Keep the death penalty out of Massachusetts!

Activists protest Cellucci's vow to bring back executions

By: Susan Fitzgerald

Anti-death penalty activists were on hand to protest on January 7 when Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who plans to reintroduce the death penalty, was inaugurated.

About 150 people braved frigid temperatures and a sub-zero wind chill to protest at Cellucci's swearing in, as well as at the posh inaugural ball held later that evening.

The spirited protests could be heard for blocks, with demonstrators chanting loudly. What Cellucci had hoped would be a media spectacle to kick off his new term became the kick off of what promises to be a militant fight against reimposition of the death penalty.

The last time Massachusetts faced legislation to bring back the death penalty was in 1997, when Cellucci exploited the tragic murder of a 10-year-old to justify a push to bring back capital punishment. In the midst of intense political pressure, politicians who had opposed the death penalty for their entire careers began to switch sides.

To combat the media hysteria that Cellucci and his cronies whipped up, the Campaign called a press conference which got wide media coverage, and it helped organize daily protests at the statehouse. The pressure generated by activists helped sway the vote against the death penalty.

But although Cellucci's legislation was defeated, the vote was much too close - an 80-80 tie which meant the bill lost.

Cellucci is promising to bring back the death penalty and vows that this time he will not fail. A bill will likely be introduced before April, and at the moment, the vote is too close to call. This means that grassroots activism is absolutely key.

The important lesson coming out of the fight in 1997 is that we can't sit back and hope that politicians will do the right thing.

Anti-death penalty Democrats can't be counted on. Take state House Speaker Thomas Finneran, for example. He's opposed to capital punishment, yet according to the Boston Globe, Finneran could have prevented Cellucci's bill from being introduced this year but didn't. "I think that the vote will happen this year - there's no sense in delaying it," Finneran told the Globe. "That is one we don't avoid."

Several events are already planned to beat back Cellucci's bill. On February 6, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, in conjunction with Amnesty International and other organizations, has called a statewide mobilization. The demonstration will begin at 1 p.m. at the statehouse in Boston.

All out on February 6! Together, we can stop the death penalty in Massachusetts!

For information about this and other upcoming anti-death penalty events, please call 781-391-4093.