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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Execution of Tookie Williams Underscores Need to Abolish Death Penalty
Ajamu Baraka is the Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network, a coalition of over 170 human rights organizations in the US, 659 Auburn Ave. NE #205, Atlanta, GA 30312, 404.695.0475, www.ushrnetwork.org
The decision by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to deny clemency for Stanley "Tookie" Williams, thus ordering his execution, represents but the latest example of moral hypocrisy in the administration of the death penalty in the United States. Williams, a former gang leader, had renounced his former life and devoted himself to anti-gang efforts while on death row. At a time when gang violence and murder continue to plague inner city neighborhoods across the country, the choice to let Tookie Williams die sends an unmistakable message about the state's skewed priorities. To execute one of the nation's most effective spokespeople against gang violence is to effectively condemn hundreds more poor, black youth to the same fate.
The decision mirrors numerous others in states where compelling cases for clemency were rejected without explanation. In North Carolina, for example, Elias Syriani was executed on November 18 for murdering his wife despite pleas from the victims - his four children - who told Governor Mike Easley that the execution would victimize them a second time. Rick Halperin, chairman of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA, commented, "Clemency, redemption, mercy, and rehabilitation are supposed to be integral parts of the US criminal justice system. But clemency has become mere window dressing in death penalty cases."
The next pending execution in California will again challenge Schwarzenegger's moral fiber: Clarence Ray Allen, scheduled to die on January 17, is 75 years old, legally blind, and uses a wheelchair.
The absence of a meaningful clemency process compounds the systemic flaws with the administration of capital punishment that have emerged as consistent patterns over the past decade, including wrongful convictions, racial bias, incompetent counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and condemnation of the mentally ill.
"The treatment for people with mental illness should not be a needle on a gurney," commented Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. "Yet we continue to put people to death who aren't responsible for their actions."
Rather than address these problems, however Congress is now debating new restrictions on the right of habeas corpus, which would further limit appeals for those on death row and inevitably yield new waves of injustice. "The move to gut habeas corpus shows that our elected representatives are truly pandering to the lowest common denominator of violence, revenge and fear," Halperin says.
The US Human Rights Network condemns Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision to let Tookie Williams die, and calls for an immediate moratorium on further executions in the United States. The fatally flawed administration of the death penalty in this country amounts to a continual human rights violation. Most of the world's nations have recognized that creating a perfect death-penalty system is impossible and have abolished capital punishment. It is time for us to admit the truth and follow suit.
Tookie Williams was murdered by the state of California at 12:35 am on December 13, 2005. "It demeans us when we let killers turn us into killers," Cushing said. "No one is served by a system that is so rigid that it does not allow for mercy and grace."
The National Coaliton to Abolish the Death Penalty offers a monthly National Execution Alert, telling the stories of death row inmates and what we can do to try to prevent their executions. Email version is free, subscriptions are $15 per year. NCADP, 1717 K St. NW, #510, Washington, DC 20036, 202/331-4090, email@example.com, www.ncadp.org