Our Struggle Continues

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Lawrence Hayes

"Committing to Conscience" National Conference:
Building a Unified Strategy to End the Death Penalty

"Committing to Conscience" is a national conference to appeal to a broad range of activists. The conference will provide intensive workshop sessions, networking opportunities and powerful speakers such as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Sister Helen Prejean and Senator Russ Feingold.

November 16-19, 2000
San Francisco, California

For information, call 202-387-3890, e-mail unity@deathpenalty.org or look at the Web site www.deathpenalty.org.

New York City
by Greg Vargo

The Harlem and Village chapters of the Campaign each hosted Live from Death Row forums in October.

At New York University, City Councilperson Margarita Lopez; Dan Williams, a lawyer for Mumia Abu-Jamal; and former death row prisoner Lawrence Hayes spoke to a crowd of 150 people. Ronald Kitchen and Leonard Kidd, members of the Death Row Ten, called in from Illinois. The event was a big step toward getting better organized on the NYU campus, with a lot of new people learning about the issues and also about the experiences of Ronald and Leonard. The audience was angry and inspired and ready for the fight ahead.

Our next step is to try to force the City Council to debate a moratorium resolution. We'll be holding hearings in the streets if they refuse to.

The Campaign's Columbia University chapter kicked off the school year with an organizing meeting that drew 60 people. We sent a dozen folks to the demonstration held outside the presidential debate in Boston on October 3, where we met up with other abolitionist groups and thousands of activists from across the country. We raised capital punishment as an issue that neither major candidate was addressing and protested with groups focusing on racism, criminal justice issues, women's rights, health care, welfare rights and the environment. We joined in their chants, and ours spread through the crowd as well: "They say death row, We say hell no!"

We are busy getting ready for the upcoming public hearing on the death penalty and organizing a Poetry Slam against the death penalty in November.

Remember Gary Graham! Don't mourn, organize!

Bay Area
by Monica Hahn

Calling for a moratorium on executions and a restoration of contact visits at San Quentin prison, 50 people demonstrated on the steps of the state capitol building in Sacramento on September 22.

Activists in Campaign to End the Death Penalty's Bay Area chapters helped to organize this demonstration to put pressure on the warden at San Quentin to keep her promise of reinstating contact visits. After a letter-writing campaign, an inmates' hunger strike and a demonstration held outside the prison, the warden announced she would reinstate contact visits -- but with new restrictions and not for several months.

Contact visits were ended in March due to a minor conflict between two inmates. Since then, the 560 prisoners at San Quentin have been forced to share eight phone booths to speak to visitors, separated from them by bulletproof glass.

Many family members and friends of prisoners spoke out about this inhumane deprivation of visitation rights, recounting personal experiences, showcasing prisoner's artwork and reading letters and poems written by prisoners. An anonymous prisoner wrote: "Contact visits were the last door to a taste of real life. The hours spent with loved ones, both family and friends, is priceless."

Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, Medea Benjamin, was among the speakers. She expressed her support for activism against the death penalty, emphasizing the fact that the Green Party is the only party that opposes the death penalty.

After hearing the speakers, the demonstrators all marched into the capitol toward California Gov. Gray Davis' office, chanting, "It's racist, and it kills the poor! Kick the death penalty out the door!" The demonstrators asked to speak with the governor to discuss the death penalty and present him with a petition for a moratorium. Davis' staff members scheduled an appointment for a meeting at a later time.

Only a week later, Davis signed a bill that grants post-conviction DNA testing to death row prisoners. This is a huge advance in our struggle.

by Sherida Hudak, SEIU Local 46

In October, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 46 members helped to organize a March for Justice for Mario Flores, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. About 50 protesters marched to the ARC Gallery, which is exhibiting a collection of Mario's paintings.

During the summer of 1983, Mario worked as a Chicago Park District lifeguard. It was an ideal summer job for the teenage diving champion. Mario had received scholarship offers from the best universities in the country. But by 1984, his bright future was shattered.

Mario is one of at least ten Latino men who has been framed by Chicago police officer Reynold Guevara in Humboldt Park. Mario was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for murder and armed robbery. At the time of the crime -- New Year's Eve 1983 -- he was celebrating with family and friends.

Like too many others, Mario was convicted without a shred of physical evidence. In exchange for testimony against Mario, three witnesses for the state had other criminal charges against them dropped. Mario's original trial lawyer was so incompetent that he failed to call a single witness. And in violation of international law, authorities failed to promptly notify the Mexican Consulate of Mario's detainment even though he is a Mexican citizen.

On top of that, Guevara and other officers beat and arrested two of Mario's sisters -- during a search of Mario's home for a murder weapon they never found. Attempting to blackmail Mario, Guevara told him that his sisters would be released if he confessed. But Mario has always maintained his innocence.

These injustices have meant that Mario has spent nearly half his life on death row for a crime he didn't commit. But he has continued to excel at any opportunity. In 1991, Mario completed a paralegal program, graduating with the highest honors. Mario also taught himself to paint and creates beautiful art, which have been exhibited internationally -- most recently at the ARC Gallery.

Over the past summer, a group of union members in SEIU Local 46 became involved in Mario's quest for freedom. Several union stewards formed a committee against the death penalty when they learned that Mario had been a member of SEIU at the time of his arrest. We began working to bring attention to our union brother's case. A special resolution was brought up through the ranks for Mario and passed at the SEIU state council -- in addition to local, state and international resolutions to abolish the death penalty.

We plan to continue speaking out about Mario's case and the unjust legal system. Mario should be free.