Highlights of the struggle

Reports from Campaign chapters around the country


By: Laura Brady, Phil Smith, Pat Foley, Crystal Bybee, Lee Wengraf, Sandy Jones

TEXAS CHAPTERS

By Laura Brady and Phil Smith

AUSTIN: Recently, the Austin chapter of the CEDP joined with Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) in celebrating the freedom of Anthony Graves, released from Texas death row just days before the 11th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in late October.

In early November, we helped deliver a donation of over $3,000 to Anthony, who, after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment, was thrilled to celebrate his first Thanksgiving at home with his family. Anthony is eager to join the fight from the outside against capital punishment and wants to share his story, which the Houston district attorney refers to as “the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct” she had ever seen.

Austin CEDP wrapped up an active year with our annual holiday card signing to those on death row. This event brought friends and family together in sending a little light into the darkness that is death row.

This year, we extended our greetings to the women on death row in Gatesville, Texas. We received many heartfelt responses, including words of hope and encouragement from Cleve “Sarge” Foster, who at the time had the first scheduled Texas execution of 2011 and ended his letter to the Austin CEDP members with the words: “Pound the Ground! I am Innocent on Death Row!”

On January 11, 2011, the first day of the 2011 Texas legislative session, Cleve Foster received a last-minute stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court. More than 60 people had gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest the execution and rejoiced at the news of a stay received via phone call from other protesters amassed outside the Walls Unit in Huntsville. That same day, the Illinois legislature voted to abolish the death penalty and sent the bill to the governor.

CEDP members have been closely following the meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a panel established to examine allegations that investigators relied on bad science and poor techniques to conclude that Cameron Todd Willingham intentionally set fire to his Corsicana home in 1991, killing his three young children. CEDP members attended meetings and participated in pickets outside the meetings in January. The last meeting banned public comments and went into a secret session, but a small contingent of protesters greeted the media outside prior to the hearing.

With a slight growth in membership and the return of students following the holiday break, Austin CEDP had its first meeting of 2011 and discussed plans to host a stop of the National CEDP Speaking Tour, “Lethal Injustice: Standing against the death penalty and harsh punishment.” We also set out plans to do a series of public outreach and education through meetings and tabling events.

In a climate defined by the exoneration of Anthony Graves, the DNA testing of Claude Jones and the shady political motives of Rick Perry surrounding the investigation of Cameron Todd Willingham’s 2004 execution, we are geared up for what promises to be a relevant and busy time for the Austin CEDP. Onward to Abolition!

DENTON: With an action-filled semester behind us, the Denton chapter of the CEDP decided to reconnect with the most vulnerable people in our movement: the prisoners.

We organized a holiday card campaign over the winter break. We sent scores of holiday cards to prisoners. The reception from prisoners was astounding. We received several letters back from people who were touched by the mere fact that people who they did not even know took time out of their day to express their solidarity with them.

In the upcoming semester, the Denton chapter has two main projects. First, we are planning to focus on the case of Rob Will.

Second, we are planning to host a national tour stop in Denton. We are reaching out to other activists and community groups to help us organize the event. Through the tour stop, we hope to ignite the desire for change within our community as we continue to grow the movement here.

BAY AREA

By Pat Foley and Crystal Bybee

The end of 2010 saw a clemency campaign for Kevin Cooper to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The campaign included a media blitz spearheaded by Kevin’s legal team.

Editorials in favor of clemency appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Fran- cisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee. Power- ful op-ed pieces included one by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. The case was also featured on CBS News. The CEDP encouraged letter writing to Schwarzenegger and collected letters at the 5th Annual Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Summit, on December 12, 2010.

In addition, Amnesty International issued an action alert, which led to people around the world writing to Schwarzenegger on Kevin’s behalf. Their press release included this statement, “It is not every day that a distinguished federal judge argues that a death row prisoner is likely innocent, detailing in over 100 pages the ways in which police and prosecutors tainted the case,” said Laura Moye, director of AIUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. “It is incredibly difficult to dismiss the severity of the claim that Cooper was framed for a crime he did not commit, given the many judges who have joined Justice Fletcher’s dissent.”

