Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

BAY AREA
By Crystal Bybee

The Bay Area CEDP closed out 2009 with a fantastic event on December 13 -- the fourth annual Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Summit, co-sponsored by the Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Network, CEDP, Kevin Cooper Defense Committee and others.

The theme was “Mobilizing the Movement for Justice: Three Innocent Men on Death Row.” The cases highlighted were Kevin Cooper, Troy Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as the legacy of Stanley Tookie Williams and the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. The event was held at Merritt College, where the Black Panthers started, and was co-sponsored by the African-American Studies Department.

The summit drew over 500 people.  The speakers were all inspiring and moving. Dr. Siri Brown, chair of the African-American Studies department and students from the Merritt Black Student Union; Barbara Becnel of the STW Legacy Network; and members of the CEDP gave a framework for the discussion and also presented the executive summary to the report “What’s Really Happening on Cailfornia’s Death Row.”

Martina Correia spoke about Troy Davis. I read a statement from Kevin Cooper and talked about his case. We played a recorded statement from Mumia and Carole Seligman of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia gave an introduction to his case. Clarence Thomas of the ILWU also spoke about Mumia and movements for justice.

Angela Davis spoke about all three cases and tied in the issues of the criminal injustice system and prison abolition.  Oscar Grant’s mother -- Wanda Johnson, and uncle -- Cephus Johnson, spoke along with Jack Bryson. The event closed with dramatic readings of prison writings, and Barbara read Stan’s last words. 

We hope to continue the momentum into 2010. We are planning a Bay Area stop of the CEDP national tour in the spring, and are building support and action for Kevin Cooper.  This will be a key year for activists against the death penalty -- California is trying to restart executions that have been on hold since 2006, and Kevin Cooper will be one of the first they try to execute. We want to halt the machinery of death and win real  justice for Kevin Cooper. See Kevin’s statement in this newsletter on pages 4 and 5, and visit www.savekevincooper.org for more information and to take action!

NEW YORK -- HARLEM
By Liliana Segura

The New York chapter returned from our national Convention in Chicago inspired and ready to start strategizing around our new national initiatives. More New Yorkers attended convention than ever, and we are proud to report that membership is strong.

Upon returning from Chicago, we held a chapter meeting in which we discussed the cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional. 

Also in November, CEDP members had the chance to see William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a new documentary made by the daughters of the great civil rights lawyer, at a discount in honor of our group. The film features CEDP board member and New York chapter member Yusef Salaam and delves into his wrongful conviction in the Central Park Jogger case. We have also continued our book discussions, most recently discussing “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis.

We finished the year with our annual prisoner card-writing party, held at La Pregunta, a bar and arts cafe near City College in Harlem on December 15. It was a great turnout, and we signed hundreds of cards, both to New York prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP), as well as to old friends and allies of our movement, like Troy Davis.

In the New Year, we will be building on our work around LWOP -- we plan to start meeting with other criminal justice activists and community groups about signing on to and circulating our LWOP petition. Also, we’re trying to find community groups that have already taken a position against LWOP to collaborate with on this issue. We’re resuming monthly prison visits in the New Year, and are continuing to write prisoners serving LWOP and involve them in the work of the CEDP.

AUSTIN, TEXAS
By Randi Jones

The last months of 2009 were filled with ups and downs for the Austin chapter.  On October 24, the CEDP, along with other Texas abolition groups, hosted the 10th Annual March to Stop Executions.

About 450 people, including many family members of death row inmates and exonorees, gathered at the Texas Capitol to show opposition to the death penalty. The march was much larger and more spirited than it had been in years past. 

Three days after the march, Reginald Blanton was murdered by the state of Texas. We fought hard to save his life and were devastated by the loss of a true fighter and friend on Texas death row.  We will never forget what Texas took away from us and Reginald’s amazing family; we will continue the fight for abolition in his honor.

