Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

NEW YORK CITY
By Sarah Hines and Lucy Herschel
More than 100 demonstrators from around New York City converged on Times Square May 5 to demand that New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Peter Vallone call a vote on a death penalty moratorium resolution that’s been pending for nearly a year. Despite wide support for the resolution, both in the City Council as well as among New Yorkers, Vallone has refused to call a vote on the resolution, thereby effectively preventing a vote and silencing voters.

As Greg Vargo from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty said, "Vallone has shown us what democracy means to him: obstruction and delay."

Demonstrators made their message loud and clear: "Moratorium Now. Abolition Next!" Sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, New York Lawyers Against the Death Penalty and Amnesty International, the rally featured speakers from the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Commission, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, the International Socialist Organization and the Union of New York Free Youth.

Speaking out against the scheduled execution of Timothy McVeigh, Rich Van Vackenberg of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation said, "You do not bring closure by opening more wounds." And former death row inmate Lawrence Hayes proclaimed, "America needs to wake up and join humanity."

These speakers were joined by Katherine Freed, one of the sponsors of the city council resolution, and Darby Tillis, who was exonerated and freed from Illinois’ death row in 1987. Tillis wore shackles and a prisoner’s uniform inscribed with the words "Death Row Condemned Unit" to represent the conditions under which he lived for nine-and-a-half years as an innocent man in the death house. The state of Illinois has never compensated him for the decade of his life lost.

Since the demonstration, Vallone bowed to pressure by pushing his own limited moratorium resolution. The Campaign and New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty organized a press conference before a June 25 hearing on Vallone’s resolution to call for a vote on the original, more extensive moratorium resolution.

Among those testifying were Charles Shepard and Anthony Faison, two men who spent 14 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. "If the death penalty had been in place when we were convicted, after 14 years, we most likely would have been executed," Faison said. Shepard agreed, saying: "Then who would have told our parents ‘sorry’ after it was found out that we were innocent?"

Vallone now says that there will be a full vote on both resolutions. However, activists have to keep up the pressure to make sure that New York City is the next city to speak out against the death penalty.

OAKLAND, CALIF.
By John Green
In recent months, the Oakland chapter of the Campaign has increased the intensity of our fight against the death penalty.

In March, our chapter held a "Live from Death Row" event featuring California death row inmate Stanley "Tookie" Williams. More than 100 people gathered at the local YWCA to hear Tookie speak via live telephone hookup from behind the walls of San Quentin’s Condemned Unit. Last year, Tookie, who was a cofounder of the Crips gang, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of a two-book series that he co-authored with journalist Barbara Becnel.

"The death penalty is no more an effective deterrent than a hornet’s stinger is to a grizzly bear," Tookie told the audience in his soft-spoken voice.

Dion Aroner, a member of the state assembly who is sponsoring a bill to prevent the execution of the mentally retarded in California, also spoke, noting that her bill was only a small step on the path to abolition of the death penalty.

Other speakers included Barbara Becnel, Melanie Willingham, Fred Jackson, who works with the Internet Project for Street Youth, Fela Thomas of the Third Eye youth movement, and Stacia Sloane and Crystal Bybee of the Campaign. In addition to raising awareness in the Oakland community about the death penalty, the event captured national and local media attention.

Now, the Oakland chapter is preparing for our "Make Oakland a Death Penalty Free Zone" campaign. Our goal is to get Oakland’s city council to pass a resolution supporting a moratorium on the death penalty. We’re officially kicking off this new campaign with a community picnic on July 7 and plan to circulate petitions.

We are enthusiastic about this new campaign because we learned from our own experience that public pressure can work.

Over the past year, the Oakland chapter of the Campaign collected thousands of signatures on behalf of California death row inmate Kevin Cooper, which helped to win DNA testing for Cooper. The results are expected at the end of the summer.

People living in the Bay Area who would like to get involved should call us at 510-835-0558 or visit our Web site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cedp_oakland/

AUSTIN, TEXAS
By Dana Cloud and Katie Feyh
On Monday, June 11, several Austin Campaign members and other abolitionists rallied at the Texas governor’s mansion to urge Gov. Rick Perry to sign legislation to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. The bill had been approved by the Texas legislature, but was vetoed by Perry.

