Death row survivors, families & activists march for abolition

Houstonians with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement at the Capitol.

Houstonians with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement at the Capitol.

Activists marched down Congress Avenue from the Texas Capitol building in Austin on Nov. 2, chanting “Texas says death row, we say hell no!” They demanded, “The death penalty? Shut it down! Racist courts? Shut ‘em down! The whole damn system? Shut it down!”

Death row exonerees led protesters through Austin’s busy shopping and dining district to the governor’s mansion and back to the Capitol. This was the 14th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty, which began in 2000 when George W. Bush was governor of Texas.

“It was so moving to hear from Ron Keine, Shujaa Graham, Albert Burrell and Gary Drinkard, men who were innocent and yet spent many years on death rows from California to Arizona to Alabama to Louisiana,” said Jeroen van Wisse. He stressed that it was “horrifying to hear how totally innocent people could be ripped from their families, their children and locked up to be executed.”

Van Wisse and Petra De Jong traveled to Texas from the Netherlands to witness the execution of their friend, Jamie McCoskey, on Nov. 12.

The death row families who spoke and attended were an inspiration to all. The rally was co-chaired by Delia Perez-Meyer, sister of Louis Perez, whose case has been taken by The Innocence Project. Marilyn Shankle- Grant spoke for her son, Paul Storey, who was sent to death row under Texas’ infamous Law of Parties. Regina Guidry was there for her spouse, Howard Guidry.

Four brothers and half a dozen friends of Juan Ramirez wore T-shirts imprinted with his photograph. Adelina Guajardo and her daughter attended for the first time to support her son, Gustavo Garcia, who has been on death row for 21 years. They, too, wore T-shirts bearing the image of their family member.

Lawrence Foster, the grandfather of former death row prisoner Kenneth Foster, told of the victorious struggle that won his grandson a commutation to life in prison only hours before his execution in August 2007.

Sandra Reed and her sons march every year for her innocent son, Rodney Reed. They and other supporters of Rodney wore T-shirts, reading, “Free Rodney Reed!” The crowd broke out in cheers when Rodney’s brother, Roderick, spoke to them.

Photographer John Holbrook brought larger-than-life photos of Randy Greer, Louis Perez, Tony Ford and other men on death row, which people held up during the rally.

The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, a march sponsor, took a bus from Houston filled with activists of all nationalities and genders, ranging from age 1 to 84, united in their passion for abolition. Yadira Franco, who is from Los Angeles, traveled on the bus with De Jong. Franco is still trying to recover from witnessing the execution of her friend, Bobby Garza, on Sept. 19.

Other sponsors of the actions were the Texas Moratorium Network, the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center in Houston, where the Abolition Movement is based.