to an audience of 80 students on October 13. "I’m blessed to be here. I’m lucky to be here." Krone had been convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for the rape and murder of an Arizona waitress. After 10 years in prison, DNA tests on semen found on the victim matched that of another man serving time in another prison, clearing Krone of any wrongdoing.

Recounting his battle against the U.S. justice system and his ordeal in a maximum security prison, Krone said, "What happened to me can happen to anybody. Before my conviction, I still had belief in the justice system. I believed that when the jury came out, everything would work out alright. Truth and justice would prevail. That system failed me."

Since his release in April 2002, Krone has become a spokesman for the national campaign to end the death penalty. His new life began the moment he left prison 18 months ago. "One of those reporters standing outside of the prison the day I was let out asked, ‘How do you justify God leaving you in prison for 10 years?’" he recalled. "For a moment I couldn’t answer. I was frozen." His response, made with barely a moment’s thought, has shaped the course of his future life. "Maybe it’s not about the 10 years in prison, but about what I do in the next 10 years," he said. "Maybe this was all part of God’s plan."

Laying out a stark assessment of capital punishment, Krone said, "Out of the 840 people executed since 1973, 111 have been exonerated. That’s almost one innocent person for every eight people executed. A lot of people don’t think of it that way. If that was one in eight cruise ships sinking, one in eight airplanes crashing, the public would be outraged. Congress would have a heck of an investigation." Krone closed his speech by urging students to join the fight to end the death penalty. "You are the future," he said. "Stand strong. Stand tall. Get this blood off of our hands."

By Marlene Martin

About 150 protesters marched and chanted against police torture and for an end to the death penalty in Chicago during Death Penalty Awareness Week in October. The demonstration was held at a police station on the South Side of Chicago which was the site of the torture of close to 100 African American suspects by Chicago police, led by former Commander Jon Burge. Among the torture victims were the Death Row 10, a group of men sent to death row based on the coerced confessions.

When former Illinois Gov. George Ryan cleared death row at the beginning of this year, he pardoned four members of the Death Row 10 and commuted the sentences of the others. But these men remain behind bars--while many of the police involved in the torture are still working.

"We know that these cops have brutalized and tortured confessions from people, and some of those people ended up on death row," said Joan Parkin of the Campaign, the MC of the event. "But where are the cops? The ringleader Jon Burge is enjoying a full pension while others are still on the force. Where is the justice?"

The multiracial crowd was comprised of many family members whose loved ones were in prison. One after another, they got up to the microphone to tell their story in powerful testimonies. "I can’t talk about Ronnie’s torture, because I will just start crying," said Louva Bell, mother of Death Row 10 member Ronald Kitchen and a member of the Campaign herself.

Then she reminded the crowd, "It’s going to take all of us. We all have to come together and keep fighting."

Berkeley, Calif.
By Cameron Sturdevant

Death Penalty Awareness Week was held for the first time at the University of California-Berkeley campus this year, culminating in a spirited, if modestly sized, protest outside the gates of San Quentin prison, the site of California’s death row.

On Monday, we kicked off the week with a literature table in the main student gathering area, Sproul Plaza, by contrasting the Culture of Life vs. the Culture of Death. We used oversized posters to show how then-California Gov. Gray Davis proposed using $220 million to expand death row, while implementing cuts in nearly every other part of the state budget.

Tuesday night, we sponsored a teach-in that featured exonerated Oklahoma death row inmate Greg Wilhoit, along with attorney and longtime associate of the Campaign Rita Barker, who was the friend of executed California inmate Tom Thompson. Wilhoit brought the issues of innocence, poor investigation and ineffective legal assistance--along with how people change their opinions about the death penalty -- to light in a way that moved the entire audience. Barker detailed the case of Tom Thompson, who appealed his case on the basis of factual innocence. Thompson’s case reveals further problems with capital punishment including the use of jailhouse snitches and the legal system’s obsession with filing deadlines instead of the facts of the case.

Wednesday focused on innocence, with brightly colored posters that profiled 111 exonerated inmates. We also distributed information about Kevin Cooper, a high-profile California case.

Thursday focused on racism in the death penalty. We handed out information that showed how Blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death, and that the alleged killers of white victims were far more likely to be charged with a capital offense.

Friday, we used the materials from the previous days to build our protest at San Quentin prison, where approximately 40 people held a midday rally on Sunday. Despite an intimidating police presence, speakers from many organizations and some death row family members spoke out about their opposition to expanding death row and the need for a moratorium that leads to the abolition of the death penalty.

George Washington University
By Laura Osterman

Death Penalty Awareness Week at the George Washington University was a great success. We opened the week with a "Live from Death Row" event which included a call from Eugene Covin-El and a panel discussion featuring exonerated death row prisoner Shujaa Graham and anti-death penalty attorney Jay Nickerson. We had about 50 to 75 people show up for the event, and we had many people approach us afterwards to tell us what a profound effect the "Live from Death Row" had on them.

We also had tables set up throughout the week, where we had lots of people sign our signature board and petitions and sign up for our list serve. To close out the week, we attended the protest at the Supermax prison in Baltimore, which was very inspiring and helped to keep our group focused for the coming months.