As Austin onlookers cheer...
The 5th Annual March to Stop Executions drew cheers from onlookers and shoppers here as hundreds of activists and families of death row prisoners demanded an end to executions.
Demonstrators gathered on Oct. 30 at Republic Park, marched through downtown Austin toward the State Capitol, passed the governor's mansion and rallied again at the Texas Supreme Court--the state's highest criminal court.
The overwhelming majority of the dozens of family members of death row prisoners attending the protest--some of whom also spoke at the rallies--were African Amer ican and Latin@. This reflects the disproportionate numbers of people from oppressed communities who are on death row, as well as the spirit of struggle and fightback present in the communities of color.
Monique Matthews came from Louisiana to speak on behalf of her brother, Ryan Matthews, who was released from Louisiana's death row earlier this year. He was the 115th innocent person released in the U.S. since 1972.
The website of Moratorium Now! stresses a key reason why so many peo ple who are innocent end up on death row: more than 90 percent of people on death row in this country were too impoverished to hire a lawyer to defend them. (www. quixote.org)
Njeri Shakur from the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement spoke to the rally, encouraging the crowd to believe the people who say their family members on death row are innocent. Shakur pointed to the case of Tony Ford, convicted in El Paso by police testimony.
Because of an ongoing scandal in the crime lab of the Houston Police Department, many cases of innocent people who were sent to prison have now come to public attention. With this knowledge of crime lab incompetence and lies by police who have collaborated with district attorneys, it is likely that many more cases of innocence will come out.
Lee Bolton came from California to speak about her son, Nanon Wil liams, who was convicted and sent to death row based on reported results from the widely discredited crime lab. She drew wild cheers when she boldly proclaimed, "Nanon is innocent and we will free him from death row!"
Bruce Williams is fighting for Frances Newton, who has an execution date of Dec. 1. He told protesters he thinks he is closing in on finding out who the real killer was in this case. The cops had no evidence against Newton but tried her anyway, he said. He added that the Houston crime lab also botched the evidence in their ballistics investigation of Newton's case.
Other family members also stressed the innocence of their loved ones. Lawrence Foster defended his grandson, Kenneth Foster. Delia Perez-Meyer thanked everyone for their support of her brother, Louis Perez. Rodney Reed's mother, Sandra Reed, said her family is going to fight until he is exonerated.
Letty Gonzales shared her pain as she spoke of her brother, Andrew Flores, executed in September by the state of Texas.
Traveled far and wide to attend
A number of activists and friends of death row prisoners traveled from Europe to the protest. They included friends of Daryl Wheatfall, Hank Skinner and Robert Acuna.
A highlight of the rally was entertainment by the Welfare Poets from New York City--Puerto Rican musicians and spoken-word artists who presented a message of liberation to the crowd. This group raised the spirit and courage of all present.
This group was invited to the demonstration by four of the men living on death row in Texas: Randy Arroyo, Tony Ford, Derrick Frazier and Kenneth Foster.
The Welfare Poets brought information and inspiration to those whose friends and family members are facing the oppression of the racist and anti-poor criminal justice system and those fighting for abolition of the death penalty.
The poets, as well as the emcees and many in the crowd, expressed profound gratitude to the four men on death row who took it upon themselves to be in contact with the band and invite them to participate in the march and rally.
"We love being with the people here in Texas who are fighting for freedom," said Hector Rivera, one of the band's founders.
By Gloria Rubac Austin, Texas
Reprinted from the Nov. 11, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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