Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country


Columbia University/Barnard College
by Karen Fu
During Death Penalty Awareness Week, Campaign chapters at Columbia University and Barnard College voiced our opposition to executions and reached out to new audiences. We held informational tables alongside the college walks on both campuses every day and hosted two special events.

Our main event was a Live from Death Row that featured a call-in from Illinois death row prisoner Ronnie Kitchen. He spoke about the horrible, dehumanizing conditions on death row that led another prisoner to commit suicide just several weeks ago. As the call ended, Ronnie encouraged us to "keep up the struggle. We’ve been winning battles. We just have to win the war."

The event also featured Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School, who conducted an exhaustive study of the capital punishment system. Liebman’s study examined every capital conviction and appeal between 1973 and 1995 and found that the overall rate of error in the capital punishment system was 68 percent. Another panelist, Glenda Grace, an attorney with the Capital Defender’s Office, spoke about the great disparity in capital crime rulings. She pointed out that defendants in upstate New York are five times more likely to get the death penalty than defendants from downstate areas.

To end the week, we showed the movie Dancer in the Dark at Barnard College in which the singer Bjork stars as a Czech immigrant who faces the death penalty. Later this month, we plan to organize a rally in Harlem and hope to gain more supporters with a candlelight vigil, our voices, our actions, and our determination to march towards abolition.

Georgetown University
by Ginny Simmons

We kicked off our week with "Morality/Innocence Day. " We covered every building on campus with flyers featuring quotes by world and religious leaders against the death penalty. We displayed a large map marking the countries that still practice the death penalty today and made a huge banner highlighting the number of death row exonerations.

Other themes included the barbarity of the death penalty, the inequalities of the system, and alternatives to the death penalty. Every day, campaigners put up flyers corresponding to the day’s theme, and we took turns staffing informational tables from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the center of campus. One member prepared a Death Penalty Awareness Week pamphlet that we distributed to the student body.

On top of that, we set up visual displays every day. For example, to highlight the barbarity of executing juveniles, we placed 83 chairs on a huge lawn in the center of campus. A huge sign stated that the chairs represented the 83 juvenile offenders currently sitting on death row. And we drew 21 outlines of bodies with chalk on campus grounds to represent the 21 juvenile offenders already killed since 1976.

We also held a Live From Death Row event that attracted 200 people. Shujaa Graham, an exonerated California death row prisoner, moved the audience to a standing ovation. We ended the week by attending a rally in front of the Supreme Court calling for an end to the execution of juveniles. Our banner, reading "Georgetown’s Campaign to End the Death Penalty," hung proudly over our student center all week.

George Washington University
by Lauren Boucher
Our first Death Penalty Awareness Week was a great success! We focused on a different issue each day and flooded the campus with flyers and fact sheets about the death penalty.

Monday was dedicated to "debunking the myths" surrounding the death penalty. We distributed fact sheets showing that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime and about executions. Tuesday marked our keynote Live from Death Row event. Unfortunately, Maryland death row prisoner Kenny Collins was unable to call in because prison officials put him on lockdown. But the audience got to hear great speeches from exonerated California death row prisoner Shujaa Graham and local Campaign organizer Mike Stark. Our chapter is fighting to make sure Kenny is released from lockdown.

Wednesday focused on the racial and class inequalities of capital punishment, and Thursday was dedicated to the issue of innocence. The week’s activities culminated in a protest on Friday in front of the Supreme Court opposing the execution of juvenile offenders. About 50 activists turned out for a spirited protest, with lots of chanting and speakers from various anti-death penalty groups in the area.

Chicago
by Lucy Scharbach
Chicago chapters have been on the move building support for commutations. On the second day of the clemency hearings, the Chicago Campaign held a rally and press conference outside the State of Illinois building that brought together the exonerated, family members of death row prisoners, attorneys, religious leaders and community activists. Following the press conference, a delegation presented Gov. Ryan’s office with thousands of signatures on petitions calling on the governor to commute all Illinois death sentences.

Our press conference was covered by every major news station and gave voice to our side of the death penalty debate at a time when tragic stories of murder victims’ family members dominated the media. Campaigners also attended the clemency hearings of members of the Death Row 10 to show our support for their petitions.

Leading up to the hearings, the Chicago CEDP held a town hall meeting called "From Death to Life: Why Governor Ryan Should Commute All Death Sentences." More than 100 people attended the meeting to hear from Larry Marshall, director of the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions; Rev. Calvin Morris of the Community Renewal Society; Darby Tillis, exonerated Illinois death row prisoner; and Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign. In addition to the panelists, Death Row 10 member Madison Hobley spoke to the audience via a live telephone hook-up.

The Chicago Campaign also helped to organize "No Death Penalty Day" at Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The program included Darby Tillis; Louva Bell, mother of Illinois death row prisoner Ronnie Kitchen; Maria Cunningham from Murder Victims Families for Reconcilation; and Alice Kim from the Campaign. Dozens of campaigners and family members attended the Saturday morning workshop and helped to collect signatures on our "commute all death sentences" petition.

The Campaign also hosted a Live from Death Row event with Death Row 10 member Stanley Howard at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s annual conference in Chicago.

We continue to work around individual cases as well. About 25 family members and chapter members attended Raul Ceja’s post-conviction appeal in Springfield. We plan to keep up the pressure at this critical time to keep the death penalty out of Illinois.

Austin, Texas
by Lily Hughes
This fall, the Austin, Texas, chapter of the CEDP has been involved in work on two local cases, and we helped to coordinate the Third Annual March for a Moratorium at the governor’s mansion. Our chapter held press conferences and pickets calling for justice for Michael Scott in the Yogurt Shop case. We also attended hearings and the trial.

We also began to organize around a new case. Rodney Reed has been on death row since 1998, and we believe he is innocent. Rodney’s case was in the news because of the many questions surrounding his conviction.

Rodney comes from a small town called Bastrop, which is close to Austin. So we contacted Rodney’s parents, Sandra and Walter, and his five brothers. We invited the family to a chapter meeting, and from there, we planned a panel discussion on Rodney’s case in their hometown. About 50 people came to the meeting and now we’re making plans for a meeting in Austin and a protest at the courthouse in Bastrop.

About 400 people attended the march on October 12 in downtown Austin. The lineup of speakers included Sandra Reed; Jeannine Scott, wife of Michael Scott; Ross Byrd, son of hate crime victim James Byrd; Jeannette Popp, mother of a violent crime victim; and Clarence Brandley, exonerated Texas death row inmate. "This is the way we will make the politicians hear our voices," Jeannine told the crowd. "We will march for a moratorium, and when we win that, we’ll march for abolition!"

The Campaign contingent carried our "Stop Executions" banner, and the Reed family also carried a huge banner for Rodney. We marched through the streets to the Capitol and held a rally there. Campaigners went through the crowd with sign up sheets and New Abolitionists. We got tons of people to sign up and sold forty New Abs. Plus, we handed out the postcards for the national convention and leaflets for our upcoming meeting. As part of our annual tradition, we ended by surrounding the governor’s mansion with crime scene tape and chanted at Gov. Rick Perry, "The whole world is watching!"