Moratorium Now!

Activists Converge On The Capitol

By: Marlene Martin

No one knows better than Darby Tillis, Ronald Jones and Gary Gauger why we need a national moratorium on executions.

These three men were sentenced to death and locked up in Illinois prisons for years for crimes they did not commit. And on April 5, all three traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak out in favor of a moratorium at a press conference held on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The press conference focused on new legislation proposed by Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. that calls for a seven-year halt on all executions until all death row inmates have assess to DNA testing and other measures that could prove their innocence.

"Innocent people do get convicted," said Gauger. "Justice in this country is an illusion jealously protected by the police, prosecutors and judges."

Among the other speakers in Washington were three mothers of the Death Row Ten -- men who were put on death row in Illinois largely because of confessions tortured from them by Chicago police. The moms were there to draw attention to the plight of their sons -- and to let people know that they live with the anguish of the death penalty system everyday.

Rep. Jackson explained his proposal, and he introduced more than a dozen individuals who spoke in favor of the bill, including Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold and Illinois Reps. Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky. Representatives from a wide range of human and civil rights groups also spoke in favor of the bill, including Joseph Lowery of the Black Leadership Forum; Hilary Sheldon of the NAACP; Sam Jordan, former director of Amnesty International; and Jane Henderson of Equal Justice USA, to name a few. Bianca Jagger was sick and couldn't attend the event, but she called in to give her support via telephone.

Since the press conference, the moratorium issue has continued to snowball.

The Court TV cable channel aired a show discussing the moratorium issue with Rep. Jackson along with Darby Tillis, Ronald Jones and Death Row Ten mom Jeannette Johnson.

There are now 18 cities and county governments that have passed resolutions in favor of a moratorium, and two law schools recently came out in favor of a halt on executions.

Now the Campaign is very excited to be planning our first "town hall" meetings on the issue of the moratorium. Rep. Jackson will be among the speakers on May 19 in Harlem, and San Francisco will hold a town hall meeting on May 20.

There has been a crack in mainstream support for the death penalty -- the result of activism, pressure and increased exposure of the issue. With activity stepping up, it will be important to draw more and more activists into the struggle.