Protesting Oklahoma's execution spree

By: Eric Ruder

In mid-January, Oklahoma death row inmate Wanda Jean Allen became the first Black woman to be executed in the U.S. in 50 years.

But Wanda's execution didn't go unnoticed. It became the focus of protests that targeted the injustice of executing the mentally disabled.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and 30 others were arrested for civil disobedience during a protest calling on Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating to grant Wanda a stay. But Keating refused to stop Wanda's killing.

The state's clemency board claimed Wanda's mental disability wasn't severe because she was a high school graduate and received a two-year college certificate. The truth is Wanda dropped out of high school. The claim about her "higher education" came from Wanda's own testimony -- "the testimony of a mentally retarded, brain-damaged woman, a testimony that they say in every other respect is a lie," said Steve Presson, Wanda's attorney.

Oklahoma had scheduled a gruesome spree of nine state-sanctioned killings over four weeks but was forced to grant a stay to one man in light of new DNA evidence.

The involvement of figures like Jesse Jackson in civil disobedience against the death penalty is an inspiring sign of the growing movement against the death penalty.