Marching & Music – AI on My Vacation

Apparently I’m a little unclear on the concept of a vacation, as I managed to volunteer for Amnesty International 3 days of my vacation week (and one Sunday meeting). Especially given that I had to use or lose some of my vacation time to  begin with. . .

I did have fun, though, and had a couple of days to myself to explore bookstores and museums (more on that later).

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Sophia & Sarvenaz on MLK Day March

Last Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and as usual I went to Garfield High to table for Amnesty during the workshops, attend the rally in the gym and march downtown to the Federal Building.  All making for a very long day! Sophia and Sarvenaz joined me this year, and we collected a lot of signatures for petitions and postcards for President Obama to close Guantanamo and seek accountability for the torture that happened there. Followed by an inspiring rally in the gym (with young martial arts students showing their skills in between speakers and singers); then we marched (and it was actually a sunny day this year)! Another rally at the Federal Building and a long wait for free buses back to Garfield (where we could have stayed for free food, including Ezell’s Chicken, although I wouldn’t be able to eat the fried part anymore, so just as well to leave it for someone who can).

Tuesday night I tabled a State Radio concert at The Showbox (at the Market). I know, tough work tabling all these shows! Though, while it’s fun, it is work and this past week I just did not have it together, tracking down supplies and, for the State Radio show, a color cartridge for my printer for our upcoming showing of Taxi to the Dark Side at Shoreline Community College.

Jordan, a member of a local high school group joined me to table State Radio. It was her first time tabling a concert and she was great! Very passionate and knowledgeable about the issues. Also very polite.  Our table was out in the lobby area, and she kept asking me if I wanted to go in to hear what would turn out to be her favorite songs, then asked if it was okay for her to go.

I was also impressed by the band, who came out to check out our table and signed our petitions, and gave a shout out for the Amnesty International table (and the other organizations tabling), asking their fans to sign our petitions, including the one for their friend Troy Davis.

Troy

Troy is on death row in Georgia, even though most of the witnesses in his case have recanted. The Supreme Court mandated a new evidentiary hearing for him in August. We had his petition and fact sheets out at MLK Day and both concerts.

Opening for State Radio were 1776 from Portland, and the Aggrolites from LA. Oh, yes, State Radio is from Boston, and bore the bad news (oops, taking my non-partisan AI hat off from a moment) that the Republican had won the Massachusett’s Senate seat that was Ted Kennedy’s (messing up health care for all of us, because somehow 41 votes out of 100 = minority rule these days).

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I actually took a couple days break next. Wednesday I picked up my paycheck, and stopped at Elliott Bay Books with my camera after wandering around the Pioneer Square area first. Sad news there as well, as Elliott Bay Books are losing their lease to that beautiful, old building and moving to Capitol Hill. I had coffee and a delicious molasses cookie in their cafe downstairs, and bought a copy of The Duel: Pakistan on The Flight of American Power by Tariq Ali (the February selection for their Global Issues & Ethics Book Club).

Thursday I went to Tacoma for their free museum day. More on that in my next entry!

First, some more music!

Friday, I tabled the Steve Earle concert at the Moore.  I was refreshed from my museum tour the previous day, but now scrambling to buy black ink to finish my next batch of flyers before the show. I originally was going to table with Percy from my AI group, but it turned out he was so excited when he heard Steve Earle was coming to town that he forgot about his own charity gig he was playing that night.

I had our usual spot in their lobby, which is right in the middle of things for people waiting for the doors to open, or to finish their drinks before going in, as they’re not allowed. So, even though it was still light, I did get a bit more traffic than usual signing our petitions and checking our our literature.

One thing I did notice, I think thanks to all Steve has spoken out over the years on the death penalty (and sung about, one young man mentioned Billy Austin being his favorite song), not only did a lot of people sign our petition for Troy Davis and take the information sheet; but when I’d emphasize the questions about Troy’s guilt, they’d come back at me that the death penalty is wrong in all instances. A response that’s very unusual, and not one I got tabling Steve’s concerts even a few year’s back. They’d often add they thought the person should rot in jail; but you can tell they’ve thought it over and come to the conclusion it’s not right.

The one draw back in tabling The Moore, and The Paramount as well, is that there is no guarantee you’ll hear the show, whereas the club shows, like The Showbox are so small, and arena shows so loud, that even if you don’t see it, you’ll hear it; these are theaters with doors. So, especially given that it was noisy with a lot of people still milling about (which meant I didn’t want to leave the table), I’ll have to wait until some other time to hear what Hayes Carll, Steve’s opener, sounds like live.

