Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Fighting for a moratorium in California
By Cameron Sturdevant

BERKELEY, CALIF. -- The Berkeley chapter recently drew about 50 people to a public forum on abolishing the death penalty. Shujaa Graham, an exonerated California death row prisoner, laid the groundwork for a wide-ranging discussion of the death penalty where audience members raised questions about the role of racism in capital sentencing and why it is important for activists to stand up to the criminal injustice system.

Shujaa related his experience of being sent to prison, then accused of killing a prison guard and his eventual release from prison after four trials. "As a young man I was concerned about the whole conditions that we lived in as prisoners," said Shujaa. "I have seen guards killing prisoners and starting wars between Blacks, whites and browns. We became organized and involved in that struggle and tried to organize prisoners to understand the reality that we had a common goal and that we were all suffering from the same common problems."

Our chapter was also part of a group of anti-death penalty and prison reform groups that packed an Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting and succeeded in winning a moratorium resolution. Shujaa Graham spoke before the Board along with John Taylor, a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, and former prisoner Aaron Owens. Taylor told the Board that he had convicted Owens of two counts of first-degree murder based on eyewitness testimony but later learned that Owens was actually innocent. Taylor stood before the Board with his arm around Owens and said that he would have sought the death penalty if he could have and Owens would be dead today.

To help meet our fundraising goals we recently held a potluck dinner and we plan to raffle several paintings by California death row prisoner and artist, Kevin Cooper. The paintings donated by Kevin include a portrait of Malcolm X as well as several other civil rights leaders. And finally, we've been busy getting ready to host the Campaign's national speaking tour with pardoned Illinois death row prisoner Madison Hobley.

National tour comes to the Big Apple
by Liliana Segura

NEW YORK CITY -- The Columbia University chapter has been busy gearing up for the national speaking tour, which came to the Big Apple on Friday, April 11. In addition to pardoned Illinois death row prisoner Madison Hobley, speakers included Robin Hobley, Madison's sister; Ossie Davis; Yusef Salaam, one of five teenagers wrongfully convicted in the notorious Central Park jogger case; Sharonne Salaam, Yusef's mother; and Joan Parkin, co-author of the Campaign's Justice for the Death Row 10 pamphlet.

We were proud that the event took place at the Riverside Church -- a fitting venue given its unique place in the civil rights movement. About 150 people came together to call for an end to the death penalty, and the chapter has been rejuvenated by the event. Our chapter has kept in mind that as people continue to question the U.S. war on Iraq, people are also more likely to awaken to the despicable political maneuverings of our government on a domestic level. As Madison Hobley told the crowd at The Riverside Church, "Just like people used me in spite of my innocence to further their own careers, the people of Iraq, who are also innocent, are also being used."

Seizing opportunities to raise people's consciousness about the death penalty is critical to the success of our movement. Building our events at anti-war protests has been an important tool, not only towards expanding the Campaign in New York and other cities, but also in solidifying its place within the broader movement for social justice.

Exposing the death penalty in Texas
by Ann Tarpey

TEXAS -- On February 28, we held a "Live After Death Row" event, which featured a call in from Illinois prisoner Ronald Kitchen. Ronald was one of the 164 death row prisoners in Illinois whose death sentence was commuted by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

About 40 people came out to hear Ronald. At the event, the audience also heard from Sandra Reed, mother of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed, and Don Bailey, a capital defense attorney.

All of the panelists spoke powerfully about the many problems with the death penalty in Texas. The following day, over 100 people attended a dance organized by the Reed family and the Campaign to raise money for Rodney and bring people together to talk about his case. We had food plates, a DJ, and a raffle. Everyone had a great time. Congratulations to the Reeds for making it such a great event!

We also won a victory here in Texas when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of death row prisoner Delma Banks just minutes before he was scheduled to be executed. Banks has spent more than 22 years on death row and would have been the 300th inmate executed in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

The Campaign called for a protest at the governor's mansion, and over 50 people turned out, where we joyfully received news of Banks' stay. We continued our picket to expose Gov. Perry and the Texas courts who had the opportunity to provide justice in this case, but chose not to.

Then, on March 25, our chapter took part in a "Day of Innocence" at the Capitol. Sponsored by Rep. Harold Dutton, the event was organized to build support for his moratorium and abolition bills. Chris Ochoa, an exonerated inmate, delivered a moving speech about being coerced into confessing to a crime that he did not commit. Later in the day, Campaigner Frank Edwards testified before state representatives and offered compelling arguments for a moratorium in Texas.

Next on our agenda is the Campaign's national speaking tour planned for late April. In preparation for the tour we recently held a dinner party and fundraiser, with about 25 people in attendance, and raised more than $200.

Illinois abolitionists in high gear
By Susan Dwyer

CHICAGO -- As George Ryan pardoned four members of the Death Row 10 and emptied Illinois' death row in early January, Chicago campaigners went into high gear. We knew that the time was right to press for all we could extract from the system and to celebrate the enormous victory.

By January 31, the third anniversary of the moratorium, Illinois had a new governor and attorney general, both of whom are pro-death penalty. The Campaign chapters responded to this new threat by hosting a rally entitled "No Turning Back: Abolish the Death Penalty," which drew 300 people. Speakers included newly pardoned Illinois death row prisoners Madison Hobley and Aaron Patterson; U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush; state Rep. Art Turner; Alice Kim of the Campaign; and death row family members.

News of the commutations spread quickly around the world, and in early February, the CEDP took part in a panel at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Joan Parkin, co-author of the Campaign's Justice for the Death Row 10 pamphlet represented the Campaign at the World Social Forum, and the Chicago Campaign coordinated a live video broadcast from Northeastern University in Chicago, featuring Aaron Patterson and his attorneys and local activists. More than 400 people turned out to hear about police torture and wrongful convictions in Illinois.

In early March, the CEDP, along with other local abolitionist organizations, participated in Lobby Day at the Capitol building in Springfield. The following week, we returned to Springfield with Cynthia Taylor, mother of former Illinois death row prisoner Aldwin McNeal, whose death sentence was commuted to life. Cynthia testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of abolition legislation. After hearing Cynthia and others speak forcefully about the unjust death penalty system, the committee voted to pass the bill to the House floor for the first time in 27 years.

Abolitionists will use the upcoming year to build support for abolition, and hopefully a full House vote will be called next May. Chicago Campaigners are getting ready for an exciting year. The Hyde Park and Rogers Park chapters are getting ready to host the Campaign's national tour at the end of April.