Highlights Of The Struggle

Chapter reports from around the country

California, by Crystal Bybee

We’re excited to report that we now have six chapters in California. All together, we brought 20 people to the Campaign’s national convention in November, and we came back with new ideas and inspiration for the new year. The San Francisco State University and Los Angeles chapters are working on building more support on campus and making connections to death row. The San Francisco Bay View chapter is working on raising the issue of the death penalty in the community and building relationships with inmates. The St. Mary’s College chapter is planning weekly demonstrations on their campus and focusing on writing to their pen pals, who they hope to visit this spring. The UC Berkeley chapter has taken on many new pen pals, including several women who are on death row in California. All of us are gearing up for the one-year anniversary of Kevin Cooper’s stay of execution. Kevin was scheduled to be executed last year on February 10 and won a stay of execution just hours before the state planned to kill him. We’re planning a "Live From Death Row" that will feature Kevin, who will call in to speak to an audience via telephone hook-up from his prison cell, and we’re planning other events to highlight this victory and reach out to new people. Our newest chapter in Fresno is having their first CEDP meeting in January in conjunction with a local prisoners’ support network.

We are at a key point in the fight against the death penalty in California. Despite the formation of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice which will examine California’s broken death penalty system, the state is attempting to legitimize the death penalty by executing Donald Beardslee on January 19. Although Beardslee confessed to the crime, he is severely brain damaged and his case nevertheless highlights many of the problems with the death penalty. The jury in his original trial never knew about his brain damage, the other defendants in the case received lesser sentences, and Beardslee’s trial attorney was so ineffective he was actually reading the food magazine Bon Appetit during Beardslee’s testimony.

The CEDP worked alongside many other organizations in California to fight Beardlee’s execution. We wrote letters and called Governor Schwarzeneger in support of clemency for Beardslee, and held a rally and press conference to call attention to the injustices of his case. Moreover, we called for a moratorium on all executions while the newly formed commission conducts its three-year study.

On the eve of Beardslee’s execution, hundreds of people came out to San Quentin State Prison to protest his state-sanctioned murder. The crowd chanted, listened to speeches and made anti-death penalty signs. The state ignored our pleas to save Beardslee’s life and murdered him shortly after midnight on January 19.

But our efforts will not be in vain. As the last speaker of the evening, CEDP member Elizabeth Terzakis, said to the crowd of protesters, Donald Beardslee did not die alone, as the state would have wanted, and despite the sadness of the occasion we now had a collective goal to try to make sure this could never happen again.

Austin, Texas, by Lily Hughes

Last fall, the Austin chapter helped to organize the Fifth Annual March to Stop Executions! On October 30, about 300 people from all over Texas marched marched through the streets of Austin, past the governor’s mansion and the Capitol, to the Texas Supreme Court. CEDP members silk-screened t-shirts for the march, and created a monument inscribed with the names of the over 300 men and women executed here since 1982, which got a lot of attention.

Many family members of death row inmates attended the march, and several addressed the crowd. Sandra Reed spoke about the injustices in her son Rodney’s case. And we were pleased to have Monique Matthews come to Texas from Louisiana for the march. She spoke about the recent release of her brother Ryan from Louisiana’s death row and provided a much needed spirit of victory to the march. Other speakers included family members of murder victims opposed to capital punishment, anti-death penalty activists, and defense lawyers. Texas death row inmates Randy Arroyo, Kenneth Foster Jr. and Hasan Abd al-Shakur, were instrumental in bringing the Welfare Poets, a band from New York, to the march. The music was the best we’ve ever had, and band members also spoke about their opposition to the death penalty.

Soon after the march, six of us from the Austin chapter, including Sandra Reed and her son Richard, traveled to Chicago for the Campaign’s national convention. We came away with a lot of great ideas from other chapters. In particular, we were inspired by the Chicago chapter’s presentation about death row visits. When we got back from Chicago, we had a good discussion about this in our chapter, and now several more members are writing to folks on death row. Plus, we have an eye toward a group visit to the prison in the future. Texas death row inmates have a limited number of visits, which need to be planned out in advance. On top of that, inmates are only allowed to change their visitor lists once every six months. Since inmates are only allowed one phone call every few months, if you need to reschedule a visit, you need to communicate by regular mail. Despite these obstacles, we are working out a plan to make a group visit soon.

In addition to a group visit to death row, our plans for our spring activities include a panel around the juvenile issue, movie screenings, fundraisers, and of course, continuing to work with Rodney Reed’s family to win justice in his case!

Chicago by Alice Kim

Our chapter was rejuvenated and inspired by the Campaign’s national convention last November. We were proud of our fundraising efforts, which allowed us to contribute $300 to the Costella Cannon scholarship fund to help cover travel and registration costs for family members attending the convention. After the convention and into the holidays, we raised nearly $900 for our holiday gift fund for Illinois prisoners. This meant that we were able to send 28 prisoners $30 each for the holidays, along with a card signed by all of us in the chapter.

In December, we circulated an open letter to Special Prosecutor Edward Egan, who has been investigating the allegations of police torture in Chicago for nearly two and a half years. The letter, which was written by members of the Death Row 10 who were brutally tortured by Chicago police, called for the prosecution of former police commander Jon Burge and his detectives for systematically torturing over 100 African American men at Area 2 and 3 Headquarters in Chicago. A CEDP delegation hand-delivered the open letter, signed by hundreds of concerned citizens, to the special prosecutor’s office before the holidays. Our efforts were covered by the local news and the Chicago Tribune.

We recognize the need to keep the issue of the death penalty and the injustices of our so-called criminal justice system in the spotlight. In Illinois, six men have been sentenced to death since former Gov. George Ryan emptied death row by commuting all death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Many of Illinois’ former death row prisoners, now serving life, continue to fight for justice.

We’re kicking off the new year by getting ready to mark the fifth anniversary of the Illinois moratorium on executions at the end of January with an event entitled "Voices from Death Row," which will feature performances and art by current and former death row prisoners, their family members, activists and artists. Then, in February, for Black History Month, our chapter is planning a "Live from Death Row" event with California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper and the Rev. Calvin Morris of the Community Renewal Society. We hope to put a human face on the death penalty and to reach out to new audiences with these events.