Fight for abolition intensifies in Illinois

By: Joe Moreno

In late March, the Illinois House Judiciary committee approved House Bill 213 that would abolish the death penalty in Illinois. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Art Turner, comes in the wake of a tremendously successful campaign to pressure Gov. Ryan to issue blanket clemency for over 160 death row inmates.

On Martin Luther King Day, the Campaign organized a press conference, where Turner introduced the bill. "This is the first time abolition legislation is being considered in Illinois in 27 years," Turner said.

We have come so far in our struggle for abolition, but we still have a fight in front of us. Although the bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee after an intense campaign urging members to vote for abolition, ultimately, the bill was not called for a full House vote. Unfortunately, it was not expected to pass. Abolitionists will be working hard to build support for the bill over the next year, and we hope to bring the bill to a full House vote in the spring of 2004.

At the same time, there are signs that the wind is still blowing in our direction. The Illinois Senate overwhelmingly approved death penalty reforms, including mandatory videotaping of police interrogations, barring the testimony of jailhouse informants if they are the only witness to a crime, and reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty.

But many legislators support reform legislation to "correct" the errors in the death penalty system. Abolitionists have been arguing that reforms are not enough. Moreover, there is a danger that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who supports the death penalty, will claim that the death penalty is fixed as a result of the reforms and lift Illinois' moratorium on executions.

The debate over the death penalty is becoming increasingly polarized. Following Ryan's blanket clemency, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit challenging the commutations of 34 death row prisoners based on technicalities. Just recently, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear Madigan's challenge. Chicago campaigners plan to step up our commitment to pressure our officials and educate the public about the horrors of the racist, barbaric, unfair and ineffective death penalty system.