Jesse Jackson visits the Death Row 10

These victims of police brutality deserve justice

Rev. Jackson joined Death Row Ten moms and Campaign members in a visit to Pontiac
By: Alice Kim

All together, the Death Row Ten have spent nearly 200 years behind bars. For most of these years, they have felt all but forgotten. But this past New Year's Eve was different.

On December 31, several members of the Death Row Ten got a special visit from Rev. Jesse Jackson, members of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and three Death Row Ten moms.

The Death Row Ten are men on Illinois' death row who were sent there largely because of confessions tortured from them by Chicago police, led by former Commander Jon Burge.

Years ago, the Office of Professional Standards, the Chicago Police Department's internal affairs division, found that "systematic" torture occurred at Area 2 headquarters in Chicago. But until recently, city officials and the courts have ignored the Death Row Ten's torture claims.

For years, they have languished on death row, seeking support from the outside. As a result of their own organizing efforts, they are finally gaining a hearing -- and their cases are beginning to receive the attention they deserve. Jackson's visit with the Death Row Ten represents another turning point in their struggle for justice.

"Perhaps the greatest injustice of all is to be imprisoned unjustly," said Jackson. "I want to end the year by coming to Pontiac in an attempt to mobilize public consciousness around the nation on the criminal injustice system."

Jackson made arrangements for seven of the Death Row Ten who are currently housed at the Pontiac Correctional Facility to be called out to the visiting room together. Normally during prison visits, Pontiac's death row inmates are not allowed to talk to one another or to other guests. On top of that, death row inmates are cuffed, shackled and chained to their chairs.

But on this date, inmates were free to speak to all of the visitors in the room -- with their hands uncuffed and ankles unshackled.

"This is the first time I've been able to hug my mother with both arms," said Stanley Howard, one of the Death Row Ten. "It's overwhelming."

During this visit, which felt much like an anti-death penalty rally inside the walls of death row, Jackson encouraged the Death Row Ten to persevere in their struggle for justice.

"It made me feel like it was another step forward," said Louva Bell, the mother of Death Row Ten member Ronnie Kitchen. "We're really getting people to listen now, and I'm happy about that -- and to see that big smile on my son's face."

Inspired by the visit, Jackson organized a meeting with Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine the following week to discuss the cases of the Death Row Ten. Accompanied by Reverend James Meeks and members of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Jackson urged Devine to conduct a thorough review of the Death Row Ten's cases. Devine said that he was committed to reviewing all death row cases, including those of the Ten.

The truth is that the Death Row Ten were not just tortured. Their cases are plagued with racial bias and prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. They faced -- in addition to their tortured confessions -- members of the Death Row Ten were convicted on the basis of jailhouse snitches, tampered evidence, all-white juries and inadequate representation.

We need to keep up the pressure and demand new trials for each and every one of the Death Row Ten. Their lives are at stake.

The New Abolitionist's regular feature highlighting each member of the Death Row Ten will return next issue.