Chronicling community action, revolutionary and revealing thought

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Prisoner Justice Day

Today's Prisoner Justice Day.

Here's a revolutionary thought:-

The U.S. has political prisoners.

No, really.

Try rethinking what you've assumed about who goes to prison, who gets executed, and... *why*.

Don't know where to start?

Here's a primer for you:- Try finding out about Mumia Abu Jamal. Perhaps hes not the cop killer after all. and perhaps, maybe, the implications for the US justice and prison systems is only part of the whole picture.

May I humbly suggest that one take a look at The Anti-Terrorism Bill (The Effective Death Penalty Act) of 1996. Why should you take a look at The Anti-Terrorism Bill (The Effective Death Penalty Act)? Because it ties in to what is happening today. It also ties into the encroachment of your human rights. I'll just put up a few things on the death penalty for you to consider.

The United States has the highest population of any country on earth living on death row. Over 1.5 million Americans are in prison, the highest prison population in the industrialized world. Over 80 countries in the world have abandoned capital punishment, including all those of Europe, Russia, and the former countries of the Soviet Union. The United Nations will not permit any of its tribunals, even the ones considering the genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to impose the death penalty.

A higher percentage of the general population are in prison in the United States than were in prison in South Africa under apartheid, and a higher percentage than were in prison in the Soviet Union under their old system.

The only other country in the industrialized world with a death row is Japan, which in 1997, had 31 members on deateh row- 1/100th the size the the death row population in the United States at 3100, that time. The only reason there was that number instead of 6000 people on death row at that time was because, since 1977, 40 % were reversed by federal juddges because the federal constitutional law was violated in those trials.

The United States also has the distinction of having executed the greatest number of inmates who were children or teenagers at the time of their crimes of any country in the world. Five other countries in the world allow for the execution of juveniles: Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia. In the last 10 years the United States has executed more juvenile offenders than the other five combined.

The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland, studied the death row population in the United States and its history, and reached the conclusion that the death penalty, as it exists in the United states today, violates international norms of human rights.

Lawyer's associations, including the American Bar Association(voted 2-1 in 1997), the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and the Philadelphia Bar Association, have voted to stop the executions, and called for a moratorium. The Philadelphia City Council also voted 12-4 in favor a moratorium on these killings.

What is it about the death penalty is so troubling? The question is not how MANY people get the death penalty; it is WHO. None are millionaires, none are members of the upper middle-class, practically none are middle-class, and surprisingly none are members of organized crime... they are the poor, the uneducated, those who have themselves- as studies prove- been victims of sexual, emotional and physical violence in their childhood, those addicted to alcohol and drugs, and those of colour.

There have been about 18,000 people put to death in the 200 years of U.S.history, and of those 18,000 only 37 have been charged with taking the life of a person of colour; 85 percent of the people on death row are there for killing a Caucasian.

Since the death penalty was restored in 1977, 650 people have been executed. But 86 have also been released after their innocence was established, or it was ascertained that their trial process was so flawed there was serious question about their guilt. That's practically about 1 in 5. (From 1977-1997, of the 350 executed, only 5 have been charged with the killing of a person of colour. Of the death row convictions handed down, 40% were reversed by federal judges because constitutional law was violated in those trials. Had they not been reversed, there would have been 6000, not 3100 on death row at the time.)

When Bill Clinton was running for President he wanted an Anti-Terrorism Bill. Congress gave him the bill, but only on the condition that he accept a bill they tried to get in 1976, 1980, and in 1984. And had never been able to get in because it's so violative of the basic notions of the consitutional establishment. It "reforms" almost out existence the habeas corpus concept that has always been the bedrock of the American justice system. The Anti-Terrorism Bill and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 established almost insurmountable obstacles against filing federal appeals in death penalty cases, thereby setting the stage for a virtual wave of executions. It expedites the number of executions.

It also effectively stripped the federal judges of their right to review the state convictions. Federal judges must stand by and allow what state judges do to stand, and allow people to be executed even if their constitutional rights were violated.

That same year the highest constitutional court of Italy refused to extradite an Italian national to the U.S. because he faced the death penalty saying, as it exists today, it violates international law- the first time the highest court of another country passed judgement on the U.S.'s system of justice. Presently, 74 foreign nationals sit on death row in violation of the Vienna Convention. The violation is that they were not informed of their right to counsel from their homeland.

The original U.S. Constitution document had no human rights protections in it at all before the 10 amendments. What it DID have was habeas corpus. That bill effectively rubbed it out in 1996. with barely a ripple of protest.

In Canada no matter how heinous the crime, they must first produce evidence. The United Stated demands that of other nations, and someone saying sight unseen they have evidence and they're not going to show you, is unacceptable. The European Union, for example refuses to extradite anyone to the United States because they oppose the death penalty. Would the United States then bomb Sweden, Paris... ?

Tip of the iceberg for ya.