will continue to do exactly what I've been doing," said
Kane County, Illinois prosecutor Meg Gorecki. "I will not
let one moment in time, which I don't believe was well reasoned
and well thought out, to change a process and a system that
moment in time" spared the lives of 163 Illinois men and
four women, but has not swayed the professional practitioners
that has worked" so revulsed outgoing Republican Governor
George Ryan, he emptied the state's death row, commuting all
sentences to prison terms or less. With just 48 hours left in
his term, Ryan instead indicted "bad lawyers, bad prosecutors,
bad police [and] bad judges" for perpetuating a system
that cannot possibly mete out justice. (Click
here for full text of Governor Ryan's remarks.)
were freed outright, victims of forced confessions under torture.
A fourth remained in prison on other, non-capital charges for
which he may also be innocent. "Here we have four men who
were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die by the state
for crimes the courts should have seen they did not commit,"
said Governor Ryan. "We have evidence from four men who
did not know each other, all getting beaten and tortured and
convicted on the basis of the confessions they allegedly made.
They are perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about
Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard had
spent 15 to 17 years on death row, victims of an American Gestapo.
As the January
11 Los Angeles Times reported:
interrogated - and supposedly confessed - at Chicago's Area
2 headquarters, where investigations later revealed the commander,
Jon Burge, tortured suspects and oversaw their torture by
his detectives during the 1970s and 1980s. An estimated 60
suspects were beaten, given electric shocks, threatened with
guns and smothered into unconsciousness.
of the other suspects, the "usual" ones? How thick
is the human traffic that is smashed into submission and possible
death in all the Area 2s of the nation?
Ryan has sung his swan song, which is irrevocable. However,
the torture squads will go about their business in Illinois,
gathering "evidence" for criminals in suits like John
Piland, chief prosecutor in Champaign County and president of
the association of state's attorneys. "We're not going
to let the governor's action deter us from seeking justice in
appropriate cases," said Piland, defiantly.
assumed office in 1999, Illinois had already been forced to
exonerate more death row inmates than it had succeeded in executing:
12 dead, 13 still alive, largely because of investigations by
Northwestern University journalism students and the miracle
of DNA evidence. The lifelong supporter of capital punishment
imposed a moratorium in 2000.
of the death penalty hope that Ryan's action, the largest such
commutation in modern U.S. history, will at least slow the momentum
of death. "I don't know how many times we're going to go
through a revolution like this before we conclude that there's
no way for humans to make these irrevocable and infallible judgments,"
said Richard Dieter, of the Death
Penalty Information Center.
center of gravity is Dixie, where 86 percent of executions occur,
according to the Center's report for 2002. Texas leads the way
with 33 executions, followed by Oklahoma (7), Missouri (6),
Georgia (4), Virginia (4), Florida (3), South Carolina (3),
Ohio (3), Alabama (2), North Carolina (2), and Mississippi (2).
A total of 71 people were put to death, nationwide.
As of October
1, 2002, death row was home to 3,697 men, women and juveniles.
Only three sentences were commuted in 2002.
The Justice Project issued an exhaustive report entitled, A
Broken System, Part II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital
Cases, and What Can Be Done About It. The study documented a
shocking 68% rate of reversal of death verdicts due to trial
Project executive director Wayne F. Smith welcomed Governor
Ryan's commutations, but warned:
as Illinois' death penalty system is, it is better than most.
National studies find that Illinois courts reverse flawed
death sentences on average less often than most states. The
37 other states that have the death penalty should take a
hard look at their own systems and follow Illinois' lead.
The United States Congress should immediately pass, and President
Bush should sign into law, the federal Innocence Protection
Act. No less than lives and justice are at stake.
100 people have been exonerated from death rows across the
country. Innocent people are spending years or decades behind
bars for crimes they did not commit. Meanwhile, the real criminals
remain free and often go on to commit more violent crimes.
We know there's a problem. Let's do something about it.
is that "racism has rendered this nation unfit to handle
capital punishment," the position taken by The Black Commentator
in our inaugural issue, April 5, 2002. The death penalty is
a legacy of the enslavement of Africans and extermination of
Native Americans, an essential component of the racist American
character. That's why the South excels in judicial murder, and
the reason that half of death row inmates are Black.
penalty is intended for disproportionate use against Blacks.
