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Monday, March 27, 2006

Activist Sent to Jail

From the March 23, 2006 Denver Post:

    Activist sent to jail for refusing to remove shirt

    By: Staff Writer Jeremy P. Meyer

    A community activist was jailed Wednesday for 45 days by an Adams County judge for wearing a T-shirt in court with a photograph of executed killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams and the word "redemption."

    Shareef Aleem, 37, was found in contempt March 1 for wearing the shirt during his trial on charges he assaulted a police officer.

    Aleem apparently refused Judge Katherine Delgado's order to remove the shirt, citing his First Amendment rights.

    Williams was a former gang member convicted of homicide in California who was executed in December despite pleas from supporters who said he had reformed.

    "There are limits to the judge's powers concerning free speech," Aleem's attorney, Mark Burton, said. He promised an appeal and said Aleem planned a hunger strike while in jail.

    Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said he doesn't believe Aleem's shirt rises to the level of contempt.

    "It is an abuse of power to order someone to jail for 45 days because of a T-shirt that does not disrespect the integrity of the court," Silverstein said. "He probably has grounds for an appeal."

    Delgado didn't return a phone call Wednesday.

    Aleem was arrested Feb. 3, 2005, during a University of Colorado Board of Regents meeting about professor Ward Churchill. Police say Aleem became combative at the meeting, then ripped off an officer's badge and grabbed an officer by the throat.

    Aleem pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault of a peace officer, which carries a 16-year prison term.

    The trial ended in a hung jury. Prosecutors are set to retry the case May 8.

    On Wednesday, Burton sought a dismissal of the contempt citation. But Delgado sent Aleem to jail, where he is being held without bail.

    According to Burton's motion, Aleem removed a T-shirt on Feb. 28 that prosecutors found offensive. That shirt had the words "U.S. History 101" and included a picture in which a white overseer whipped a black
    slave.

    The next day Aleem refused to remove the shirt depicting Williams after prosecutors objected.

    According to the motion, "He was exercising his free speech and religious rights to wear this shirt, and the shirt did not detract or interfere with the judicial process."

    Prosecutors on Wednesday would not say why they objected to the shirts.

    Miles Madorin, staff attorney for Colorado District Attorney's Council, wouldn't comment on Aleem's case but said judges need contempt power.

    "The courts operate on the fact that people willingly go along with decorum of the court," he said. "Contempt enforcement helps the courts to continue to function."

    However, Burton's motion said jurors were allowed to wear T-shirts portraying musician Bob Marley, "a political figure ... closely associated with black nationalism."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Supreme Court to Rehear DP Case

From the USA Today:

    Supreme Court to Rehear Death Penalty Case

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Friday that it would hear arguments a second time before ruling on the constitutionality of a Kansas death penalty law, apparently so new Justice Samuel Alito can break a tie.

    The case is the second one that deadlocked the court following Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement in late January. The other one involves government whistle-blowers.

    Justices heard arguments on Dec. 7 in the Kansas case, which involves rules for how juries weigh evidence for and against the death penalty.

    The 1994 law says if the evidence for and against imposing a death sentence is equal, Kansas juries must impose death instead of life in prison. The state Supreme Court struck it down, invalidating the death sentences of six convicted killers.

    The Supreme Court did not say when a new argument would be scheduled....


To read more, click here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rodney Reed Hearing Day 1

Coveragre in the local media for Rodney's hearing was pretty decent. Check the links below.

Also, please come out to the march. We're meeting in Austin at 2:30pm in the LBJ parking lot on Red River and Dean Keeton. Read the post below for more information.

KEYE 42 - "Death Row Inmate From Bastrop Could Get New Trial" (w/ video)

Austin American-Statesman - "Secret of Rodney Reed death row appeal revealed: Witness says victim's fiance once explained how to strangle without leaving fingerprints."

News8 Austin - "Judge hears 'new' evidence in Reed case"

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

SUPPORT RODNEY REED

Rodney Reed, whose case we've been working on for several years, is receiving a new hearing this week, and we plan to show our support for him. This is huge; we are in the position to help stop his execution. This new hearing represents Rodney's best chance for a new trial.

JOIN US FOR A MARCH THROUGH BASTROP ON SATURDAY, MARCH 25TH.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, in coordination with Rodney Reed's family, has planned a march through downtown Bastrop calling for justice for Rodney Reed. WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Here's the plan:

Saturday, March 25th (THIS SATURDAY), a caravan will be leaving from the LBJ Parking lot at the University of Texas for Bastrop. This parking lot is located at the corner of Red River and Dean Keeton streets, just west of I-35. We will meet there at 2:30pm. If you need a ride or can provide one, be there at that time.

