Highlights of the struggle

Reports from Campaign chapters around the country


By: Brit Schulte, Crystal Bybee, Randi Jones and Julie Fiorelli

Denton, Texas 

By Brit Schulte

Things are on the move in Denton, Texas, and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty is at the forefront. As of late, our chapter has established its new program and specific case focus, thus solidifying our stance on community education and awareness. 

Here in Texas, we have the odds especially stacked against us, which is why our chapter decided to collaborate with the Austin chapter for our case focus on Rodney Reed. By combining our efforts and resources with our fellow Austin activists, we will realize our goal of seeing Rodney freed from death row. 

We also feel that a stronger focus on education and awareness are needed more than ever in our community, and communities all over Texas for that matter. Along with these long-term goals, we’ve come up with ways in which to realize them.

At each of our meetings, which are steadily growing, we do political education lead-offs on specific cases or courtroom precedents. For example, we’ve examined at length the abuses that Chicago police torturer Jon Burge perpetrated, the innocence of Troy Davis in Georgia, the exploitation of Aileen Warnous in Florida, the lack of conclusive evidence against Rodney Reed—and these are just a few examples. 

Our chapter has also come to recognize the importance of coalition building. Working with such diverse groups as the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Amnesty International, the International Socialist Organization and the World Islamic Organization, we are branching out to stand in solidarity with other progressive grassroots movements in the area—in order to further our message as well as our commonly held goals. 

We’ve also had to become conscious of the necessity of fundraising, and creatively, too! So far, we’ve held potlucks, film screenings and “keggers,” and made new merchandise for sale. We are planning our first “Speak Out!” and have another “Meet and Greet” in the works. We’ve set a lofty but achievable goal to get us to our national convention, and it will be met if our success continues!

We just wrapped up our first ever (and what will be annually held) March Against the Death Penalty. It was a significant success. Over 50 people participated. We heard from amazing speakers from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the ISO. We’ve had constant media coverage since the march. Our hope now is to make the most of the media coverage and continue to write opinion pieces for university, local and DFW newspapers, as well as other independent publications to get Rodney’s name on everyone’s mind 

Another demonstration that we recently organized was against Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election campaign stop here in Denton at a Budweiser distribution center. This was not the first time, nor will it be the last that the Denton CEDP sends a clear message to governor death that he is unwelcome as is his barbaric pro-death policy. We will meet him, and challenge him every time he sets foot in our region.

As long as we continue to organize our campus and community in the rigorous ways we have been, I see more success stories and new experiences to learn from for the chapter here in Denton. If you’re interested in getting in touch with our chapter, we meet weekly at Big Mike’s Coffee Shop on Sundays at 3 pm. For more information, please contact 956-432-7991 or email anti.deathpenalty@yahoo.com

California

By Crystal Bybee 

The death penalty issue is heating up once again in California. Executions have been on hold since 2006, when Michael Morales’ execution was halted due to concerns about lethal injection. Recently, a state agency did approve the revised lethal injection procedure—but a judge has not approved the procedure, and there is an injunction in place to stop all executions. There are many issues that still need to be resolved. 

Despite all of this, Gov. Arnold Schwarze­negger and Attorney General Jerry Brown (who is running for governor in November) have decided to ignore all of this and try to rush executions. One prisoner, Albert Brown, has received an execution date of September 29. 

A judge has upheld the current injunction halting any execution, but the state has appealed. Activists are trying to expose the issue and what is happening. There are several other death row prisoners, including Kevin Cooper, who are out of appeals, and the state could set execution dates for them, too. This means the time to act is now, and it is urgent for activists to come together and fight this renewed attempt to execute. 

The Bay Area CEDP continues to work on building public support for Kevin Cooper, and recently has been involved in redesigning the Kevin Cooper website, which you can see at freekevincooper.org. We are working on a campaign to get petition signatures for Kevin, aimed at both Attorney General Eric Holder and Jerry Brown. We encourage everyone to go to the site, sign the petition, and help spread the word! 

The Bay Area CEDP is also working on plans for October 10, 2010—World Day Against the Death Penalty (see worldcoalition.org for more information). 

Chicago

By Julie Fioreli and Randi Hensley

Over the summer, the Chicago chapter of the CEDP was busy bringing attention to the trial of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who was finally convicted on June 28 for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his and his detectives’ torture of hundreds of African American and Latino suspects over the course of almost 20 years.

We followed up this activity with a demonstration and visit with torture victims’ family members to the police Pension Board hearing, where we made it clear that Burge’s continuing to receive his pension is an affront to the people of Chicago, and particularly to torture survivors; we will again attend the Pension Board hearing after Burge’s sentencing in November.

Work also still remains to be done to secure indictments of detectives who tortured under Burge’s command, as well as new evidentiary hearings for the 23 torture victims who are still in prison. We therefore kicked off the fall with two events focused on these issues: on September 10, we held a forum at University Church, and on September 16, we took part in a rally in front of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. 

The forum was a great success. At least 75 people came to hear about the experiences of former prisoners and torture survivors Mark Clements, Darrell Cannon, Marvin Reeves and Ronnie Kitchen. The panel also featured Joey Mogul from the People’s Law Office; Tomika Erby from the CEDP and the Jail Jon Burge Committee; and Curtistine Deloney, mother of Javan Deloney, a Burge torture victim who is still in prison.

Despite the hefty lineup, we were able to include a question and answer session, during which several audience members related their own experiences with the criminal justice system.

Darrell Cannon told of a harrowing experience of torture at the hands of the Chicago police. He described how police drove him out to a remote area and put a shotgun in his mouth, telling him to confess, using racist language. Because he wouldn’t confess, the police stepped up their torture.

Stifling tears, Darrel explained with gritted teeth how the police pulled down his pants and shocked him with an electric cattle prod in his genitals. “At that point, I would have signed anything. I would have told them my mother did it if that’s what they wanted me to do; it was just that painful.”

Ronnie Kitchen and Marvin Reeves also spoke of how they were brutalized by the police. At one especially moving moment, Ronnie touched Marvin’s shoulder and explained with tears to the audience how the confession he signed sent Marvin to prison. (Marvin was Ronnie’s co-defendant and was also beaten by detectives but did not sign a confession. Marvin went to prison largely on the basis of Ronnie’s confession, which implicated both men in the crime.) 

But the moment was not lost of the activists—the real fault lies not with the victims who could not withstand the brutalizing torture, but with the perpetrators of torture, many of whom, shamefully, still work in the criminal justice system today. 

In addition to encouraging the audience to get involved with the CEDP and attend the rally, we provided specially printed CEDP postcards, on which participants wrote to Lisa Madigan and the parole board, demanding justice for torture victims.

At the September 16 rally, approximately 50 people gathered in front of the James R. Thompson Center to demand a meeting with Lisa Madigan. Although she refused to meet with us, our demands were made clear for the public: Give hearings to the 23 Burge torture victims who remain in prison, and appoint a new special prosecutor to investigate the tortures and the officers who worked under Burge.

The rally included Mark Clements, who was not only tortured by police as a juvenile, but spent 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Mark encouraged people to get involved in the fight for justice, then delivered to Madigan’s office letters signed by members of the community requesting new trials for the police torture victims still in prison. Many family members of torture victims spoke out at the rally in support of their sons, cousins, husbands and brothers. Their stories remind us that we must continue to struggle for justice until their loved ones are home.