The day after the tragic loss of Reginald, we received some very happy news.  After working for 10 years on the Yogurt Shop case, the charges were finally dropped for the defendants. This meant Michael Scott was able to attend the national CEDP convention in Chicago, where he was warmly welcomed by many people who had known about his case and were very happy to finally meet him.

We ended our semester with a holiday card-signing party to reach out to inmates and family members during the holiday season.  At our national convention, the CEDP adopted an initiative highlighting the Texas death penalty and its many faults.

In the coming months, we will be putting together a packet for other chapters to use containing fact sheets and petitions for the cases we work on locally and facts about the horrific Texas death penalty generally.  Because the Texas death penalty has become such an embarrassment nationally, in particular due to Perry’s cover-up of Cameron Todd Willingham’s murder, we believe that now is the time to expose every piece of the rotten system here in Texas.

We are busy organizing our tour stop which will take place on February 20 in Austin, as well as helping pull together a mini tour stop which will bring the tour to other parts of Texas including, Denton, Corpus Christi and Houston.

ATLANTA
By Patrick Dyer

As activists in Georgia and throughout the world await the start of Troy Davis’ federal court hearing, the Atlanta CEDP wrapped up 2009 with a holiday cardwriting event in December. Over 50 cards to death row and other prisoners were signed and mailed, and a short planning meeting was held as part of this event at Manuel’s Tavern.

The card-writing was kicked off with a short talk from CEDP member Terence Mitchell, who was held captive for over 17 years in Ohio’s prison system. Mitchell talked about his own penitentiary experience, and how significant and meaningful it is for prisoners to receive mail from the outside, especially during holiday times.

While this report is being written, local chapter activists are mobilizing to march in Atlanta’s giant Dr. King Day march January 18. We plan to march as a contingent under a Campaign to End the Death Penalty “Free Troy Davis” banner, and host an organizing meeting following the march.

Upcoming plans include CEDP participation in the Atlanta summit for political prisoners on February 26 and 27. The Atlanta CEDP will also be hosting two stops on the national “Lynching Then, Lynching Now” speaking tour in mid-April. Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University will be hosting the tour stops, where the Atlanta CEDP is a registered student group at each.

All of these activities and mobilizations will be used to draw attention to the case of Troy Davis and the systemic problem of the death penalty and racism.

CHICAGO
By Mark Clements

It was an exciting time in Chicago, where the CEDP national convention was held, with the highlight of Howard Zinn speaking, and drawing nearly 900 people.

This event was an inspiration to all our chapters to prepare for another year of fighting for abolition of the death penalty.  On December 4, 2009, Mark Clements, Ronnie Kitchen and Marvin Reeves spoke at the University of Chicago on their experiences as Chicago police torture victims, and what it took to free them from prison.

On December 8, we held a successful prisoner card-signing party at University Church to raise money for death row and other long-term inmates. Former inmates such as Marvin and Ronnie attended as they spoke of being confined inside a prison cell during one of the most depressing times for inmates -- Christmas time. They expressed how it felt being home for the first Christmas in 21 years.

In January, we are organizing events to celebrate exonerated death row inmate Stanley Howard father’s 90th birthday and Darby Tillis’ 23rd year as a exonerated death row inmate.  Many within the chapter are extra excited that we will be starting a book club in February and holding our “Lynching Then, Lynching Now” tour stop in March, which will include speakers who were once incarcerated, such as Mark, Marvin and Ronnie, who were all Chicago police torture victims. This tour will also include a trip to the University of Illinois downstate.

Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who is responsible for the beatings and torture of nearly 200 African American and Latino men, was indicted in 2008. He is scheduled to be tried in May, and the CEDP-Chicago chapter is planning events and a possible protest to ensure that Burge is finally jailed for his criminal acts. Some of his victims remain incarcerated inside Illinois prisons. We continue to seek hearings and new trials for those men.

We are also watching carefully a U.S. Supreme Court case that could rule natural life sentences for juvenile offenders to be unconstitutional. In the State of Illinois, 109 kids have been sentence to natural life, often when they played only small roles in the crimes.