Still, the legislature began to address the issues surrounding the barbaric death penalty only after a period of steady work and intense activism around the country in general and in Texas in particular.

We are sad to report that on June 13, the state of Texas executed John Wheat, brother of Austin Campaign member Bill Vaught. John had sustained considerable brain damage from working with chemicals by the time he committed the murders for which he was convicted and killed.

About 40 abolitionists gathered at the governor’s mansion that Wednesday to protest John’s execution and to show support for Bill and his family.

On June 29, the Austin Campaign hosted "One Year Gone," a forum on the execution of Gary Graham, who changed his name to Shaka Sankofa. Several speakers followed the screening of a short British documentary film entitled "Bush’s Deadly Ambition," about Bush’s rise to the presidency over the body of Shaka Sankofa.

One speaker was Elnora Graham, Shaka Sankofa’s stepmother, who spoke movingly of the last days of Shaka’s life. She described the dehumanizing treatment she received from prison officials, who detained and strip-searched her and even threatened to deny her entry when she visited Shaka on the last day of his life.

Next was Jeannette Popp. Two men were wrongly convicted of murdering Jeannette’s daughter more than a decade ago.

Jeannette spoke both of her outrage that Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger were coerced to confess and wrongly imprisoned and of her long-standing opposition to the death penalty. She rallied the audience with a call to activism, saying that executions do not bring closure to murder victims’ families but deprive others of their loved ones.

Last to speak was Campaign member Dana Cloud, who described the international outcry against Shaka’s execution as a turning point in the struggle against the death penalty.

She described the scene at the June 2000 protest against Shaka’s execution, during which 15 Campaign members and other abolitionists were arrested at the Texas governor’s mansion. The forum ended with audience and panel members alike chanting, "They say death row, we say hell no!"

We in Austin are looking to keep the heat on until we win.

CHICAGO
By Noreen McNulty
The Chicago Campaign to End the Death Penalty has been active this spring in the fight for abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and to win justice for the Death Row 10.

On June 2, more than 300 people marched against police brutality and for justice for the Death Row 10 through Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood to protest in front of Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s house. Protesters unfurled crime scene tape in front of the house to expose Devine’s role in covering up police torture and brutality in Chicago and prosecuting innocent people. Shamefully, Devine has refused to investigate the Death Row 10’s claims of police torture.

This spring, the Chicago Campaign co-sponsored a "Road Trip for Justice" with Amnesty International and the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Activists, family members and exonerated death row inmates toured the state, ending up at the capitol to rally and lobby for abolition of the death penalty.

To end the semester, the University of Chicago chapter held a successful one-day teach-in on "Police Torture and the Death Row 10." About 30 students turned out to hear Death Row 10 family members Louva Bell, Costella Cannon and Eleanor Saffold; attorney Joey Mogul; UC student activist and Campaign organizer Viva Stefanishin; and Campaign national organizer Joan Parkin.

On June 15, the Campaign sponsored a "Support the Death Row 10" forum at the Socialist Summer School 2001 conference. The forum featured David Bates, who was tortured by former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and forced into giving a false confession that was used to convict him. A phone call from Death Row 10 member Stanley Howard was welcomed with a chant from the 80 attendees, "Say it loud, say it again, justice for the Death Row 10!" Other speakers included former death row inmates Lawrence Hayes from New York and Ronald Jones from Illinois, Death Row 10 mom Costella Cannon, Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office and Joan Parkin, co-author of the Campaign’s pamphlet Justice for the Death Row 10.

BOSTON
By Mitch Lewis
The Boston chapter of the Campaign held a "Live from Death Row" at the University of Massachusetts Boston on April 25. Former death row inmate Lawyer Johnson spoke, and Death Row 10 member Leonard Kidd called in to talk about his ordeal with the justice system. The small gathering had a lively discussion, and all who came to the meeting went away with the sense that they were not alone in protesting state-sponsored murder.