Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Facing the Death Penalty

This past Sunday, in my neck of the woods (Western Massachusetts), MVFHR co-sponsored an event called "Facing the Death Penalty," which was organized by a local high school's Amnesty International group. The event included talks by exonerated death row inmate (he is also a victim's family member) Shujaa Graham and death penalty photojournalist Scott Langley. Both were moving and inspiring, and I encourage readers to check out each of their websites.

Here are a couple of excerpts from an article in the local newspaper, The Hampshire Gazette (it's not available online unless you have a subscription):

Shujaa Graham's voice cracks when he speaks of young people. He credits them for getting him off San Quentin Prison's death row, for getting him a new trial, and for his eventual exoneration from a murder he did not commit. And all this happened, he said, 'in spite of the system.'


He calls the death sentence a psychological torture one never recovers from, and capital punishment a stacked and racist deck. 'Whether or not you go to death row is directly determined by who you killed,' said Graham.

'Two of my mom's sons were murdered by the Crips and Bloods,' said Graham. 'My uncle, a policeman, was murdered. But at no time did my family ever talk about the death penalty.'

In a voice filled with hope, but racked by pain, Graham speaks of a world where his children will enjoy the fruits of a struggle that he may never see.

'My total faith is in the power of youth,' said Graham. 'But the power is in organizing. You have to be willing to exercise that power. Try to participate, not for yourselves, but for humanity.'

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