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Activism put pressure on legislators to defeat Pataki's bill
Death penalty-free in N.Y.

By Delphine Selles | April 22, 2005 | Page 2

OPPONENTS OF the death penalty won an important victory in New York state on April 12. A State Assembly committee voted against legislation to reinstate the death penalty after the state's old death penalty law was declared unconstitutional in June 2004.

The committee vote blocked the legislation--championed by Gov. George Pataki--from coming to a vote before the full assembly. That means New York will remain death penalty-free for at least this year.

As the vote took place, a contingent of activists delivered more than 1,100 anti-death penalty petitions to the office of Sheldon Silver, the assembly speaker--and 75 people attended the committee session to show their opposition to the new bill.

Pataki pushed through a law to start up the death penalty in New York after he was elected governor in 1994. Last June, however, the New York Supreme Court declared the death penalty law unconstitutional, emptying death row of its five prisoners. Pataki and other pro-death penalty politicians thought the law could be fixed quickly, but activists mobilized immediately to keep New York a death penalty-free state.

Silver, a staunch supporter of capital punishment, was pressured to organize public hearings on the new legislation. More than 150 people testified against the death penalty in the course of five days of hearings in New York City and Albany.

Legislators, the media and the public heard hours of testimony from exonerated death row prisoners--including Madison Hobley of Illinois and Shujaa Graham of California--experts, lawyers and activists, who exposed the death penalty system on the issues of race, innocence, mental illness, poverty and its sheer barbarism. Because of the hearings--and other actions by opponents of the death penalty--capital punishment supporters found it impossible to sweep these issues under the rug.

The April 12 vote shows that our opposition was heard--and that the politicians can't ignore the 72 percent of New Yorkers who are against the death penalty. But Pataki and the Republicans may well try to bring back the death penalty in the future.

As Shannette Budhai, of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) in Harlem, put it, "The CEDP and other organizations worked relentlessly and struggled to reach the victory we've attained today. Although New York appears to be safe for now, it could be a tentative hold--Pataki is pulling hard in the other direction...Then there's the bigger picture--the other 37 states that have to 'rage against the machine,' and then on an international scale, the other nations that have a battle to fight against this inhumane system."

This victory in New York brings us a step forward in our struggle to put an end to the machinery of death across the U.S.

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