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Determined protesters say 'Stop the executions'

Published Jan 18, 2007 1:27 AM

In blustery cold rain and mud, almost 100 people faced off with prison authorities at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. The crowd maintained their high spirits and militancy in spite of drenched clothing and the state’s video cameras.

WW photo: Susan Schnur

Since 2004, Ohio has been second only to Texas in the number of executions. Most death row prisoners are held at OSP, as are a number of prisoners with life sentences from the 1993 rebellion in the Lucasville, Ohio prison. Many of their family members and friends had come to make their sentiments known, including mothers carrying handmade signs with their son’s names. Most of the demonstrators were African American.

Chants echoed over the 50-acre property and the rings of fences around the monstrous prison. In keeping with the spirit of an event in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Cleveland community group called Black on Black Crime began singing “We Shall Overcome.” A banner demanded “Stop the Executions!” in 13-inch letters in the hopes that prisoners would be able to see it from their windows.

Many of the participants learned of the protest through a grassroots prisoner letter campaign. Rally organizers had also reached out to various organizations that oppose the death penalty and anti-war groups.

In addition to the locally based Youngstown Prison Forum, LOOP (Loved Ones Of Prisoners), and Youngstown Peace Action, Cleveland organizations showed up in force. Black on Black Crime had a contingent of many carloads. Cleveland Coalition Against the Death Penalty brought many signs and the Cleveland New Black Panther Party was present. The Cleveland Lucasville Five Defense Committee and Peoples Fightback Center arranged for a 12-person van and coordinated a four-car caravan from Cleveland. The statewide Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE-Ohio) was also represented.

The International Action Center put out an e-mail about the rally. Messages of solidarity and support came in from Vancouver, British Columbia and England.

The rally signifies the start of a new campaign to halt executions and to get the Lucasville-related convictions overturned, with Ted Strickland newly inaugurated as Ohio’s governor. Write to Governor Ted Strickland, 77 High Street, 30th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215, fax 614-728-4819 or call 614-728-4900.

The Cleveland Lucasville Five Defense Committee is planning a series of educational and outreach activities in the months to come to increase the public’s awareness of the false convictions. Evidence continues to emerge showing the perjury of “witnesses” who sent the Five to death row. The prisoners are in solitary confinement and are handcuffed during non-contact-only visits. This has gone on for 13 long years and is taking a health toll on some of the prisoners. It is time for their unjust convictions to be overturned and they be allowed to walk free. (See Workers World, Oct. 18, 2006, and Oct. 30, 2006)

The prisons in this country are concentration camps for the poor and oppressed. In the prisons reside men with proven leadership abilities, like the Lucasville Five, who the authorities feel are far too dangerous to allow out on the streets to do the organizing that they might feel compelled by their experiences to do. Among the 2 million inmates imprisoned in the United States are many who were simply unable to afford a decent defense. They provide fodder for the prison industrial complex, while their communities are badly depleted of precious human resources. The state apparatus hopes that this will prevent further rebellions in the streets, but we shall see.