The abolitionist struggle ahead of us

June 7, 2011

The abolition of the death penalty in Illinois is a victory--but the same faults with capital punishment exist in every state that still retains the practice.

I WAS ecstatic hearing the news that Gov. Pat Quinn decided to sign legislation ending the death penalty in Illinois. In my mind, I immediately began congratulating and thanking all the people--lawyers, activists, politicians, exonerated and former death row prisoners, and our families, friends and supporters--who spent countless hours over the years fighting against the death penalty.

I was even able to gloat a little myself. Because as everyone who knows me knows, I do everything within my power to tear down this unjust, racist and corrupt system, brick by brick.

But my happiness was bittersweet, because I couldn't stop thinking about all the other men and women suffering on death rows around the country. Therefore, I want to talk briefly to all of you who are still trapped in these human slaughterhouses.

Please know that we, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) in Illinois, understand and feel what you all are going through. And know that I understand what most of you are thinking and saying: "The death penalty in our state is no different than the broken system they had in Illinois."

Columnist: Stanley Howard

Stanley Howard is a former Illinois death row prisoner who was exonerated and pardoned by former Gov. George Ryan in 2003. He was a victim of police torture carried out by Chicago police, and from behind bars, he formed the Death Row 10 with other victims of torture. Though still imprisoned unjustly, Stanley works with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and writes regularly for its newsletter, the New Abolitionist. You can write to him at: Stanley Howard N-71620, 2600 N. Brinton Ave., Dixon, IL 61021.

That is exactly right. Our entire judicial system, from state to state, is governed by the U.S. Constitution and practically the same statutes and rules.

The death penalty in Illinois was plagued with wrongful convictions, missed identifications, false and coerced confessions, shoddy and tainted evidence, overzealous prosecutors and ineffective assistance of counsel. And not only was it being applied in a racist, arbitrary and capricious manner, but it also had a high chance of executing an innocent person.

These problems also exist in Pennsylvania, where Mumia Abu-Jamal is on death row; in Texas, where Rodney Reed is at; in Georgia, where Troy Davis is at; in California, where Kevin Cooper is at; in Oklahoma, where Tremane Wood is at; in Ohio, where Ronald Post is at; and in the other 29 states that have the death penalty.

If you have not done so, please start organizing yourselves and come up with strategies to combat this primitive practice. Organize! Organize! Organize! Start joining organizations like the CEPD, and encourage your loved ones to join and get involved also. We must continue educating and exposing the public to the truths about the death penalty.

Keeping it real: I'm happy we ended the death penalty in Illinois, but I'm sad it's still being used in 35 other states (plus by the U.S. military and the federal government). Please organize. We need to confront the powers that be into supporting legislation ending the death penalty in your state.

First published in the New Abolitionist.

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