While Schwarzenegger did not grant clemency, unsurprisingly, he also did not issue the kind of denial he did in 2004. Instead, he passed the issue along to in- coming Gov. Jerry Brown, stating, “In this case, the clemency application raises many evidentiary concerns which de- serve a thorough and careful review...” You can read all of these articles and alerts, and stay up to date on the next steps at freekevincooper.org.

The Bay Area chapter has been participating in the meetings building solidarity with the Georgia prisoner strikers, and a member spoke at a rally in support on December 17. The rally took place in the pouring rain with approximately 50 people attending in front of Oakland City Hall. Kevin Cooper also wrote a message of solidarity for the striking prisoners in Georgia

We held a very successful holiday card-signing party and sent out over 240 holiday cards to prisoners. Finally, a chapter member attended the vigil heldon the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Grant on January 1. Family members spoke about Oscar at the BART station where Oscar was killed. 

HARLEM

By Lee Wengraf

The Harlem Chapter is off to a busy year, jumping into two newly formed coalitions in the city.

Inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the Riverside Church Prison Ministry has gathered ac-ivists and advocates together into a network called the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. The group’s main project is an event with Michelle at Riverside Church on May 21, envisioned as a jumping off point for movement-building for the future.

In January, we also helped launch a coalition to fight for justice for the Newburgh 4, four African American Muslims convicted in October on terrorism charges. The case illustrates the worst abuses of pre-emptive prosecutions, and the FBI’s use of agent provocateurs and the cover of the “war on terror” to secure convictions at all costs. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in March, although lawyers have petitioned for a dismissal of the charges.

We closed out 2010 with our annual prisoner holiday card-writing party, and this spring, we continue prison visits to lifers at Shawangunk and Green Haven prisons upstate. At a time of growing re- sistance from behind bars in Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere, building solidarity with prisoners locally couldn’t be more critical.

PRISONER JUSTICE CLUB, CITY COLLEGE OF  NEW YORK

By Daphna Thier

In the summer of 2010, the Harlem chap- ter decided to launch a chapter on the campus of the City College of New York as a way of reaching out to new audiences and finding ways to build the movement. We decided to name the chapter the Prisoner Justice Club to connect with the broader issues of the criminal injustice system, and because there is no death penaltyin the state of New York.

At our first meeting in October, Alicia McWilliams, family member of the Newburgh 4, spoke about the case and the crisis of FBI entrapment. The meeting attracted many attendees, primarily CCNY students.  Everyone was extremely interested in staying involved.

In early December, we screened the new film on Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, Justice on Trial. Producer Johanna Fernandez of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke to the audience, and the event was successful in establishing a group of students ready to organize on campus this spring. Currently, we are working in collaboration with the Black Studies Department on another screening of Justice on Trial that we hope will be a major event for Black History month. All in all, this is shaping up to be an exciting year. We hope that our efforts will build a strong and vibrant new chapter at CCNY.

DELAWARE

By Sandy Jones

The Delaware chapter is very happy that two of its members (Sandy Jones and Barbara Lewis) were able to participate in the CEDP Convention in November. As usual, we found it to be an incredible weekend, full of opportunities to exchange ideas with other activists for ways to build our movement.

We came back energized to focus on finding new ways to build a campaign around the case of Delaware death row inmate, Robert Gattis, who is Barbara’s son. Robert’s case remains critical, as a death warrant could be signed at some point by the end of this year. As we work on building our fight on Robert’s behalf, we are also planning to host a tour stop at Barbara’s church in Wilmington, Del., and at Rowan University, in Glassboro, N.J., on February 17 and 18.

We are very excited to be hosting this tour stop, as it includes a phenomenal panel of speakers: Mark Clements, Amir Varick, and the Sentencing Project’s director of advocacy Kara Gotsch. Over the holidays, we hosted our annual holiday party for the families of Delaware death row inmates and distributed gift cards to the children on behalf of their fathers.