The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 74/No. 1      January 4, 2010

Bay Area meeting demands
release of 3 death row inmates
(front page)
OAKLAND, California—“We are here to demand justice for Kevin Cooper, for Troy Davis, and for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” said Siri Briggs Brown, chair of African American Studies at Merritt College. Brown welcomed more than 300 people to a meeting to build support for struggles to free the three prisoners on death row.

The program, sponsored by Merritt African American Studies, the Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Network, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and the Kevin Cooper Defense Committee, was attended by dozens of Merritt students as well as youth from other campuses in the Bay Area.

Barbara Becnel, organizer of the Tookie Williams Legacy Network, chaired the meeting, held on December 13 to mark the fourth anniversary of the execution of Williams by the state of California.

“Thousands mobilized for justice four years ago and we still need to mobilize today,” Becnel said. Williams, a co-founder of the CRIPS gang, was convicted in 1979 on murder charges. He maintained his innocence. While in jail Williams became known for his appeals to gangs to stop violence and as the author of several children’s books with anti-gang violence themes. He was executed despite a broad appeal for clemency on his behalf.

Among the featured speakers at the meeting was Martina Correia, the sister of Troy Davis, who has spearheaded the campaign to win his freedom. Correia described the worldwide campaign to free her brother.

Davis is on death row in Georgia, convicted in a 1991 frame-up trial of killing an off-duty police officer. Since his trial, seven of nine state witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Several of them have said they were pressured by the cops to finger Davis.

On August 17, in the face of international protests, the Supreme Court ordered a hearing by a federal judge to determine whether new evidence exists that can prove Davis’s innocence. “This is not a new trial,” Correia said. “We have one judge who will decide. We have to continue to mobilize, so that judge knows we are watching!”

Crystal Bybee, of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, urged redoubled efforts to defend Cooper, whose appeal to the Supreme Court was denied on November 30. Cooper was convicted and sentenced to death nearly 25 years ago for the 1983 murders of four people in Chino Hills, near Los Angeles.

In 2004, on the day set for his execution, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Cooper a stay. DNA tests were then carried out that a judge claimed did not exonerate him. In May 2009 the appeals court denied Cooper’s request for a rehearing.

Five justices signed a 103-page dissent to that decision, which cites numerous instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct: false testimony, destruction of evidence, and planting of false evidence.

Executions have been on hold in California since 2006, due to challenges by opponents of the death penalty and others to the lethal injection method used to kill inmates. If this is resolved, the state could set an execution date for Cooper at any time.

Crystal Bybee brought paintings made by Cooper while in jail that she presented on his behalf to Martina Correia and to Angela Davis, another featured speaker at the meeting.  
Support for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Clarence Thomas, past secretary-treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10, spoke on the need to build union opposition to the death penalty and racist frame-ups. He pointed to the shutdown by the ILWU of West Coast ports to demand freedom for Abu-Jamal in 1999 as an example. Abu-Jamal has been on death row in Pennsylvania after being framed up for the 1981 murder of a cop in Philadelphia. Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by Abu-Jamal, letting the murder conviction stand. The appeal was based on the unfair exclusion of many Blacks from the jury.

Prosecutors continue to try to reinstate the death sentence against Abu-Jamal, following an appeals court order in 2008 for a new capital sentencing hearing over improper instructions to the jury.

Supporters of the fight to jail Bay Area transit cop Johannes Mehserle also spoke at the meeting. Mehserle fatally shot Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker, in the back at close range New Year’s Day while Grant was being held face down at an Oakland transit station by other cops.

Mehserle’s trial for first-degree murder has been moved to Los Angeles. A judge set January 8 as the date Mehserle is to appear in court to set the date for the trial.
Related articles:
Cops charged of cover-up in death of immigrant
Police use Facebook and Twitter to spy, entrap
Salute fighting workers behind bars  
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