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
"system 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.)
men 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:
were 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.
what 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.
Ryan 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.
of October 1, 2002, death row was home to 3,697 men, women and
juveniles. Only three sentences were commuted in 2002.
year, The Justice Project issued an exhaustive report entitled,
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:
bad 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.
than 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
"problem" 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
death 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." (Psychologically
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
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.
the 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.
Polkey 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.
Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger
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."
sir, 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
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"
in February of last year, when Pickering was facing his first
confirmation hearing, BlackPressUSA.com
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:
a state senator, Pickering voted twice to appropriate state
money to "defray the expenses" of the commission.
1990, 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.
to 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:
1965, 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."
courtship 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 to vote.
years 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."
Martin 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
was 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."
Saturday, 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.
big 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.
share with the reader this appeal from Elias A. Rashmawi, a
member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition Steering Committee:
Empire 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?
every 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.
collective answer to the drumbeat of war is a must - we no
longer have a choice, or the luxury of time!
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