Fortunately, it was okay for me to slip back on the side of the balcony and listen to most of Steve’s concert after the crowd finally disappeared inside (which took a few songs even then, as people had to finish their drinks they couldn’t take inside).

As Steve was doing a lot of songs from his current Townes tribute album, he told a lot of tales of him and Townes Van Zandt, including how Townes heckled him when he was starting out.

Steve also talked about the owner of the deli he lives near in New York, a Korean immigrant and long time US citizen, who, Steve notes, speaks Korean (which really impresses Steve) and English as well as Steve, and has grown sons who speak English better than both of them.  Now the deli owner is learning Spanish, which really embarrasses Steve, who never learned it, despite growing up in Texas, or as he put it “occupied Mexico.”

It always amazes me in the anti-immigrant debate how people forget their own ancestors and how they came here, too as immigrants. Immigrants who came because they were hungry or to escape persecution. Immigrants who may not have known much English to begin with. Immigrants facing discrimination from those who in that time were anti-immigrant.

I slipped back downstairs when Steve left the stage after his main set, remembering my job was to be out at the Amnesty table. I was amazed how many people were actually already leaving (and I’ve seen that even at Springsteen and Pearl Jam concerts). Do some people really not understand the concept of encores? Do they really need to beat traffic so bad they missed Copperhead Road? Yeah, I could hear that one through the doors!

Great show, and a great week, even if a bit busy!

Still to come, a tour of Tacoma’s museums on their Third Thursday see it free day*. . .

Yes, there’s an asterisk. . . 

*Check for times on the free part. . .

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Troy Davis – Standing for Justice in the Rain

We had an inspiring and very wet rally in support of Troy Davis on Tuesday night, in spite of being off to a late start and having to do without a sound system.

We heard from Jeff Ellis for the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who spoke about the injustice in Troy’s and other cases, and why the death penalty is wrong in all cases. 

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James Bible of the NAACP spoke next about the importance of standing for justice, and bringing all our friends to stand with us.  He also introduced and highlighted the case of recently released Gerald Hankerson, who spoke of nearly giving up hopes for justice in his case. James Bible was brought back up later in the vigil to read a statement from Troy Davis in the now pouring rain (and spoke as well about a young man, 13 at the time of his crime facing the Life Without Parole).

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Ours was one of many on what was a Global Day of Action for Troy around the world. 

I’ve posted more details on previous posts.  In bullet points from the AI Fact Sheet:

  • There is no physical evidence against Troy Davis
  • The weapon used in the crime was never found.
  • The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony.
  • Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony.
  • Many of these witnesses have stated they were pressured or coerced by police.
  • One of the two witnesses who has not recanted or contradicted testimony is Sylvester Coles the principal alternative suspect.
  • Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
  • Troy Davis has never had a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony against him.

Take action online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

Read the report “Where is the justice for me? The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia at:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGAMR510232007

Tues. Vigils for Troy Davis – Westlake & Around the World

Seattle will be holding a vigil for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 19, 6–8 pm at Westlake Plaza as part of a Global Day of Action by Amnesty International members and friends throughout the US and around the world. Speakers at Seattle’s vigil include Jeff Ellis from the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and James Bible of the NAACP.

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It’s shocking, when in this country, evidence of innocence can not be heard in a capitol punishment case.  Yet, as Amnesty International noted:

Restrictions on Federal appeals have prevented Troy Anthony Davis from having a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony used against him, despite the fact that most of the witnesses have since recanted, many alleging they were pressured or coerced by police. Troy Davis remains on Georgia death row, and may be scheduled for execution in the near future.

Troy is currently just past his 30 day stay following an April 16 denial of Troy’s case by the 11th District Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that he will file a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Amnesty International includes a link to the 11th District ruling online.

One thing that struck me about the ruling was, as commented on by the Atlanta Progressive News, the ruling quoted Democratic Senators’ political posturing as reasoning for why new evidence of innocence should not be considered, including then Senator (now VP) Biden, Senator Feinstein and Senator Kennedy, claiming they don’t want to go against the wishes of Congress:

“The vast majority of us… want to and have been trying for years to change the old system to limit the time in which a petition can be filed and to limit the number of petitions that can be filed. So essentially you get one bite out of the apple,” then-US Sen. Biden (D-DE) said, according to the 1995 Congressional Record.

