"A mission to end the death penalty"

Taking our message on the road

By: Alice Kim

Like the Illinois moratorium on executions declared by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan three years ago, his landmark decision -- to grant four pardons and commute the sentences of all Illinois death row prisoners -- sent shock waves across the country. For abolitionists, this decision represented an enormous blow to the unjust capital punishment system.

To take advantage of this climate, the Campaign is organizing a national speaking tour -- with pardoned Illinois death row prisoners Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange -- calling for an end to the death penalty.

The Campaign works closely with death row prisoners and their families, and we believe that it is vital for their voices to be at the forefront of our movement. Madison Hobley languished on Illinois' death row for 15 years before he finally won his freedom. He was wrongfully convicted for setting a fire to his apartment building and killing seven people, including his own wife and son. He was tortured by Chicago police who fabricated a confession that was used against him at trial.

With this tour, we aim to tell the story of wrongful convictions, police torture and a deeply flawed system in Illinois to expose why the death penalty needs to be abolished. But more than that, we aim to tell the story of the fight to end the death penalty in Illinois -- specifically, the critical role that activism has played at every stage of our struggle from the moratorium to the blanket commutations -- so that others elsewhere can learn from Illinois' successes and challenges.

Tour stops include Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Among the speakers on the tour are Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange; actor, writer and activist Ossie Davis; Mike Gray, author of The Death Game; Robin Hobley, Madison's sister; Alice Kim, Campaign organizer; Marlene Martin, Campaign national director; Rob Owen, adjunct professor of law at University of Texas; Joan Parkin, co-author of Justice for the Death Row 10; Yusef Salaam, wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case; and Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Already, hundreds of people have had the opportunity to hear Madison and other activists speak as a part of the tour. At the Riverside Church in New York City, Ossie Davis said that grassroots organizing was "serious business." And he pointed out that the people who are carrying out executions in the United States are the same people who are dropping bombs on Iraq. He encouraged the audience to keep fighting for justice.

Similarly, Madison said, "I see now that it's very important to go out and educate people. After I speak, people often come up to me and say, 'Wow, I didn't know that was going on.' Or 'that made me want to cry.' It's like myself -- before this happened to me I didn't even think about this. But I think it's very important to make it an issue."

Madison says that he is on "a mission to end the death penalty." We hope this tour will bring us closer to that goal.