June 22 , 2000
News from Houston on the battle to save Shaka Sankofa


PVN photo: Johnnie Stevens
Houston, Rev. C. Anderson Davis, grand marshal of Houston's Juneteenth Parade, spoke about Sankofa's case to over 2,000 marchers June 17. He said: "Juneteenth isn't just about freedom 135 years ago. It's about freedom today."

'Protests confront Gov. Bush
‘Not one more execution!

From Houston

On the eve of the June 22 execution of Gary Graham/Shaka Sankofa militant protests were held in Texas, throughout the United States and around the world to demand an end to the lynching of an African American prisoner whose supporters, bolstered by new evidence, maintain is innocent.

Police in riot gear attacked 200 Sankofa supporters outside the State Capitol in Austin June 19 after a march from the governor's mansion. Fifteen people were arrested and charged with "obstructing a passageway," punishable by up to three months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The same day two death-penalty opponents disrupted a fundraiser for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, in Palo Alto, Calif., as 200 rallied outside.

Protesters again shouted down Bush at a fundraiser in Los Angeles June 20. They chanted, "Don't execute an innocent man!"

And in New York June 19, at least 1,000 protesters held a noisy rush-hour march through midtown Manhattan. Six activists occupied the New York Republican Party offices and were arrested.

Activists plan to stage more protests if Bush does not issue a stay of execution before June 22. Shaka Sankofa has called for 10,000 people to protest in Huntsville, home of the Texas death chamber, that day.

Sankofa's lawyers have asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a 120-day stay of execution so that new evidence—including the testimony of six eyewitnesses who say he was not the shooter—can be heard. Bush could approve a stay if the board recommends it.

The June 20 Dallas Morning News reported that the board would not make its recommendation to Bush until noon on June 22j—ust six hours before Sankofa is scheduled to die.

That prompted State Senator Rodney Ellis to ask the 18-member board to hold a public hearing to consider the stay. (Associated Press, June 21) The secretive group of Bush appointees rarely meets and usually votes by fax.

CNN reported June 20 that Bush "remains convinced of his [Sankofa's] guilt" and "would not bow to pressure." But Bush did bow to massive public outrage over the death penalty on June 1, when he granted a 30-day stay of execution to Ricky McGinn.

Vice President Al Gore, Bush's Democratic opponent in the presidential race, also supports the death penalty. Gore has refused to criticize Bush's killing spree--which reached 134 with the execution of Paul Nuncio June 16.

Executions are used exclusively against poor and working -class people, especially people of color.

"I am going to fight like hell against anyone trying to murder me on an execution gurney," Sankofa vowed during a June 18 interview. "It's never too late to stop the execution of an innocent man."

Juror: 'He didn't get justice'

While the protests were taking place, three jurors in Sankofa's 1981 capital murder trial came forward to say that after reviewing new evidence presented by his lawyers, they now believe he was wrongfully convicted of killing Bobby Lambert.

Two of the jurors—Bobby Pryor and Dennis Graham—appeared on ABC's "Nightline" June 19 and asked Bush to stop the execution.

Sankofa was just 17 when he was charged with killing Lambert outside a Houston grocery store. He was convicted on the testimony of a single eyewitness.

"I hope they don't do that [execute Sankofa]," Bobby Pryor said. "He just didn't get his justice in this trial."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Sankofa June 20, along with Amnesty International representative Bianca Jagger and Nation of Islam Southwestern Regional Rep. Minister Robert Muhammad.

"I hope that my presence will get Bush's attention and there will not be an execution on Thursday," Jackson said in Chicago June 19. If not, Jackson said, he will be on hand to witness the state's legal lynching of Sankofa.

The New York Times, Amnesty International, the Detroit City Council and the Reform Jewish movement are among those calling on Bush to stop the execution. Even U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno denounced the "high level of incompetence" among court-appointed capital defense attorneys.

"There is a sizzling movement from below," said Johnnie Stevens of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and the International Action Center, the groups that initiated the nationwide June 19 protests. "People here know Gary Graham, they know his case. They know about the controversy in the media. With the leaflets and posters getting out on the streets people are feeling empowered."

Protest at Republican convention

On June 16-18, Sankofa's supporters took the death-row prisoner's case to the doorstep of the Texas Republican Party Convention in Houston.

On opening day about 100 activists carried big posters reading "Stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa" and distributed leaflets.

Police had set a designated protest area five blocks away. But the protesters, ignoring the cops, marched right to the convention's entrance and used their sound system to condemn Bush.

Those speaking out included Minister Robert Muhammad, Njeri Shakur of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, and SHAPE Community Center Director Deloyd Parker.

"Poor people do not get justice from this system," Parker said. "Shaka was a poor person, a young person. He didn't get justice."

Several members of the New Black Panther Movement also demonstrated at the convention's opening. Expressing their right to self-defense against a racist system, these protesters carried rifles and shotguns. In Texas it is legal to carry such weapons in public.

This militant protest created a sensation among the media and hostile delegates.

'Juneteenth is about freedom today'

Abolitionists also took Sankofa's case directly to the Black community here at Juneteenth celebrations.

Juneteenth—June 19—marks the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, two years after it became law.



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