Comparatively speaking, whites who are sentenced to death
are those convicted of "the worst of the worst"
murders. A 1998 investigation of Georgia's application of
the death penalty, for example, showed that African Americans
were more than four times as likely as whites to be sentenced
to die "even when controlling for the many variables
which might make one case worse than another."
Unfit: The U.S. Can't Handle the Death Penalty.)
is the only answer. 167 men and women were spared when a Republican
governor, like Saul on the road to Damascus, was made to see
the light, and became Paul. Such transformations are rare. The
prosecutors of Illinois vow to fill the empty spaces on death
row. They are the bloodthirsty problem beyond fixing.
The tools of death must be snatched from their hands.
National spotlight on Mississippi justice
Like a dirty
little man who can't keep his mind out of the gutter, George
Bush can't keep his politics out of Mississippi. The GOP's moral
compass seems to consistently point in the direction of the
Magnolia State, drawing Republicans ever deeper into the primal
swamp of their true nature: the White Man's Party.
second time, Bush is attempting to place Federal Judge Charles
Pickering on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Mississippi, Louisiana
and Texas. At 66, Pickering has even more manure on his shoes
than his Senate patron, Trent Lott, but Bush cannot turn his
back on the racist core of his party, not after turning a stone
face to Lott in his hour of nakedness and need. Whether or not
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee succeed in blocking
Pickering, this week, he will stand like an old Confederate
monument to the Dixiecrat takeover of the GOP.
John Nichols provides an excellent account of the GOP's
feeble attempt to provide local Black cover for the Pickering
nomination. Republican Charles Evers headed a dark pro-Pickering
delegation to the White House, where he declared, "It's
not the NAACP down there (in Mississippi) that opposes Pickering.
It's the Yankees up here." This was news to the Mississippi
State Conference of the NAACP, 31 Black state legislators, the
Black lawyers' Magnolia Bar Association, Black Congressman Bennie
Thompson, and just about every African American Mississippian
outside of Evers' clucking little brood on the White House lawn.
certainly doesn't want to see Pickering sit in judgment over
three states. In 1994, rednecks in Sandy Hook, Mississippi burned
a cross on her lawn, after one of them fired a bullet that barely
missed her sleeping, 3-year-old child. Prosecutors wanted Daniel
Swan to get the full seven years for the cross burning, but
Pickering interceded on Swan's behalf and got the sentence reduced
to 27 months.
faith in the justice system was destroyed when I learned about
Judge Pickering's efforts to reduce the sentence of Mr. Swan,"
wrote Ms. Polkey, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
caught up with Swan, recently. He blames publicity surrounding
Pickering's nomination for the bankruptcy of his small trucking
business, and believes that he and the judge are the real victims.
"Politics are hurting a good man like Pickering and have
put me in a real bind," he said. It's just not fair, and
it wasn't much of a fire. "There wasn't even any damage
to the cedar tree."
Swan is no racist. "I'm guilty of sticking the cross up
and burning it. But I'm not guilty of all the hate crime things
they accused me of," he said, leaning against his truck.
a case of reverse discrimination. On the U.S. Court of Appeals,
a judge like Pickering could rectify injustices like that. Judiciary
Committee Republican Orrin Hatch, taking his cues from judicial
giant Clarence Thomas, deplores the "legal lynching"
February of last year, when Pickering was facing his first confirmation
editor-in-chief George E. Curry pulled down Pickering's
trousers to reveal the bare-assed White Citizens Councilman
beneath. Unlike Trent Lott, who never ran for local office before
winning a seat in Congress, Pickering did statehouse time with
the good old boys back in the bad old days when the Mississippi
Sovereignty Commission was in full magnolia. The Commission
was set up shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation
decision, in 1954, to spy on, slander and harass outside- and
inside-agitators. Pickering has attempted to distance himself
from the shadowy Commission but, as George Curry wrote:
As a state
senator, Pickering voted twice to appropriate state money
to "defray the expenses" of the commission.
Pickering testified at his Senate confirmation hearing, "
... I never had any contact with the Sovereignty Commission."