“The proposal to limit inmates to one bite at the apple is sound in principle,” US Sen. Kennedy had said.

So, because we have Democrats jumping on the “tough on crime” band wagon, passing laws refusing to let proof of innocence be heard, that’s reason enough for the courts to abandon justice as well.

Indeed, it was during a Democratic administration that this damaging legislation was passed and signed into law by then President Clinton.

Enacted in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act , among other things, placed limits on the grounds upon which someone on death row could request a new federal hearing.

The AEDPA “tightened these limits by requiring successive petitioners to show both cause — or diligence — as well as a fundamental miscarriage of justice — or actual innocence,” the majority judges noted.

As dissenting Judge Rosemary Barkett points out:

This case highlights the difficulties in navigating AEDPA’s thicket of procedural brambles,” Barkett wrote. “While we must deal with the thorny constitutional and statutory questions before us, we also cannot lose sight of the underlying issue in this case.” 
“Simply put, the issue is whether Troy Anthony Davis may be lawfully executed when no court has ever conducted a hearing to assess the reliability of the score of affidavits that, if reliable, would satisfy the threshold showing for a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence, thus entitling Davis to habeas relief.”
“To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” Barkett wrote.

 

Shouldn’t innocence matter?  Especially when the death penalty is involved?  Sorry, it’s too late to prove Troy’s innocence because the Federal Judges don’t want to offend Congress? Too late because we have Congress members and Judges who would rather kill an innocent man than not appear “tough on crime” by allowing him a chance to prove his innocence?

 

 

Learn more and take part in a vigil in your community or act online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

A Vigil and a Stay – Does Innocence Matter?

On Thursday night, our local Amnesty International group and allies held a vigil for Troy Davis who was scheduled to be executed on Monday, October 27, after the Supreme Court had refused on October 14 to even consider his case and the question of whether it is a constitutional violation to execute a potentially innocent person.

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On Friday, we received the welcome news that the 11th Circuit Court has issued a stay while they consider Troy’s case.  I find it disturbing, though, that apparently the same question as to whether he can be executed even if there is evidence of his innocence remains. 

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The judges called the stay “conditional” and said they want to hear more from Davis’ lawyers and state attorneys.

Davis must clear two difficult legal hurdles to win a new round of appeals.

First, he must show that his lawyers could not have previously found the new evidence supporting his innocence no matter how diligently they looked for it. And he must show that the new testimony, viewed in light of all the evidence, is enough to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that…no reasonable fact finder would have found [him] guilty.”

The 11th Circuit added a twist. It asked the parties to address whether Davis can still be executed if he can establish innocence under the second standard but cannot satisfy his burden under the first, due-diligence question.

Does innocence matter?  That seems like it should be an easy to answer question, but apparently not to our courts.

Since Davis’ 1991 trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses have backed off their testimony. Others have come forward and implicated another man in the killing of 27-year-old Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

Shouldn’t new evidence be considered?  What kind of justice is it to kill an innocent man?

At our vigil, on a world wide national day of action, we collected signatures on petitions to fax to the parole board.  According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a petition with 140,000 signatures was delivered to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles at a protest in Atlanta on Friday.

We were joined at our vigil by the Total Experience Gospel Choir, whose songs included Amazing Grace and Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.

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We were also joined by the UW’s Amnesty International group.  Stefanie Anderson, AI’s state Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, organized the event, also sponsored by the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and spoke for AI.  AI’s Washington State Area Coordinator, Larry Ebersole, read a poem entitled “Appeal” he wrote for Troy.

Appeal
   – For Troy Davis on death row, Georgia  (USA)
 
what can I say
the man
will be killed, years ago
the state, began preparations
not the first time,
knew what to do —
took many a life
before him,
took doctors
(until they refused)
to measure the dosage
for lethal injection,
took Governors,
statesmen to explain
the Why,
took willing guards
(many unwilling) 
in prisons,
to make a captive
suitable for sacrifice
 
what can I say
that has not been said,
argued in stately manners
at rally, legal briefs in courtrooms
before judges and executioners
 
what can I say
the authority of System
makes facts into strangers,
kills men in warfare and execution
starves families in ghetto liberty
 
what can I say:
this silence is death
and not yet death
 
– Let the man live !
– Halt his sacrifice !.
 
 (Laurence H. Ebersole, 10/24/08)
More updates to follow on Troy’s case as it develops.  You can check for updates on his Amnesty International page, and sign the petition online at:
 
 
I leave you with a video of the Total Experience Gospel Choir from Thursday’s vigil:
 
 

Does Innocence Matter?

