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News and reports

April 13, 2001 | Page 18

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
California death penalty
Ohio death penalty
Harlem gentrification
Abolish racist drug laws
Justice for the Death Row 10
Justice for Aldrin Diaz
University of Wisconsin

Stop Bush's attack on abortion

EVANSTON, Ill.--"Change doesn't come about by evolution, or because of a few good men in Congress or the White House...but is the result of a strong movement." National Organization for Women (NOW) President Patricia Ireland encouraged an audience of more than 150 at Northwestern University to help build such a movement.

About 40 people gathered afterwards to talk about organizing buses to NOW's national Emergency March for Women's Lives in Washington D.C. on April 22. The meeting at Northwestern is part of Ireland's multi-city tour to help promote the demonstration.

In New York, coalitions of student groups and activists that have come together in recent weeks sponsored meetings with Ireland at Hunter College/CUNY, New York University (NYU) and Columbia. Hunter and NYU now have Emergency Committees for Abortion Rights that are making plans to build for the march through tablings, speakouts and other actions.

Meetings have included speakers from groups in the committees, such as the Feminist Majority, Voices for Choice at NYU, the Barnard College and NYU NOW chapters and the ISO. At NYU, Ireland stressed to the audience of about 60 that Bush is "waging a war on abortion rights" and urged the audience to take up the fight to defend it.

She spoke about the experiences of a generation of women who lost their lives to illegal abortions. "I refuse to be part of the generation that both won and lost abortion rights," Ireland said.

About 150 people attended Ireland's meeting at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Ireland is scheduled to appear at Washington, D.C.-area schools and Brown University. For more information, call NOW at 202-628-8669, ext. 146. For more information on transportation to Washington, call your local ISO branch.

Lee Wengraf contributed to this report.

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California death penalty
By Kevin Neel

SAN QUENTIN, Calif.--More than 800 people protested outside the prison walls on March 26 as the state of California put Robert Lee Massie to death, the ninth execution since California reinstated the death penalty. The turnout--mixing vigil and protest--continues the consistent growth of these demonstrations, and is more evidence of the growing mood against capital punishment.

It is especially impressive given that Massie admitted to the crime for which he was condemned and stopped fighting his execution. Twice condemned for robbery-related murder--one of those sentences was commuted when the death penalty was temporarily abolished--Massie spent more than 35 years on death row and many more in prison.

Massie chose not to fight his execution--not because he felt he deserved it--but to call attention to the brutal prison system, which he noted destroyed the lives of many who had rehabilitated themselves and had much to offer society. To underscore Massie's point, one speaker, Barbara Becnel, read a statement from Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

After he founded the notorious gang, the Crips, Williams educated himself and now fights from death row to keep children away from guns and gangs and to end capital punishment--work that has earned him a Nobel Prize nomination. Throughout the night, speakers addressed the racism and class bias of capital punishment--and vowed to fight for abolition.

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Ohio death penalty
By Shane Johnson

CINCINNATI--The state of Ohio plans to execute an innocent man on April 17. J.D. Scott is on death row for the alleged killing of a deli clerk in Cleveland in 1983. Yet there's no physical evidence that links him to the crime, and three eyewitnesses said Scott was not the killer.

J.D.'s childhood is familiar to many death row inmates--a life of extreme poverty and violence. He lost several members of his family to gun-related crimes and yet was still able to help children in the community and study the law.

About 150 anti-death penalty activists rallied outside Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's mansion in Columbus. The Cincinnati Black United Front, Inter-Community Justice and Peace Center and the ISO, as well as many local churches showed their support.

For more information about the anti-death penalty struggle in Ohio, call 859-581-5296.

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Harlem gentrification
By Rosie Campos and Candice Rivas

NEW YORK--More than 300 people attended a March 16 town hall meeting in Harlem to discuss the housing crisis that is hammering poor residents. The meeting brought together speakers representing a coalition of more than a dozen groups, including the Harlem Tenants Council, Harlem Fightback, the NYC Public Housing Resident Alliance, the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, the Coalition for the Homeless and the ISO.

One main target of the speakers was the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998. Signed into law by Bill Clinton, the law requires compulsory labor from everyone in public housing over the age of 18 who works less than 20 hours a week.

Under the law, an entire family could be evicted if one of its members doesn't fulfill the requirement. "To call it the 'Work Responsibility Act' is an insult to people in public housing," said Derek Norvell of the NYC Public Housing Resident Alliance. "It implies that because we're in public housing and for one reason or another work part-time, we aren't responsible."

Other speakers emphasized the agenda of New York's real-estate bosses--the drive to privatize public housing developments and clear out poor tenants. "Let's call this what it is," said Jim Haughton from Harlem Fightback. "This is a class issue--it's class warfare."

