Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

ATLANTA
By Bethaney Wright

We have achieved a significant victory in the fight to win justice for Troy Davis. The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a lower federal court to hear supporting Troy’s claim of innocence.  Because he has had several previous stays of execution, we decided that it was of the utmost urgency to increase momentum and inform as many people as possible about the case in order to build support.

Therefore, throughout the summer, members of the CEDP visited many popular places throughout Atlanta, canvassing and educating people about Troy Davis and encouraging them to get involved with CEDP. We received a positive response from many of the people we met, some of who were interested in joining.

Later on, in the summer, we showed the documentary about Mumia-Abu Jamal, In Prison My Whole Life, in Atlanta and Marietta. We used both of these events as fundraisers for the National Day of Mobilization.

To advertise those events, we canvassed and petitioned in Little Five Points, the Pan-African Festival, Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s birthday concert, Black August Weekend, and Marietta. For the Marietta showing, 60 people showed up, and at the Atlanta showing, 30 people attended. At the showing, we made it a point to illustrate the parallels between Troy Davis and Mumia.

Both of these events strengthened the collaborations between abolitionist groups, along with promises that we would work together in the future.  Recently, the CEDP has started a book club. So far, we have had a book study on Angela Davis’ book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, and will have  another book study in October. We had a pretty good showing at our first meeting, with lots of enthusiastic contributions.

CEDP has stated that abolishing the death penalty is not its only focus, and that prison reform is directly related to our struggle. We had a great discussion about the injustice of the prison-industrial complex, how we would be able to include prisoners in future book club meetings, and the plight of political prisoners.

Because of the recent developments, the National Day of Mobilization for Troy has been postponed indefinitely.  However, the CEDP still plans to try to build a coalition in Atlanta for a teach-in for Troy Davis in early September.

Although we have gained a substantial victory with the Supreme Court ruling, we cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the lure of complacency. Now, more than ever, we must continue to be vigilant and fight for the eventual exoneration of Troy Davis!

CALIFORNIA
By Christine Thomas and Dana Blanchard

In California, there are 685 prisoners on death row. Facing a massive budget crisis, a Senate Democratic leader, Darrell Steinberg, recently filed a law suit challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to begin construction of a new death row (construction that would cost $356 million).

Schwarzenegger’s new project is to make death row prisoners more isolated by instituting automated individual cells that would limit human contact. Studies have shown that the more contact guards have with actual prisoners, the more likely they are to treat them as human beings.  This isolation strategy has been used by other high security prisons in the state, like the facility at Pelican Bay, notorious for its mistreatment of prisoners.

The suit against Schwarzenegger states the veto exceeded the governor’s constitutional power and for the time being stops the project in its tracks.  It also appears that at least some of the lawmakers in Sacramento (a county that sends a record number of its citizens to death row) have been hearing those of us who have been holding meetings, attending rallies, and writing articles and numerous letters to the editor pointing out the atrocities of the death penalty and racist mandatory sentencing laws like three strikes.

In July, a coalition of political activists and local chapters of several  progressive groups held a public information event, showing a screening of the film The Empty Chair at a local community center.

It was followed by a q-and-a with death penalty expert Ellen Eggers, an  attorney who has spent over two decades defending prisoners on  California’s death row.  This event had over 70 participants, with overflow attendees lining the walls.

Local recording artist Jenn Rogar performed and donated all funds from the sale of her CDs at this event to the continued work of abolition. (Check out Jenn Rogar’s melodic voice and “A Prayer for Morales” at  www.jennrogar.com/id7.html.)

In Oakland, we have been highlighting the case of Kevin Cooper, an  innocent man who has been on death row for over two decades, Kevin recently lost his appeal to have an “en banc” hearing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kevin could very well be one of the first men given an execution date if the state is able to start up the death penalty again.

We have been busy getting the word out to the public about Kevin’s case and the recent dissent statement by some of the judges on the 9th Circuit, which begins with the line “the state of California is about to execute an innocent man.”