Should innocence be considered as a reason not to execute someone?  That it should may seem self-evident.  Yet, apparently innocence is not considered a valid reason for a federal appeal for a death penalty case at the moment.

I was surprised to learn this when I received an e-mail from the regional office of Amnesty International about the Supreme Court’s stay of execution for Troy Davis an hour and a half before his scheduled execution in Georgia pending a ruling on whether to hear his case Monday. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Troy’s case, it could affect many others.  If they refuse to hear it, he could be executed as soon as Monday evening. 

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According to Amnesty International:

If the case is heard, it would likely be in October with a spring ruling.  The case potentially has huge ramifications.  Currently, the federal appeals process has been closed to Troy due to the ’96 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which only allows habeas petitions when there is a constitutional question.  Believe it or not, the courts have not ruled whether it is a constitutional violation to execute the innocent, although they did hint in this direction in a ’93 decision.  As a result, this case could carve out a constitutional right for the innocent and reopen federal appeals courts to capital cases.  It is very far-reaching, and it shows how important Troy’s case could become. 

Reading up more about Troy’s case on Amnesty’s death penalty page, I was struck when reading the report by the questions raised by a number of eye witnesses who have recanted their testimony or come forward since, saying Troy is innocent; some saying they were coerced by police, others frightened by the man they say did it.

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I was also moved by the interview with Troy’s sister, Martina Davis-Correia, about the affect Troy’s arrest, trial and sentence to death has had on their family. 

“I know Troy is innocent,” she resolutely affirms. “Me and my brother are really, really close, where we can finish each others sentences and whether he was guilty or not I would stand by him, but the fact that he’s innocent and in this position, it’s like stabbing me in the chest.”

 

Her family was not allowed into the court during the trial until the sentencing phase, apparently a common technique in death penalty cases to make the jury believe the defendant has no one who supports him.  It was especially hard on their mother, and their father died within months of the verdict. 

 

Martina Davis, a long time Amnesty International member, is currently AI’s State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator (SDPAC) for Georgia and Chair of AIUSA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty Steering Committee. 

 

“I joined Amnesty when I was a teenager in the army when I was in Colorado Springs, I think I was like 19 years old,” she recalls. “That was 1986. I joined Amnesty never thinking that I’d be involved as far as death penalty work or have my brother involved in a death penalty case. I was in the library and I saw something about Amnesty International and how they work with the UN to help people around the world, so I signed up by mail.”

 

Currently, everyone is waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday. Amnesty International is asking people to take action through their web page on Troy’s case:

 

After consulting closely with Troy’s legal team, the best course of action will be to continue writing letters targeting the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, but have those letters delivered to Amnesty International’s Atlanta office, so that they can be hand delivered at the appropriate time if it becomes necessary. Please direct all such actions to our website – www.amnestyusa.org/troydavis – so that we can keep an accurate count of all the letters that are written on behalf of Troy.

 

They also warn that some other actions may not be helpful:

 

Please direct all such actions in this way. More letters, phone calls, emails or faxes to the Board would not be helpful and could be counterproductive. Actions to other Georgia authorities, like the Governor or Attorney General, would also not be helpful. And, of course, actions directed at the U.S. Supreme Court would be counterproductive as well. So, please do NOT plan any rallies or demonstrations in front of the US Supreme Court as such actions have the potential to jeopardize a positive outcome in this case.

Also, if you know of any high profile figures (especially Conservatives) who would be willing to write an op.ed. regarding Troy’s case, please let us know ASAP.

 

Video from a rally in Georgia earlier this month:

 

 

Troy’s is not the only death row case where innocence is an issue. Death row exoneree Juan Roberto Melendez will be speaking at colleges in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia next week.  Juan was released after nearly 18 years on death row in Florida for a crime he didn’t commit.  He was the 99th death row inmate in the U.S. to be exonerated and released.  There are currently 127.  How many who are innocent have been executed? That should be reason enough to abolish the death penalty.

 

Juan

 

Juan’s speaking schedule for the Puget Sound area:

 

October 1: Talk at University of Seattle School of Law, Sullivan Hall, at 6:00 p.m. -7:30 p.m.
October 2: Talk at University of Washington School of Law at 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
October 2: Talk at University of Pudget Sound at 7:00 p.m. -8:30 p.m.
October 3: Talk at St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA at 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.