A Harlem Action Committee was created out of the forum to turn education into action. Housing activists have already had an impact. The day after 40 people protested the lack of heat and electricity in buildings bought with public money, the landlord was forced to turn utilities back on.

What we do matters!

For information on upcoming activities, call the Harlem Tenants Council at 212-663-5248.

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Abolish racist drug laws
By Sofia Alvarez

ALBANY, N.Y.--Some 2,500 people turned out March 27 for a rally and march at the state capital to demand that Gov. George Pataki repeal the racist Rockefeller drug laws. These harsh laws were passed in the early 1970s in a supposed attempt to stop the spread of drugs.

But their real effect was to fill up New York prisons with poor Blacks and Latinos. Of the 22,000 people incarcerated under the Rockefeller laws, almost all are poor, and nine out of 10 are minorities.

For many years, liberal activists have held annual lobbying days in Albany to draw attention to the situation--but to little effect. So this year, a broad coalition of groups came together to organize a demonstration.

The majority of protesters were African American students under the age of 18. One New York City school even sent 80 of its 8-, 9- and 10-year-old students!

Education was on everybody's minds--since New York has been taking money away from public education at roughly the same rate as it's spent money on prisons. As author and activist Manning Marable told the crowd, "We hire more prison guards then teachers and build more prisons than schools."

Faced with growing pressure, Pataki has said he will "dramatically reform New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws." But his plan is backward. It would actually increase penalties for certain marijuana offenses and eliminate parole release for all nonviolent offenses, including drug offenders.

Nor does Pataki want to provide increased funding for drug treatment programs--the most effective way to reduce both drug abuse and drug-related crimes. The Rockefeller drug laws are clear proof that New York politicians would rather lock up poor youth than give them a chance at a decent life. But the March 27 rally showed that growing numbers aren't going to take it anymore.

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Justice for the Death Row 10
By Noreen McNulty

CHICAGO--A coalition of activists, lawyers, and community organizations joined forces to demand that a special prosecutor investigate torture by Chicago police. From 1973 to the present, Cmdr. Jon Burge and his cohorts tortured more than 60 Black men at Areas 2 and 3 police headquarters.

They used electroshock, suffocation and severe beatings in order to obtain "confessions." A group known as the Death Row 10 now sits on Illinois' death row as a result of these confessions.

While Burge was forced to resign in 1993 for his role in the torture, no full investigation has been conducted, and cops who were also known torturers are still on the force. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago and others are turning up the heat up on Cook County States Attorney Dick Devine.

Devine was working at the States Attorney's office at the time of the torture, and he worked for the law firm that defended Burge in a federal civil suit. Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the coalition at a press conference, calling the torture and lack of investigation "state-sanctioned terrorism."

Alice Kim of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty pointed out that, for those on death row, "the torture never ends." Activists will be there to pack the courtroom when a judge decides whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.

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Justice for Aldrin Diaz
By John Osmand

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Two cruel cases of injustice have gotten new attention in the local media. On March 23, Aldrin Diaz--who was sentenced to a total of 22 years behind bars for his involvement in the shooting death of an off-duty police officer--was interviewed from prison on a radio talk show.

And a week later, a local television station interviewed Derick Hazard, who is serving a life sentence for a Providence murder, even though he was in Ohio at the time of the shooting. Participating in the call-in show with Diaz was Leisa Young, the mother of the officer who was shot by two white cops, but whose death was blamed on Diaz.

Diaz expressed his sympathies to Young, but insisted that he held up--though never fired--a gun in self-defense. This is the basis on which Diaz was held responsible for the officer's death. Young admitted that Diaz's twin sentences in both state and federal courts "seem extreme to me in the light that you did not fire the gun, while the officers have been relieved of any responsibility for my son's death."

Providence's major TV stations reported on the conversation between Diaz and Young, and talk show host John Depetro is considering regular interviews with prisoners. But prison officials punished Aldrin, taking away his phone privileges indefinitely and locking him in his cell for five days. "This is about free speech," said Aldrin's mother, Paula Diaz. "They just don't like what he said."

Contact the Campaign Against Wrongful Convictions at [email protected] or 401-273-8312.

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University of Wisconsin
By Bill Schmitz

MADISON, Wis.-- About 350 University of Wisconsin-Madison students and workers took over the state capitol rotunda on April 4. Students are angry that the governor's budget proposal calls for a 6 percent tuition hike and cutting funds for diversity programs. Chanting "Students and workers unite," students marched to the Capitol where they joined 300 state workers protesting the governor's proposed 1 percent pay increase.

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