We Won't Forget Gary Graham

Thousands Protest Bush's Murder Of An Innocent Man

By: Bryan Hadley

Horrified that the state of Texas was executing an innocent man, thousands of people protested outside the state prison in Huntsville and elsewhere around the country as Gary Graham was strapped to a gurney and murdered on June 22.

Prison officials had to use more leather straps than usual because Graham - who changed his name to Shaka Sankofa - fought his execution to the very end. His last words were an appeal to continue fighting the injustice of the death penalty. "We must continue to stay strong all around the world, and people must come together to stop the systematic killing of poor and innocent Black people," Shaka said, as the executioners pumped poison into his veins.

Shaka's case gained national attention because it represented everything that's wrong with the criminal justice system. Shaka was a juvenile at the time he was sentenced to death on the flimsy testimony of one eyewitness. And because he was too poor to hire a lawyer, he got stuck with an incompetent, court-appointed attorney.

Activists organized across the country to draw attention to the case. June 19 was a national day of action in many major cities. In Austin, Texas, 200 demonstrators marched from the state capitol to the governor's mansion. Fifteen activists sat down in the driveway and were arrested.

"They can arrest us, but they'll never silence us," Ashanti Chimeranga, a longtime advocate for Shaka told the crowd. "When they respond to us the way they did, dragging young people of conscience down the street, this only tells us we're doing something right. When they strike back, you know that you have struck a blow."

On June 22, after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused to stop the execution, 200 demonstrators returned to the mansion. Others were already on their way to the prison in Huntsville, where the crowd grew to more than 2,000 - making it one of the largest demonstrations ever held to protest an execution.

Protesters vowed to keep up the fight. As Campaign activist Ingrid Ristroph told protesters in Huntsville: "This is one battle. This isn't the end of the war."