On the warm Sunday evening of July 12, about 65 people gathered at the YWCA in Oakland, Calif., to hear death-row prisoner Tom Thompson speak out at a "Live from Death Row" event - just 30 hours before his execution.
Tom spoke with a peace and eloquence that were inspiring and wrenching at the same time. He did not rant against the injustices he had suffered. He did remind us, however, that liberty is a precious gift which must be diligently guarded from those who would take it from us. Listening to him, many people had tears in their eyes.
I participated in my first execution vigil on July 13, 1998 at San Quentin Prison, where more than 300 people came out to protest the execution of Tommy Thompson.
I felt compelled to attend out of a belief that violence is no answer to violence. I attended not knowing what to expect or how I would feel, and I left convinced that everyone should attend these vigils to experience exactly what actions are taken in the interests of the "state."
Lawrence Hayes, former Black Panther and death-row prisoner, has spent more than four months in a New York City prison awaiting a decision on a minor parole violation.
He is not accused of doing anything illegal or causing anyone any harm. Instead, after six-and-a-half years of favorable parole reports, he is accused of the "crime" of being unable to keep up with a parole meeting schedule that was increased from once every four months to once a week, and finally, to daily meetings.
The real reason for Lawrence's imprisonment is politics.
Larry Marshall is a co-coordinator of the National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty, which will take place November 13-15 in Chicago. Larry teaches at the Northwestern University Law School. He helped win the freedom of Rolando Cruz, who spent more than ten years on death row for a crime he didn't commit. Larry spoke to us about the importance of the Chicago conference:
There is a stronger link between race and the death penalty than between smoking and heart disease, according to a newly released report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The report - titled "The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides" - adds to the overwhelming evidence that the death penalty in the U.S. is racist.
"Excess Property." That's what William Goskee, superintendent of the Pontiac, Ill., state prison, called the personal items of death-row prisoners which couldn't be squeezed into three boxes. "We confiscated the excess property, and the men will have 30 days to decide if they want it shipped home, or else it will be destroyed," Goskee said.
Death-row prisoners are often the best experts on capital punishment. They know the legal system and legal procedures inside and out. They know the prosecutors, the judges, the defenders, other inmates, and the activists. Most importantly, they have experienced firsthand the brutality and injustice of the death penalty.
Stephen Bright is the Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) in Atlanta, Georgia. He is one of the foremost capital defense and appellate attorneys in the country, and one of the most outspoken and tireless opponents of the death penalty. I had the good fortune to work at SCHR for a short time this past spring to help with some death penalty cases, and I asked Stephen to share with New Abolitionist readers a few of his thoughts and experiences.
Kudos on your newsletter, The New Abolitionist (May 1998) II:3; it is an excellent presentation, especially with its "Voices From Inside" feature.
It is fitting that I read it on the eve of the 4th of July, forcing me to think of the revered Frederick Douglass' famous speech (I think made in Buffalo) in which he intoned, "What, to a slave, is your 4th of July?" To thousands of men and women on American death rows, the 4th of July is equally empty and meaningless - truly just another day.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps America's best-known political prisoner, has been on death row since 1982. After worldwide protests won a suspension of his execution in 1995, Mumia has continued to fight to win his freedom.
Nathson Fields is fighting for his freedom 14 years after he was sent to death row by a corrupt judge who was later convicted of accepting bribes. Nathson recently won a new trial after his lawyers presented evidence that Judge Thomas Maloney had accepted a bribe from Nathson's co-defendant.
Tyrone X Gilliam is the next person scheduled for execution in Maryland's death chamber. Tyrone's case is at a very critical phase. He is near the end of his appeals process and is currently waiting for the Supreme Court to review his final "Cert" petition.
If the Supreme Court rejects this petition, then the State of Maryland will immediately sign a warrant for his execution. As things stand now, Tyrone may face execution as early as November.