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AS MORE EXECUTIONS LOOM Death penalty foes slam candidates
June 05, 2000 @ 05:00:00 am
/ WW / - At a May 26 news conference held in Washington, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. called for a new trial for Texas death-row prisoner Shaka Sankofa (formerly known as Gary Graha...

At a May 26 news conference held in Washington, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. called for a new trial for Texas death-row prisoner Shaka Sankofa (formerly known as Gary Graham). Carter, a boxing legend who spent more than 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, told reporters that there is "clear evidence of his innocence" and "we must not let him die."

Jackson criticized presidential candidates Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore for their pro-death-penalty positions and responded to Bush's claim that only guilty prisoners have been executed in Texas, saying, "Almost certainly, there have been or will be innocent people executed in Texas and elsewhere."

George "serial killer" Bush, as he is commonly referred to in the movement to abolish the death penalty, has presided over the state-sanctioned killings of 132 people, five of which took place in the last two weeks of May alone. An additional 15 executions are slated to take place before November.

On May 25, Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney of California had raised his voice against the death penalty in Washington. In a speech to the National Press Club, Mahoney declared that the death penalty is "fatally flawed and biased" against people of color and the poor.

He then issued a letter to California Gov. Gray Davis urging him to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately. The governor refused. California holds 565 prisoners on death row, more than any other state.

The Rev. Al Sharpton will lead a group to Washington to lobby in Congress against the death penalty on June 8. In addition, Amnesty International has issued a call to stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa and abolish the death penalty.

Popular opposition to the death penalty has grown tremendously in the United States in recent years. Mass demonstrations such as the May 7 Madison Square Garden rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal have broken through the media whiteout. There is now widespread recognition that Abu-Jamal is the face of the movement to end the racist death penalty.

Many of the celebrities and activists who support Mumia Abu-Jamal--like Ed Asner, Mike Farrell and Danny Glover--have also been following Shaka Sankofa's case very closely. Like Abu-Jamal's, Sankofa's original trial was riddled with police, judicial and prosecutorial misconduct and coaxed testimonies.

Both Abu-Jamal and Sankofa are fighting for a new trial, which would allow them to enter new evidence and prove their innocence.

Sankofa is one of 70 people who were juveniles at the time of their arrest and subsequently sentenced to death in flagrant violation of international law. Although Sankofa left school at an early age, he has gained a revolutionary education behind prison walls. "Like Malcolm X," said Larry Holmes of Millions for Mumia, "Shaka has become very political and revolutionary since he went to prison. He is the one who holds classes for other prisoners, who disseminates literature."

Texas' Gov. "Death"

It is not surprising that Texas, with the most executions in the United States, does not have a public defender system. Last year Bush vetoed a bill that would have helped counties institute such a structure. Instead, thanks to Bush's 1995 efforts to make the death penalty "swift and sure," pro-death-penalty judges appoint lawyers they know will expedite the process.

Every tier of the system is stacked against the oppressed. There is no "fairness" or "impartiality" in this system--least of all in the state of Texas--as long as you are Black, Latina/o, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and/or poor.

As Sankofa's June 22 execution date grows closer, the debate in the ruling class is also intensifying. And the pressure is on. Media coverage of the death penalty has skyrocketed, with Texas receiving specific attention. Every major news outlet from the New York Times to PBS to CNN is covering the issue extensively.

"The pressure is growing," said Monica Moorehead of Millions for Mumia on May 26. "You can see it because Bush had to come out today in favor of DNA testing."

DNA testing for prisoners has proven the innocence of the accused 26 percent of the time when administered during trial.

"The movement to abolish the death penalty must take full advantage of this situation and do everything we can to deepen the crisis for the imperialist bourgeoisie," Moorehead said.

Demonstrators in support of Abu-Jamal throughout Africa, in Italy, France, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere around the world have also taken a stand against the U.S. death penalty. Oppressed and working-class people everywhere are affected by the U.S. death machine--whether it's Pentagon bombs or execution, as in the case of two German citizens executed by the state of Arizona in 1999 who were denied access to their diplomatic consul.

National Days of Actions have been called for June 16-19 to demand an end to the death penalty, to stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa and grant him a new trial now. Demonstrations will be held in Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Houston, and other cities. Mass support for these actions is needed. The time is ripe for a movement against the death penalty to strike a critical blow and build united popular support.

- END -

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