Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Chicago
By Julien Ball
 
This summer the Chicago CEDP launched a Family and Friends of Prisoners Network to expand and build on our work with family members and prisoners. The network will connect family members with activists and each other and provide opportunities for support and a platform to speak out and stand up for their loved ones. The Network’s first official event is a BBQ in early September, which will bring together family members who are now veteran activists with family members who are new to the movement. We also plant to raise funds at the BBQ for the Costella Cannon Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to family members and former prisoners for the CEDP’s national convention.
 
The Network is being launched as new opportunities to push for justice for Chicago police torture victims have materialized. In April, civil rights attorneys, the People’s Law Office, the Center on Wrongful Convictions, and the MacArthur Justice Center drafted a shadow report, signed by 212 individuals and organizations, including the CEDP. The report documented the failure of special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle to carry out their responsibilities in prosecuting Jon Burge and other torturers on the Chicago police force.
 
This new report revealed that a number of charges, including conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice, could have and should have been brought against Burge and his minions. This report was the basis for public hearings held by the Cook County Board and the City Council in July. Thanks to the generous grants of The Self Development of People Committee of the Presbytery of Chicago and The Presbyterian Committee of the Self Development of People, we now have the financial support for the important work of involving family members in our movement. The CEDP helped mobilize family members and activists to offer support and testify at both hearings to demand new trials for torture victims.
 
On July 10, the Cook County Board unanimously passed a non-binding resolution calling on Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to grant new hearings to all 26 known victims of Jon Burge who are still incarcerated. Their second resolution called on the U.S. Attorney’s office to prosecute torturers who served on the police force. Finally, commissioners voted on a resolution calling for torture to be a federal offense with no statute of limitations.
 
At the City Council’s public hearing, many aldermen called for Burge to be stripped of his generous police pension. Although the City Council has not yet introduced any follow-up resolutions, advocates for torture victims are pushing for these to take place.
 
Perhaps most significantly, for the first time, a Cook County judge, Thomas Sumner, issued a hearing to James Andrews, an Area 2 torture victim, based on a motion to suppress his confession. In his decision, Judge Sumner referred to the widespread torture in Area 2 at the time of Andrews’ confession. Public pressure has played a crucial role in forcing action around the Chicago police torture scandal, and it will continue to do so.
 
Washington, D.C.
By Adrienne Ashford
 
The Washington D.C. chapter of CEDP launched its first book club discussion this summer. The two-part discussion revolved around the book Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis about the prison industrial complex and the devastating effects of mass incarceration. Davis makes the case for the abolition of the prison system as a crucial step toward improving our society.
 
The first session of our book club included two prisoners on Maryland’s death row, John Booth-El and Vernon Evans, who participated via telephone. They provided a unique view into our penitentiary system and their participation added another dimension to the discussion. Our group is planning to continue to organize book club discussions and include the participation of prisoners when possible (unfortunately, John and Vernon couldn’t call in to the second discussion because funds were not applied to their phone cards in a timely fashion by the prison). We found that the book club can be a powerful tool in spreading awareness and inspiring people to question the existence of capital punishment.

We also focused much of our efforts on the case of Kenneth Foster who was facing execution on August 30. We held a public meeting about Foster’s case that was attended by about thirty-five people, and held a rally for Foster in mid-August in front of the African American Civil War Memorial in Northwest D.C.
 
In the coming months, one of our primary goals is to increase our membership, and we are exploring new ways to expand the chapter. We also plan to continue our prison visits to maintain a connection with the individuals whose lives we’re fighting for.
 
California
By Crystal Bybee
 
The defacto moratorium on executions continues in California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began building a secret death chamber, claiming a mandate from the court that never existed. Construction was halted after the project was made public. We know that a new death chamber or a new procedure will not make executions humane. We want to be able to keep up the pressure, and a big part of that is including the prisoners and their family members in our fight.

This summer we have worked to strengthen our relationships with prisoners and family members. We were fortunate to receive a grant from the Agape Foundation to launch a Family and Friends Network. We have our first Network event on September 22. We designed postcards and sent them to many death row prisoners, to send out to their family and loved ones about the event. The Network also plans to reach out to family members to participate in the CEDP’s national convention in November and our national speaking tour this fall, “A Broken System, Crying Out for Justice.” The grant from the Agape Foundation has strengthened our ability to do this work, allowing us to provide scholarships and stipends to family members, pay for costs associated with Network events, and do more outreach in the prison. The Network will reach out to death row prisoners and beyond, especially those who have received 3 strikes--life without the possibility of parole, and other long-term sentences.
 
Also, the CEDP supported the first annual Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Summit hosted by the newly launched STW Legacy Network (www.stwlegacy.net) in August. The summit featured Dr. Maki Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s daughter and an international human rights advocate, as the keynote speaker. The topic for the first summit was “Creating Street Peace and Criminal Justice Reform.” Other speakers included Barbara Becnel, founder of the STW Legacy Network, Elizabeth Terzakis of the San Francisco CEDP, Donald Lacey, president of the LoveLife Foundation, Minister Abdullah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s National Prison Ministry, and Alice Kim of the CEDP’s national board. The event drew 100 people, including community members, elected officials and representatives of local legislators, members of the faith community, and students. The summit was extremely successful, laying the basis for building Stanley Tookie Williams’ legacy and strengthening the movements for street peace and criminal justice reform.
 
Chapters organized to save Kenneth Foster by gathering petition signatures, calling a rally, and spreading the word about his case. The UC Berkeley chapter is getting ready for a new semester and a wave of new members with a first meeting scheduled for September 4th. They will be talking about the (monetary) relationship between public education and the prison system, with an emphasis on the death penalty. With the Kenneth Foster victory, we’re all getting ready for our Fall tour and to keep building the momentum and exposing what’s wrong with the criminal justice system.
 
New York City
By Alex Clermont and Liliana Segura
 
Over the summer, the Harlem chapter has been focused almost exclusively on the fight to save Kenneth Foster.
 
At our first tabling, on 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd., where we displayed fact sheets, posters and literature on Kenneth’s case, conversations arose about the nature of the death penalty as well as Kenneth’s case.
 
We invited folks to come to our community event at St. Mary’s Church on July 26, an event meant to build awareness about the Law of Parties, Kenneth’s date of execution, and the state of the U.S. criminal justice system. The event was emceed by Yusef Salaam, who was wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger case. In addition to a rousing call-in by Kenneth’s grandfather and daughter, Nydesha, the event featured a performance by the Welfare Poets, a New York based Hip-Hop poetry collective.
 
Also at the event, recently exonerated New York State prisoner Jeff Deskovic spoke about the urgency for us to act now; and another speaker, David Kaczynski of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty (the brother of unabomber Ted Kaczynski), talked about the case of Manny Babbitt, a wounded black Vietnam vet who never received treatment for his battle-related schizophrenia, and was later murdered on death row. Kaczynsky pointed to the class and racial composition of those the state is willing to kill.
 
As the date of Kenneth’s scheduled execution drew near, we decided it was time for some direct action. We devised a plan to confront Charles Rangel, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and put pressure on him to make a statement. (For a great article on our resulting run-in with Rangel’s office, see “Who Won’t Stand Up for Kenneth Foster? Charles Rangel, for One” by CEDP member Ben Davis, on Counterpunch.org)
 
Another great action took a group of early risers to Times Square for “The Today Show,” where a couple of intrepid CEDP members snuck signs into the studio and unveiled them, right behind Matt Lauer. For a few sweet moments “Free Kenneth Foster” was being broadcast to morning TV watchers everywhere.