We will rendezvous at 4:00pm in Bastrop at the Kerr Community Center. The community center is located at 1308 Walnut, near the corner of Walnut and MLK, just a couple of blocks away from downtown.

To get to the community center head east on 71 toward Bastrop. Then take the TX Loop 150 exit and turn left. This will put you on Main Street in downtown Bastrop. To get to the community center, you take Main Street down across the railroad tracks and take a right on MLK. After that, take a right on Walnut.

Here is a map.

At 4:00pm, we will start our march, which will stop at the courthouse for a couple of speeches. Then we will head back to the community center for food, drinks, and some entertainment. At about 7pm, we will watch Ryan Polomski and Frank Bustoz's award winning documentary about Rodney called "State vs. Reed."

COME SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR RODNEY!

Also, if you can, we encourage everyone to attend Rodney's hearing on Thursday and Friday, March 23rd and 24th. If you need a ride or can give one, simply email us at cedpaustin@gmail.com. We will leave Austin at about 8am on both days. The sessions start at 9am both mornings.

Use the same directions above to find the Bastrop County Courthouse. You can't miss it. The address is 804 Pecan Street, which is a block behind Main Street. Rodney's lawyers have asked us to be on our best behavior, so if you do plan to attend, remember that Saturday will be the big day for demonstrations.

If you can make it out to UT tomorrow evening between 6 and 10pm, the UT chapter of Amnesty International will be screening "State vs. Reed." If you missed it at SXSW, or just want to see it again, come on out. We will be there also and can answer any questions about Rodney or the actions we're planning. The festival will be held on the South Mall lawn, directly south of the Tower. Find out more info here.

As always, continue to check back here for updates.

Support for the DP declining in California

From the San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2006:

    Support for Death Penalty Declines in California

    Californians' support for the death penalty is declining according to
    results of a new survey conducted in February 2006 by the Field Poll.

    The statewide poll revealed that only 63% of respondents favor
    keeping the death penalty for serious crimes, a figure that is lower
    than the 72% support for the death penalty measured in 2002 and
    significantly less than the 83% who voiced support for capital
    punishment in both 1985 and 1986.

    The survey also found a growing segment of the population questioning
    the fairness of the death penalty. The poll asked Californians if
    they believed the death penalty has been "generally fair and free
    from error."

    Among respondents, 48% said yes, 39% said no, and 13% had no opinion.
    When the same question was posed during a poll two years ago, 58%
    said the system was fair, and 31% disagreed.

    "The sophistication of Californians on this issue is growing. We're
    getting close to that point when the death penalty can no longer
    drive political decisions as it has in the past," noted Lance
    Lindsey, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus.

    In the three months leading up to the Field Poll, California carried
    out two executions, including the highly publicized execution of
    Stanley Williams and the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, who at 76
    years old was blind and so feeble that he had to be wheeled to the
    death chamber.

    On February 21, a federal judge blocked the execution of Michael
    Morales due to concerns about the constitutionality of the lethal
    injection process. A hearing in May is scheduled to determine whether
    California's procedures for lethal injection pose a significant risk
    of leaving the prisoner conscious and in pain during executions.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

CEDP Activities: March 20-25

National support for the death penalty is steadily dropping, as the
movement to stop execution continues and hight profile cases make the
national news. Despite the drop in support, Texas sickening pace of
execution continues with 3 more executions scheduled in March. Now is
the time to strike out against the Texas death penalty. Join the
Campaign to End the Death Penalty in planning activism on this
important issue!

Below is a list of all our activities for the week:

Monday, March 20th

Join us in CMA 3.130 at 7pm for our regular CEDP weekly meeting. CMA
is on the UT campus and is the building on the corner of Guadalupe and
Dean Keeton. Most of the meeting time will be devoted to discussion
about Rodney Reed and his new hearing. Please come; we need everyone
to come out and show support for him.

Wednesday, March 22nd

Throughout this week, the UT chapter of Amnesty International will be
hosting the Human Rights Film and Arts Festival. Everyday will be
devoted to a specific theme. Wednesday, the 22nd, is Domestic Issues
Night. The CEDP is co-sponsoring this event and there will be some
really good films about the death penalty. One of these is Ryan
Polomski and Frank Bustoz's film "State v. Reed," which tackles all of
the major problems in Rodndey Reed's case. If you missed this film at
SXSW, then come on out. Also, Nathan Christ has recently finished a
short documentary about the abolition movement in Texas. The CEDP has
been in close contact with both these directors and we are proud to
endorse their films. There will be other great films as well.

The schedule and location for the Festival can be found here.

Thursday and Friday, March 23rd and 24th

Rodney Reed's new hearing will take place in Bastrop on these days.
We are trying to get as many people out there to the courthouse to
show support for Rodney. Come to our meeting Monday to find out more
information. We will be trying to co-ordinate carpools as well for
those who need rides.

