Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country


The March for Abolition in Chicago, May 14 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C.
by Morgan Macdonald
Chants of "Keep D.C. death penalty free" filled the air as 70 people gathered July 23 to protest the imposition of capital punishment in Washington, D.C. The rally marked the beginning of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s (CEDP) fight to prevent the possible executions of Rodney Moore and Kevin Gray, both of whom may receive death sentences for murders committed in the D.C. area.

Along with the CEDP, organizations represented at the rally were Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers, and the International Socialist Organization. The rally highlighted the fact that D.C. residents voted against the death penalty in two separate district-wide votes.

"It is law that the Attorney General can prescribe the death penalty for Washington, D.C., but it is not just," explained Johnny Barnes, Executive Director of the ACLU national capital area office, at the rally. "It is not just because the people of Washington have voted twice against the imposition of the death penalty here. And it is law that the U.S. Attorney of D.C., not elected by anybody, can press for the death penalty in D.C. even if it’s not just, and that is why we gather here today."

Federal law allows the death penalty to be applied for crimes committed in D.C., although residents and legislators continually have voted against its use. The CEDP has put pressure on U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, who has the authority to seek the death penalty for certain crimes committed in D.C. with the approval of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

With the likes of Ashcroft in power, we know that the struggle to keep the death penalty out of D.C. will be challenging. But the CEDP is growing, and we’re ready to take on this effort. As civil rights activist Reverend Grayland Hagler says, "Sooner or later you will pay for your sins Roscoe, Ashcroft, and Bush. You have blood on your hands."

OAKLAND, CALIF.
by Crystal Bybee
California’s moratorium movement took a step forward in April when activists marched on the capitol with petitions calling for a moratorium. But since then, moratorium coalition meetings have been small and most places have not seen a significant increase in anti-death penalty activity. However, the Oakland CEDP and the Californians for a Moratorium on Executions Coalition are working together to plan a big event for October with high-profile speakers like Bud Welch, as a part of our ongoing effort to pressure city councils to pass moratorium resolutions.

Our chapter has focused on outreach to the community through tabling at transit stations, working with family members, and contacting inmates on California’s gigantic--600-plus--death row. We’re sending letters to 39 prisoners who are from Alameda County (which includes Oakland), to invite them to participate in the CEDP and pass our information along to relatives and friends. We hope that these activities can help us grow despite the general lack of protests.

We’re also keeping up our work on the case of California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper who won DNA testing nearly a year ago--but has yet to see the process completed. But some useful information has come out as a result of several tests. Although the DNA has not been identified, we now know that a hatchet, the only murder weapon presented as evidence in the original trial, is in fact not the murder weapon. We also know that a button that the prosecution said matched a jacket worn by Kevin did not have any blood on it, as previously alleged. Despite these positive results, the final results will be the deciding factor, and there are several steps left in the DNA testing procedure. Kevin’s attorneys, like the activists who work around his case, are still concerned that evidence tampering could have taken place.

Besides waiting for the results, it can feel like there is little that we can do around Kevin’s case. However, we have been able to find ways to be active. We held a raffle with artwork by Kevin and other prisoners that raised $441! We’re planning a "Live From Death Row" at the end of August. We’re continuing to collect names for our Kevin Cooper Emergency Response Network, a list of people that we can call when we do know the results of the tests. And, as always, we continue to write, visit, and give our support to Kevin. We hope for results that will win freedom for Kevin, but we will continue to fight for justice whatever the outcome of the DNA results. We’re prepared to keep fighting for Kevin and to break open California’s machinery of death.

CHICAGO
by Noreen McNulty
The Chicago chapters of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty are turning up the heat for abolition in Illinois. Presently, we are conducting a petition campaign urging Governor George Ryan to commute all Illinois death sentences. A blanket commutation--leaving Illinois’ death row empty--would be a huge step forward for the abolitionist movement. But we also want to push Gov. Ryan a step further, and we are calling on him to publicly support abolition of the death penalty before he leaves office. Plans are in the works to hand the signed petitions to Gov. Ryan sometime in the fall.

We’re also planning an indoor rally, "Abolition Now: Commute All Illinois Death Sentences," on Friday, September 20, to bring further attention to the issue of the death penalty and build support for commutations.

To reach out to new audiences, the north side chapters of the CEDP are organizing a film festival, entitled "EXPOSED," at a neighborhood art gallery. Producers of the films, activists, and family members of death row prisoners have been invited to speak to the audience before and after the films are shown. Campaigners are excited about what should prove to be an informative and fun event.

We’ve been busy over the summer organizing our upcoming events. And our chapters have been an active voice for justice and for abolition at a time when reforms are being proposed as a way to fix the death penalty and bring it back.

In July, Death Row 10 member Madison Hobley was denied a new trial--despite overwhelming evidence that he was tortured and framed by Chicago police (see page 2 for full coverage). Outraged by this decision, the Chicago CEDP called a picket at State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s office two days later.

Earlier this summer, CEDP members attended an Illinois House Judiciary Committee hearing on the death penalty where CEDP member Joan Parkin had the opportunity to speak about the role that Devine and other city officials have had in wrongful convictions and covering up police torture. Exonerated Illinois death row prisoner Gary Gauger as well as officials like Devine also testified at the hearing.

Back in May, we organized a 150-person strong march for abolition in downtown Chicago where abolitionists and family members spoke out against the death penalty. Protesters carried red balloons with the names of Illinois death row prisoners written on them as they marched through downtown at the height of rush hour. Ending outside of a federal jail, marchers "freed" the red balloons to loud cheers and chants for abolition.

We’re also proud of our signature advertisment, "It’s Time to End the Death Penalty," which was featured in the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Defender in June, and the August issue of The Progressive, a national publication.

With the upcoming governor’s campaign and election, the possibility of Gov. Ryan commuting sentences before he leaves office, and continued debates on reforming or abolishing the death penalty, the CEDP in Chicago will be there to fight until we stop the death penalty in Illinois once and for all!

ATLANTA
by Craig Johnson
Members of the Atlanta Campaign have been very busy of late. Campaigners recently protested the execution of Wallace Fugate at the state capitol. Thanks to a stay, Fugate was still alive when the New Abolitionist went to press.

We also received an enthusiastic response at Atlanta’s annual Gay Pride events, where we sold numerous copies of the New Abolitionist, several t-shirts, and filled up pages of sign-up sheets for more information about the Campaign.

We had a successful forum on July 20 called "The Other Victims." The panel featured family members of death row inmates and Campaign member Cari Courtenay-Quirk. More than 50 people attended this emotional and encouraging event and agreed that organization at the grassroots level is of prime importance.

Now, we’re planning several fundraisers for the upcoming month and look forward to a broad reawakening of activity in the fall. Although Georgia is pushing ahead with its schedule of executions, recent attempts to execute prisoners have been thwarted by protests and questions of constitutionality and ethics.

But we cannot rely upon political gamesmanship or favors to toss out this cruel system. Only activism at the grassroots can expose the barbarity of the death penalty and provide the force for abolishing it. The Atlanta Campaign chapter remains committed to that goal. Despite facing several roadblocks in our recent attempt to organize a large march for abolition in October, our chapter continues on with our activity as we march towards abolition.