However, commission documents released subsequently, painted
a different picture. A staff memo dated, Jan. 5, 1972, noted
that Pickering and two other state senators were "very
interested" in a commission investigation into union
activity at a Laurel, Miss., company, presumably Masonite.
It said the senators had "requested to be advised of
developments" to infiltrate the union and sought information
on the union's leader.
of how hard they may try, Pickering supporters can't whitewash
his white supremacy record.
years of legal battles, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission's
records are now accessible online. Sealed for over 20 years
by the state legislature, the records provide unique documentation
of the world that spawned Trent Lott and Charles Pickering -
and the peculiar racial outreach programs of the Bush administration.
17 years, from 1956 to 1973, the commission spied on civil rights
workers, acted as a clearinghouse for information on civil rights
activities and legislation from around the nation, funneled
money to pro-segregation causes, and distributed right-wing
propaganda," reads the web site announcement. On the site's
page, we travel back in time to observe the genesis of the
segregationist's modern Black strategy:
the Commission developed and promoted the Mississippi Negro
Citizenship Association. Through this organization the Commission
"launched a quiet campaign to encourage qualified Negroes
to make applications to vote," hoping to outmaneuver
the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) by attracting
those they termed the "thinking Negroes of Mississippi."
of African-American conservatives was consistent with Governor
Paul B. Johnson's approach to the integration issue. Mississippi
had to appear to be law abiding and in compliance with federal
regulations. Image was vital to this scheme, and Erle Johnston
and the Commission worked with other state agencies to create
Mississippi's new identity. Johnston also took measures to
clean up the Commission, instructing removal of all "incriminating"
reports, especially those that indicated the Commission helped
county registrars stop African-Americans from registering
after the Commission's official shutdown, Charles Evers and
his tight little clutch of Mississippi Negro Pickering supporters
form a bare quorum on the White House lawn, hoping that their
white Republican friends will be gracious enough not to utter
the word, "jockey."
Luther King's birthday cannot pass without renewed questions
being raised about his death. This week's Village Voice features
a review of An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther
King, authored by William Pepper, an associate of King's during
the last year of the civil rights leader's life who went on
to represent James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin. Pepper
and the King family came to believe Ray's claim to have been
a patsy. Reviewer
Richard Goldstein sums up "the facts, as Pepper presents
the victim of a contract taken out by mobsters already doing
business with the government (e.g., laundering money for the
CIA). Ray was their patsy, framed by the Memphis police, who
also tampered with the crime scene and manipulated evidence.
Military units under the auspices of the Special Forces surrounded
the motel where King was staying, serving as a backup unit
in case the hit man failed. The FBI, which had planted stories
deriding King for staying in white hotels, drew him to the
black-owned Lorraine, and his secluded room was changed to
one with a very visible balcony. Armed black activists who
had stationed themselves in a rooming house overlooking the
motel were told to leave just before the killing, as were
black officers and firefighters.
Voices for Peace plan a Washington event, January 20, under
the heading: "Fulfilling Dr. King's legacy: Organizing
against war and militarism, racism, poverty and injustice -
a national training workshop and conference for justice and
peace." Monday's training and strategy sessions follow
"peace with justice Sunday."
an estimated 15,000 marched in Los Angeles against militarism
and destruction of the social safety net. Protest gear included
"Don't Cut Medicare for Bombs and Missiles." Rep.
Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Los Angeles Urban League President
John Mack worked the crowd, while Martin Sheen of NBC's "The
West Wing" provided star value.
event is Saturday, January 18, when a coalition led by A.N.S.W.E.R.,
Now to Stop War and End Racism, will attempt to match or
exceed its October 26 turnout of 100,000 in Washington and at
least 50,000 in San Francisco.
with the reader this appeal from Elias A. Rashmawi, a member
of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition Steering Committee:
has emerged! It is waging a global war to redefine the boundaries
of nation-states, appropriate wealth and resources, install
governments, and re-shape policies throughout. It was Afghanistan
some months ago. It is Iraq today. There are Korea, Colombia,
the Philippines, and Palestine. The examples are too many
- Yet, who is next and where?
step of imposed destruction, our world is brought closer to
a global disaster and the people of the U.S. are pitted against
the international community.
answer to the drumbeat of war is a must - we no longer have
a choice, or the luxury of time!
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