Our website will be updated with more information as we know it, so
check back here before Thursday.

Saturday, March 25th

We will join the Reed family in Bastrop for a March to Stop
Executions. Come out and join us. We will be trying to co-ordinate
rides for this event as well if you need one. The avtivities will
start at 4pm at the Kerr Community Center, which is located at 1308
Walnut, on the corner of Walnut and MLK in Bastrop.

Come and join the fight to abolish capital punishment!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Death Penalty Watch

Here are a couple of stories worth reading:

1. The State Senate of Wisconsin has passed a resolution in an effort to re-establish the death penalty in that state. Read the story here.

This is big. Wisconsin abolished capital punishment in 1853, shortly after Michigan. Although Michigan is recorded as the first state to abolish the death penalty, it was kept in use for treason. Wisconsin abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

2. There is also a new push to re-instate the death penalty in New York. Read more here.

Thanks to Julien in the CEDP National Office for the tip.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Trip to a prison

CEDP's own Bryan McCann, a graduate student in Communication, is taking a class called "Prisons and Human Rights." He visited two prison units in Huntsville last week and wrote other CEDP members an amazing e-mail about his experience. We'd like to share it with you.
Hi all,

Since there won't be a formal meeting this week, I figured this was the best way to relate the experience I had on Friday. As some of you know, I'm currently taking a Public Affairs class called "Prisons and Human Rights." Yesterday, we spent the day in Huntsville visiting two prison units and meeting with Doug Dretke, Director of TDCJ's Correctional Institutions Division. I left the experience sad, humbled, outraged, and, mostly, all the more resolved that the work we do as abolitionists is absolutely indispensable.

We visited two facilities during the day. The first was the Wynne Unit, which houses a license plate, sticker, and mattress factory, as well as several trade programs including welding, truck driving, and computer repair. Once the initial shock of being inside a prison for the first time faded, I'll admit that this was as close to ideal as the TDCJ gets. While the prison system as it presently exists certainly needs to be dismantled, we do, in the meantime, need mechanisms for rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the present political and budgetary environment isn't likely to increase such programs. In fact, we're more likely to see less of them soon. While Texas is quick to spend money building prisons, it's all the more willing to cut corners in their maintenance and rehabilitative potential. I spoke with two prisoners at the Wynne Unit, as well. These two gentlemen were extremely friendly and talkative. However, knowing they were hand-picked to talk to us, and given that the warden was pacing back in forth in the room, it's unsurprising that both of them took a decidedly individualistic approach to answering our questions. They saw themselves as paying the logical price for their crimes and that while in prison one need only follow the rules and "be a man" as opposed to a "knucklehead." Whether they were afraid to truly speak their minds or genuinely believed what they were saying, I don't know. Either way, it became abundantly clear that the prison system is intent on reifying the logic of a hyper-individualistic capitalist culture, as there seemed to be no room for context in either of these black men's stories. My classmates who spoke with other inmates left with the same impression. Overall, while we walked out of Wynne feeling slightly more enlightened, we knew that we were receiving a very orchestrated and staff-intensive taste of the prison environment, forcing us to read between the lines and situate our experience within the framework of what we already knew from research on the current state of prisons.

The second facility we visited was the Estelle Unit. At Estelle, we had the heartbreaking experience of seeing Texas' dialysis unit and geriatric ward. Here we saw men who clearly no longer posed a meaningful threat to society (with the exception of one who had displayed some violent hostility toward other inmates) as they were all hunched over, slow moving, and often relying on walkers. I would say that these men should be released but, then again, I suspect they're getting better healthcare inside the prison walls than they would on the outside (though not likely by much).

In addition to seeing the wings that distinguished Wynne and Estell from other units in Huntsville, we also saw both prisons' segregation units. This is where men spend twenty-three hours of the day in solitary cages, allowed an hour of outdoor exercise in larger cages with basketball hoops and a bar for pull-ups. The traumatic potential of segregation is well documented and it's easy to see why. These units smelled awful and were filled with yelling prisoners. Everywhere we went, in fact, had its own distinctive and unpleasant smell, one of many reminders that the men and women incarcerated by the TDCJ are given on a daily basis of where they are and how subservient they must be to survive. There was nothing empowering or encouraging about this environment. Instead, it appeared specifically designed to ensure that they leave prison more broken and desperate than they entered. To be sure, there is a program designed at aiding these men in re-entry into the broader prison community or, if they are in segregation on the date of their release, society as a whole. However, there remains the lingering risk that such programs can be placed on the budgetary chopping block at any given moment, not to mention that such programs do nothing to change the unforgiving and unequal world that these men are walking into upon release.

