Saturday, 4 August 2007

An 'untoppable movement' to end death penalty

From right: lisa Thomas (with DNA sign),Faya Toure, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow,Edward Vaughan, Esther Brown on stepsof Alabama State Capitol.
WW photo: Minnie Bruce Pratt

By Minnie Bruce Pratt Montgomery, Ala.
Published Aug 3, 2007 8:10 PM

Lisa Thomas walked up the steps of the Alabama Capitol Building here on July 25, completing her journey on foot along the historic 1965 civil rights march route from Selma. Thomas, an anti-hunger activist who runs a food bank in her hometown of Brewton, Ala., was protesting the imminent execution of Darryl Grayson.

Grayson had been on death row in Alabama for 27 years, longer than all but five of the 195 men there. Convicted of murder, with allegations of rape, he had been asking for DNA testing since 2002, saying that in fact because of his substance abuse he had no memory of committing the crime. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that represents death row inmates, had also taken on Grayson’s case.

Thomas was met by a stalwart and diverse crowd of 60 people, including Esther Brown, executive director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in Alabama.
Brown, who as a young person in Hitler-ruled Berlin was an anti-Nazi activist, said that Grayson “had gotten Alabama justice for the poor and the Black” from an all-white jury.
She emphasized that Grayson, an African-American man, was intimidated into confessing by white police interrogators. (Opelika-Auburn News)

Speakers appealed to Gov. Bob Riley to stay the execution and authorize administration of a DNA test. They also condemned the extreme inequality in the Alabama judicial and prison system, which the Rev. Elizabeth O’Neill, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, described as a “pipeline between poverty and prison.”

Alabama is the only state that does not provide an attorney for death row prisoners following their conviction. It ranks behind every other state in providing legal aid for low-income or indigent people in non-criminal matters. Prisoners have sued the state for a wide range of horrendous conditions and actions including physical torture, overcrowding, lack of treatment for mental illness, and segregation and medical mistreatment of HIV-positive inmates. There is also a long history in the state, most notably in the case of the Scottsboro Brothers in the 1930s, of using accusations of rape to railroad Black men into the death penalty.

Those gathered at the rally to demand justice for Darryl Grayson included members of the Grayson family; long-time civil rights activist Alabama State Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma; Faya Toure, founder of 21st Century Youth; Alabama NAACP President Edward Vaughan; and former prisoner Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, chair of the Alabama NAACP Prison Project.
Many attending were part of Alabama Arise, a coalition of over 150 religious, community and civic groups that fight racism, poverty and the death penalty. Letters of solidarity were read from the United Methodist Church and from Hurricane Katrina and Rita survivors now living in Mobile.

On July 26, Grayson was executed by lethal injection. Speakers at the protest named this killing a “state murder,” and spoke of how during his time in prison Grayson had become a poet, a journalist and a mentor to others on death row. Inmates at maximum security Holman Prison in Atmore, where death row is located, showed their respect and solidarity with Grayson on July 25 and 26 by wearing dress whites and not participating in sports during exercise yard. (

During the rally Diane McNaron, a singer, cultural worker and member of the Birmingham Peace Project, had affirmed the significance of Grayson’s life. She spoke of how he represented “other African-American brothers and sisters who had come through slavery, lynching and segregation” to launch the 1960s civil rights movement. She said Grayson had taken his place in that history as part of an “unstoppable movement that will end the death penalty.”

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