Rally For Abolition

On The Second Anniversary Of The Illinois Moratorium: The Illinois Death Penalty Is Too Flawed To Fix

Jesse Jackson speaks out
By: Noreen McNulty

It’s Time To End The Death Penalty

The death penalty is too flawed to fix. That’s why the Chicago Campaign to End the Death Penalty has launched a signature ad to be printed in several Illinois newspapers.

"No one knows just how many more innocent men and women remain on death row. But we do know that the system remains rife with injustices. Police abuse, prosecutorial misconduct and inept defense lawyers are the rule, rather than the exception, in death penalty prosecutions... It’s time for Illinois, the land of Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow, to take a bold step forward -- as all modern democracies except the United States have done -- and do away with the death penalty once and for all."

Join Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., exonerated Illinois death row inmates, and other abolitionists who have already signed onto this statement.

For more information about the ad, go to www.nodeathpenalty.org on the Web or call our national office at 773-955-4841.

On January 31, 2002 -- the second anniversary of the moratorium on Illinois executions -- nearly 600 people packed the United Church of Hyde Park in Chicago to send a message loud and clear: "The Illinois death penalty is too flawed to fix!"

Sponsored by the Chicago Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the rally featured five of the 13 exonerated prisoners from Illinois death row -- Perry Cobb, Gary Gauger, Anthony Porter, Steve Smith, and Darby Tillis. Gauger told the audience, "It’s not the system that saved me. The system tried to kill me. It’s people like you that saved me." Exonerated inmate Darby Tillis not only shared his story but also his musical talent. Tillis played "Death Row Blues" on the harmonica and received a standing ovation.

The Rainbow/PUSH choir made a special appearance at the rally and inspired all with their songs, especially an incredible performance by a 12-year-old boy singing, "I Believe I Can Fly."

Rallying the crowd to its feet, Alice Kim, a national organizer for the Campaign, said, "Two years ago today, abolitionists struck a blow against the machinery of death. We exposed a broken system and won a moratorium on executions in Illinois. This sent shock waves across the country and put the issue of the death penalty into the national spotlight. Two years later, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the death penalty system is still broken...The death penalty is on trial right now, and we have to tip the balance in our favor. Just as the Illinois moratorium propelled our movement forward, when we win abolition in Illinois, we will send a message to the entire country that abolition is the only way to go."

Reverend Jesse Jackson, the keynote speaker, told the cheering crowd, "You couldn’t really fix slavery. You couldn’t modify it. Good slave masters, bad slave masters. Bad slave masters kill you instantly. Good slave masters kill you softly. We had to abolish the slavery system. Let’s abolish the death penalty."

Gricelda Ceja, the mother of Raul Ceja, the first person sentenced to death after the moratorium, moved the audience to tears as she spoke about the injustices in her son’s case. And she made a very specific plea to the audience: "Whenever we hear politicians talk about the death penalty, we also hear their ideas on how to fix it. What is it that they want to fix and for what purpose? To kill in a quicker and more efficient manner or to kill in greater numbers? Last year, I came here to ask for your help to change this system, not only for my son, but for all the other men who sit on death row. I’m back, and I’m asking for your help again. But this time, I’m asking you to help me destroy this monster."

The rally came at a crucial time for the anti-death penalty movement in Illinois: The commission that Gov. Ryan set up to investigate the death penalty is about to release its findings. Reports leaked to the press indicate that the panel will suggest as many as 75 reforms. It’s reported that the panel voted 8 to 5 in favor of recommending abolition of the death penalty. It is still unclear if this vote will appear in the final report.

This will depend on what activists are able to do. The Campaign’s rally launched a campaign for abolition in Illinois. The Campaign announced two new initiatives at the rally: a signature advertisement calling for abolition to appear in local newspapers, and a spring march for abolition in Chicago.

Other speakers included Tim Lohraff, an attorney with the People’s Law Office; Reverend Larry Turpin of the United Church of Hyde Park; and representatives from various anti-death penalty and social justice organizations.