Without a doubt, the most infuriating and, for us as abolitionists, most instructive point of the trip took place between the Wynne and Estell Units. Our lunch break took place at the administrative offices in Huntsville where we sat and ate with Doug Dretke, the Director of the Correctional Institutions Division. The entire session was a transparent PR push on his part, as he shamelessly and arrogantly sang the praises of criminal justice in Texas. He pointed to our state's low recidivism rates, but then admitted that prisoners are only tracked for such purposes for three years. Furthermore, he told us that Texas incarcerates approximately 151,000 individuals at any given point in time and releases 70,000 per year. In other words, the state continues to replace those it lets out, as the broader TDCJ seems utterly incompetent in reducing criminality.

Realizing that I had a rare opportunity in having the man responsible for managing Texas' prisons at my disposal, I couldn't resist asking him about the DRIVE Movement on Death Row in the Polunsky Unit. After I asked him to comment on the nonviolent protest, Dretke's sparkling facade broke for the first time during lunch as he paused for a second and then smugly looked at me, saying "I don't think their claims have any validity." He went on to rationalize the inhumane conditions on Death Row on the basis of these inmates being "dangerous individuals." Furthermore, both he and his colleague who was present insisted that their grievances had more to do with capital punishment in general than with any of the treatment they were receiving on Death Row (the issue of gassing, believe it or not, didn't come up). In general, they avoided all responsibility, relegating it instead to politics, arguing that DRIVE's grievances were better dealt with legislatively or by the other methods available to them. When I inquired as to exactly what those methods were, the colleague said, simply and as if it were completely obvious, "Society." The moral of the story, I guess, was that direct action aimed at challenging the most immediate representatives of the system that is both abusing and planning to kill you isn't appropriate and that going through the conventional political channels is the most appropriate route. Most importantly, however, was that these men, who exercise the most direct material control over the happenings within the Texas prison system, are not to be bothered with such disobedience (I guess the men of DRIVE would qualify as knuckleheads?) because they are powerless to do anything about it. To such a response, I find the words of our upright President instructive. As we marched into Iraq, Bush warned the soldiers of the Hussein regime that it was not enough to claim that they were "just following orders." Similar logic was used at Nuremburg and has become a guiding principle of human rights across the world.

The lesson of these meeting was abundantly clear to me. These people cannot be talked to or reasoned with. Across the political power structure of Texas, we are exposed to elites passing the buck on capital punishment. Dretke and his colleagues are merely doing their jobs by running prisons and carrying-out the will of elected officials. Elected officials such as Rick Perry consistently fall back on "the will of the people." The political climate of this state, as well as the rest of them, is laden with escape routes for unofficial participants in the gross injustices that are capital punishment and mass incarceration. If no level of government is willing to own up to these injustices, it becomes our duty to confront all of them, seizing every opportunity to oppose a system of injustice that produces and reproduces inequality. To an extent, as Katie commented when I talked to her earlier today, the cop-out answer of "society" constitutes marching orders for activists. If that is the desired mechanism for change, then we as abolitionists must exploit it for all its worth. I've left this experience with a renewed vigor in my determination to confront and ultimately dismantle the machinery of death in Texas and throughout the U.S., as well as the rest of the world. When we travel to Huntsville this spring break, we need to do it big and give them hell. I'm suggesting that we not only confront them at the death house, but also at their offices. I'm also suggesting that we not only do it once, but that we refuse to give them a moment's rest, using all the available tools of "society" to confront a group of elites who are utterly disinterested in our vision of a just society until they can no longer fall back on the letter of the law and are convinced that it can no longer be in their interest to ignore us.

On a positive not, I was not the only one in my class who had these sentiments. Consistently, when we had time apart from these officials, several of my classmates were mindful of how fabricated the experience was. In particular, they were unconvinced by the answer I received regarding Polunsky. We all agreed that this was a system invested in its reproduced, largely populated by individuals who had been steeped in the prevailing logic of crime and punishment for most of their lives (the warden at Wynne, for instance, began working as a prison guard at the age of 19). To quote on of my favorite bands, Propagandhi, "This system cannot be reformed!" Instead, it requires an intervention - a determined and broad movement stubbornly committed to the goals of abolition and genuine justice.

Yours,

Bryan

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Party on Friday!

The CEDP Austin is hosting a fundraising party this Friday, March 3rd, starting at 9pm. The party will be at the 21st Street Co-op, which is located at 707 21st Street, only a few blocks west of UT.

BRING YOUR FRIENDS AND COME OUT TO SUPPORT THE CAMPAIGN!

We still have some other events this week. Join us at the capitol tonight at 5:30pm to help protest the death penalty. And tomorrow from 11am-2pm, you can find us on the Speedway Mall, in front of Gregory Gym, where we will have a display about the cruel conditions on death row.