We are looking forward to a month of activity in October, when we will be hosting an art show featuring Kevin’s work at a local Oakland art gallery.

AUSTIN, TEXAS
By Laura Brady

On June 2, 2009, the 200th execution under Texas Gov. Rick Perry took place with the state-sponsored murder of Terry Hankins. The Austin Chapter of the CEDP participated in a protest outside of the Texas State Capital on that night shaming the “Texecutioner” for reaching this grisly milestone.

After organizing for years around the case, the Austin CEDP celebrated the release in June of Yogurt Shop defendants Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen, who are home on recognizance bonds pending trial. We held a spirited rally in August before what was to be the next pretrial hearing, but the District Attorney successfully argued for yet another continuance.  We continue to garner support for Michael and Rob’s complete innocence and demand the charges be dropped. 

In July, we hosted a gathering and potluck dinner with the Reed family in response to the Court of Criminal Appeals outrageously denying relief for Rodney Reed in spite of overwhelming evidence of his innocence.

Members of the CEDP were joined by the family of Kenneth Foster, Jr. and Michael Scott as well as many community activists and supporters.  In July, our chapter put out a call for the initial planning meeting for the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, which is slated to return to Austin on October 24. We are working with a statewide coalition of abolitionists to build the October march and are elated to host the event.

August saw the trial of Judge Sharon “Killer” Keller, who is facing misconduct charges for refusing to hear a last-minute appeal from death row prisoner Michael Richard, who was later executed. We held a small rally in Austin in response to the trial calling for her removal from office.

As students return to Austin, we are reestablishing our campus presence with a focus on recruitment. Our fall semester promises to remain busy as we ramp up our efforts with a series of events for our DRIVE comrade Reginald Blanton, who is facing an execution date of October 27.  We have upcoming rallies planned in both Austin and San Antonio and will highlight Reginald’s case at our annual march.

NEW YORK CITY
By Christina Mason and Tyrell Muir

The New York City chapter has focused much of its attention this year on the Troy Davis case.  We had a very successful teach-in that was organized by CEDP and Amnesty International in July, featuring both Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and Troy’s sister Martina Correia, who is a dynamic speaker.

There were also other moving speeches given by falsely convicted and imprisoned young men -- former New York State death row prisoner Lawrence Hayes; Yusef Salaam, exoneree in the Central Park Jogger case and CEDP Board member; and Jeffrey Deskovic, who served 16 years in New York state for a crime that he did not commit. The highlight of the event was when Troy himself called in to encourage us to continue the fight.

We have supported the case with frequent tablings in Harlem, as well as meetings with Amnesty International to plan strategies to help move the case forward, and garner more exposure and support for the struggle.

Chapter members also met with members of the hip hop group Rebel Diaz to brainstorm about the case -- the group invited us to hand out flyers at a benefit concert for Gaza. Band members demonstrated their support by wearing “Save Troy Davis” T-shirt during the event. We were all delighted by that.

Several members have also been active in the support of other prisoners, such as the case of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Both Mumia and Peltier have recently been denied their bids for an appeal or parole, continuing decades-long injustices at the hands of the courts.

Chapter members recently visited life without parole (LWOP) prisoner Nick McCoy. Nick and his fellow LWOP inmates have been organizing themselves to get their voices and demands heard, and more attention regarding the struggle to reverse the LWOP law. Prisoners serving LWOP are denied rights that other prisoners have, such as access to prison programs. McCoy and other prisoners are fighting to change that, and chapter members are working on this issue by circulating our brochure and petition on how LWOP is “an in-house death sentence.”

In the last three months, we have noticed how our chapter meetings are steadily growing in membership, how loyal the members are to the chapter, and how involved they are. We will continue to bring attention to the horrors of the death penalty by building our membership, planning future events such as teach-ins and by bringing to light such plights as that of Troy Davis.