Governor Death: Stop The Killing!

Marchers Call For Moratorium On Executions

Marchers in Austin, Texas, on October 15
By: Carl Villarreal

Chanting "Governor Death, you can't hide! We've got justice on our side!" and demanding a moratorium on executions from Texas Gov. George W. Bush, 700 protesters marched and surrounded the Governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, on October 15.

The march was preceded two days earlier by an inspiring Live from Death Row forum at the University of Texas that drew more than 100 people. Andrew Maxwell a member of the Death Row Ten -- the group of men on Illinois' death row who were victims of police torture -- called in and spoke to the audience via speakerphone. The room was completely silent when Andrew talked about his plight -- but erupted when Andrew and other death row prisoners began to chant, "They say death row. We say hell no!"

The solidarity between death row inmates, their families and abolitionists was tremendous.

Lois Robison, the mother of Larry Robison -- a mentally ill man executed in Texas this spring -- spoke about the many attempts her family made to get medical help for her son. She noted that Texas is 49th in the country in funding for mental health care, but number one in the country in executions. She and her husband, both public school teachers, couldn't afford the medical help that numerous doctors told them Larry needed. But once Larry became violent and killed several people for no apparent reason, the state of Texas spent enormous sums of money to see to it that he was put to death.

Speakers at the march talked about the impact of the death penalty on their lives.

Edwin Smith, a former prison chaplain from Louisiana, said he was fired when he published information on his Web site from death row inmates. He talked about the killing fields in Cambodia and declared: "In this new millennium, the United States has become the new killing field." But he ended positively: "It's no longer a question of whether we are going to have a moratorium, but when," he said.

Delia Perez-Myer spoke about her little brother, Louis Castro-Perez, a death row prisoner who was the victim of shoddy police investigative procedure. "I want my little brother back," she said. "I want him back in my arms where he belongs."

Carol Byars, whose husband was murdered, was at the march as well. She's a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. "My husband can't be replaced by taking someone else's life," she said.

After marching through the center of Austin, protesters then surrounded the mansion as they had done on a previous demonstration. But this time, with twice as many people, the task was much easier to accomplish. Protesters encircled the mansion with police tape that read "crime scene." The "crime," of course, is murder.

Jim Harrington, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called Bush the "serial executioner of Texas" as the crowd responded with loud approval. He noted that Bush had signed many bills into law that have increased the pace of executions and drastically limited appeals. He also reminded people that Bush believes the court system is fair in a state where sleeping and incompetent lawyers are allowed to represent capital defendants. "Why don't you ask Bush if he would ever have one of those lawyers who represent death row inmates represent him," he said.

Elanora Graham spoke powerfully about her struggle to save her son, Gary Graham, who changed his name to Shaka Sankofa. Graham was executed in June in the midst of a public outcry questioning his guilt. Mrs. Graham said that when she saw Gary just before his execution, he looked like he had been beaten -- and Gary told her that more than eight guards had jumped him. "Not only is Governor Bush killing our children," she said, "but he is letting his people beat them."

Bush's spokespeople have tried to distance the governor from the capital punishment process, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to do.

The success of the peaceful but powerful march lent a sense that winning a moratorium is within reach. The determination of the marchers was best summed up by Mrs. Cruz, the mother of a recently executed mentally retarded man, who left some with tears but all with optimism when she told everyone that her son's last words to her were "Keep on fighting, mother."