Our Struggle Picks Up Steam

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Read below the reports filed from our chapters in the following cities:

  • New York City, NY
  • Bay Area, CA
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Austin, TX
  • Chicago, IL
  • Atlanta, GA

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New York City
by Lucy Herschel

There has been a flurry of activity taking place in New York City.

On February 21, 200 people rallied in front of Harlem's Apollo Theater outside of a historic debate between the then-Democratic Party primary candidates Bill Bradley and Al Gore. Many people waiting to get into the event signed our petition. One person inside the event who asked the candidates to support a moratorium appeared to be reading from our flyer. The protest overwhelmed the police, who had tried in vain to keep us in a penned-in area to the side of the Apollo.

On March 29, Campaign members were able sneak into an event for "serial killer" George W. Bush and disrupt it from the inside. This time, it was a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Hilton Hotel in New York City. When Bush began to speak, Campaign members sitting in the first row of the balcony sprang out of their seats, chanted at Bush and threw flyers with pictures of executed Texas inmates onto the gourmet luncheon spread below. Meanwhile, outside the event was a spirited demonstration of more than 50 people.

Also, Lawrence Hayes, a former death row inmate, Black Panther and founding member of the Campaign, has been touring New York City area college campuses and churches this winter, speaking about his experiences on death row and the need to fight for a moratorium.

Bay Area
by Cameron Sturdevant

A string of activity ranging from heckling presidential hopefuls to protests outside the gates of San Quentin prison has marked the busiest and most challenging time yet for the two Bay Area chapters of the Campaign.

Campaigners were able to attend -- and briefly disrupt -- a stump speech by George W. Bush at the Oakland airport. And the following week, one Campaign member got it straight from the horse's mouth -- in this case, Democrat Al Gore's -- that he "fully supports the death penalty."

In February, we pulled off the best attended and most successful "Live From Death Row" yet held in California. Thanks especially to Campaigners in Illinois who hooked us up with inmate Grayland Johnson after California authorities changed the time when Kevin Cooper had access to the telephone. Cooper was heard via a taped interview conducted the morning of the forum.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal was given a boost when more than 160 people were arrested on February 28 as part of a protest for a new trial for the jailed journalist on Pennsylvania's death row. Many Campaigners were arrested as part of the planned civil disobedience. After spending several hours penned up at the San Francisco Hall of (In)Justice, protestors were released -- but not before we had a chance to discuss the case and get ready for the next step.

In March, a coalition of organizations held the largest protest in recent memory outside the gates of San Quentin prison against an execution. Eight hundred people demonstrated against the midnight injustice committed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

The San Francisco Bay Area chapters kicked off nearly a week of moratorium activities with testimony before a very receptive San Francisco Board of Supervisors Housing and Social Policy Commission on April 18.

Former death row inmate Lawrence Hayes and Aba Gayle from Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation, along with representatives of California death row inmates Kevin Cooper and Keith Doolin, were joined by Amnesty International in outlining the unjust and barbaric nature of the death penalty. The full Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in favor of a death penalty moratorium in February.

Chapel Hill, N.C.
by Jon Wexler

We held a "Live From Death Row" event in March that marked a turning point for our chapter. The event featured freed Illinois death row inmate Darby Tillis and a phone call from Stanley Howard, a member of the Death Row Ten. About 140 people attended, which was the largest crowd we'd ever had.

The chapter here has also performed mock executions, acting out step by step the brutal practice of state-sponsored murder so that people get a glimpse of the cold, calculated process of putting someone to death. We have done this on the University of North Carolina's campus during class changes to get a maximum number of passersby. This has also generated a bit of media coverage.

In addition, we are confronting Governor Jim Hunt whenever he turns up in the area. When he spoke at the university, a few of us attended and asked him pointed questions about his support of the death penalty while a group of about 40 people chanted outside. As he tried to sneak off to his car, we approached him and stuck a New Abolitionist in his hand!

We plan to expand the "Hunt Hunt 2000" campaign to other campuses statewide.

Austin, Texas
by Lily Hughes

The Austin Campaign chapter has been on a speeding train since January.

After the moratorium was won in Illinois, we had a fantastic "Live From Death Row" event which drew more than 80 people and focused on the fact that there are innocent people right here on Texas' death row.

We used the event to build for the biggest and most spirited anti-death penalty rally seen in Texas in years. Some 350 people came to Austin to surround the governor's mansion and to call on Gov. George W. Bush to follow the Illinois governor and stop executions. The crowd marched around the mansion, completely surrounding it, and chanted, "Governor Death, you can't hide, we've got justice on our side" and "No Justice, No Peace! Moratorium Now!" The event was endorsed by more than 40 organizations and individuals and featured speeches by the ACLU, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and activists in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

We have also had great success with Bush Alert 2000. We have twice interrupted victory speeches by George W. Bush. On the day of the Super Tuesday primaries, the Campaign held a rally of more than 80 people outside the posh Four Seasons Hotel where Bush was to give his speech. A campaign member was able to get inside and interrupt him.

One week later, Bush was back in town for the Texas primaries. That same night, Ponchai Wilkerson, a prison activist, physically fought against his own execution. Filled with anger and fire, Campaign members were again able to infiltrate Bush's party. A few minutes into his speech, Campaigners began shouting "Stop the executions! Moratorium now!" Bush was not able to speak again for more than two minutes while Campaign members were dragged out. Both of these events drew local and national media attention and showed Bush that we won't let him get away with these murders.

Chicago
by Matt Nichter

Supporters of the Death Row Ten rallied outside Illinois Gov. George Ryan's office in downtown Chicago on April 13, demanding new trials for the condemned men and an inquiry into the police torture methods that led to their convictions.

The Death Row Ten are all African American men who were subjected to brutal interrogations -- including suffocation, Russian roulette and electrocution -- by former Chicago Area 2 police Commander Jon Burge and his fellow officers.

Exonerated death row inmates Darby Tillis and Ronald Jones gave moving testimony at the rally about their experiences and called for the abolition of capital punishment nationally. The mothers of Death Row Ten members Aaron Patterson, Ronald Kitchen, Stanley Howard and Frank Bounds participated in the rally, as did prominent civil rights activist Rev. Paul Jakes and Joey Mogul of the People's Law Office.

Mogul, who is one of Aaron Patterson's attorneys, pointed out that Ryan's recently appointed death penalty commission -- charged with investigating why Illinois has had to release 13 innocent men from death row -- includes a high-ranking police official, Thomas Needham, who is known to have suppressed evidence of police torture.

The 60 activists who gathered to protest were pleasantly surprised to be joined by a contingent of some 2,000 janitors, members of the Service Employees International Union, who were marching through downtown Chicago in preparation for a citywide strike. The janitors eagerly grabbed hundreds of our leaflets, and several stuck around to take part in the Campaign's protest as well.

Atlanta
by Melanie Harmon

The Atlanta chapter of the Campaign has been fighting hard for a Georgia moratorium since February and has made some significant gains.

Just a few days after Gov. Ryan's announcement for Illinois, a press conference was called at Georgia's state capitol building. A bill on whether or not lethal injection was a more humane way to execute people was up for public commentary that day. Longtime abolitionists gathered around the key speaker, Rev. Joseph Lowery, the former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

The Campaign held a panel discussion at Georgia State University calling for a moratorium. Seventy-five people turned out to hear Rev. Lowery, Joe Beasley of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, Laura Moye from Amnesty Intentional and Rev. Markel Hutchins of National Youth Connection.

And a connection to the Atlanta City Council pressured it to pass its resolution for a moratorium -- a great step forward.