Remembering Tyrone X Gilliam

By: Virginia Harabin

On the night of November 16, 1998, more than 200 abolitionists picketed and chanted in protest outside Baltimore's Supermax as the state of Maryland took the life of Tyrone X Gilliam.

In the weeks leading up to his execution date, Tyrone worked tirelessly to fight the death penalty, even as he was preparing himself to face the state's killing machine.

Tyrone spoke via telephone at many "Live from Death Row" events, a powerful forum that he founded. Understanding the need for these events to continue even after his death, he introduced the campaign to other death-row prisoners to carry on in his place.

Tyrone's voice was joined by those of activists who organized press conferences and demonstrations that focused attention on his case and advanced the debate about the use of the death penalty in Maryland.

Governor Parris Glendening was overwhelmed with calls, faxes, letters and even artwork demanding that he spare Tyrone's life. The mother of the victim, Christine Doerfler, asked Glendening to stop the execution. In spite of this, Glendening - who only weeks before had appeared in Black churches and called himself a civil rights advocate as he begged for votes - denied Tyrone's petition for clemency and, at the earliest possible opportunity, had Tyrone killed.

Tyrone's family invited all who had fought to defend Tyrone to celebrate his life in a farewell ceremony. The multiracial crowd of activists, friends, members of the religious community and scores of family members shared grief and anger at the wholly premeditated murder of this young, gifted man.

Right up until the end, Tyrone told those around him that they should use the outrage they feel against his murder to fight - to stop this from happening again.

Tyrone went to his death confident that his would be the last execution in the state of Maryland. The fight to save his life showed that this confidence was not misplaced - opposition to the death penalty in Maryland is growing.

By continuing to organize, abolitionists can put an end to this profound injustice.

Tyrone X Gilliam, 1966-1998

We mourn the loss of our brother, Tyrone X Gilliam, but we will not allow this execution to extinguish his fire.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty will honor Tyrone's wish that we remember him by continuing to work side by side with prisoners and their families in our growing movement against the barbaric injustice of the death penalty.

Tyrone is a founder of the modern abolitionist movement: hundreds know his name, and they have been inspired to join the movement to end the death penalty. As Frederick Douglass said of the abolitionist leader John Brown: "The future will write his epitaph upon the hearts of a people free from slavery because he struck the first effectual blow."

To Tyrone's family, we want to thank you for your tireless work, not only in fighting for Tyrone's life but for the ongoing struggle for the total abolition of the death penalty. We would like to thank you for asking that all charitable proceeds for Tyrone be sent to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

We worked with him, we listened to him, and he touched us all. In honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. The name Tyrone X Gilliam is written on our hearts.