Release Lawrence Hayes

By: Harold Moss

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.

New York Gov. George Pataki has launched a crackdown on parolees for minor infractions, both to keep New York's ever-expanding prison system full and to bolster his tough-on-crime image for his re-election campaign.

But Lawrence was also a particular target.

Lawrence was a Black Panther in the late 1960s. He was framed for murder and sent to death row. Though his sentence was commuted in 1974 following the 1972 Supreme Court decision suspending the use of the death penalty, he was still forced to spend more than 20 years in prison.

Since his release, Lawrence has been an active opponent of the death penalty. He took a keen interest in the case of Darrell Harris, the first person to be sentenced to death under New York's new death penalty law. He spent a great deal of time contacting the families of the victims of the shootings that Harris was eventually convicted of. Hayes hoped to sway some of them to publicly oppose the death penalty. This effort, together with a picture of Lawrence in a Brooklyn newspaper and his name in a newspaper article about the Harris case, made him a prominent figure in the growing movement to stop the death penalty in New York.

Hayes was arrested only three days before the Darrell Harris trial was set to open. Harris has since been convicted and sentenced to death.

Although Hayes has been in prison for more than four months, he is still waiting for a decision from his final hearing, which only took place after he was behind bars for more than three months. During this time, he has lost his job and his apartment. Also, several community programs he was organizing, including a computer learning center for disadvantaged kids, now might not happen.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty has organized a defense campaign to free Lawrence Hayes. Letters and petitions demanding his release can be sent to Byron Travis, Chairman of the Board of Parole, 97 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12206.

To find out more about Lawrence's case and how you can contribute, please call (212) 330-7056.