Anti-death penalty protesters
fight attempts to criminalize dissent

Anti-death penalty protesters fight attempts to criminalize dissent. The unfair trial and conviction that led to Texas' legalized lynching of Shaka Sankofa on June 22, 2000 are examples of the tools of a system based on economic and racial bias that is being unmasked through the efforts of those who protest against it. The actions of the Huntsville 8 are examples of what many beleive it will take to smash these tools and put an end to the death penalty and the criminalization of a whole generation of youth.

As Walker County law officials continue in their efforts to silence those who protest the actions taken by the so-called Justice System, the Huntsville 8 press ahead in their efforts to expose the legalized murder of Shaka Sankofa and what it represents by demanding that their charges be dropped. Despite the recent coronation of serial-killer George W. Bush, they are part of a broad-based resistance movement in this country that is beginning to push the boundaries of protest as usual.

Although George Bush, formerly known as Governor Death, has left the state, the executions taking place in Huntsville continue to extinguish the lives men and women at an alarming rate. However, this process now operates under greater public scrutiny. The awareness raised in part by Shaka Sankofa's refusal to be killed quietly has led to increased demands for an abolition of the death penalty. At a Huntsville 8 press conference last November, a representative of Mosque #45 of the Nation of Islam boldly stated that "if justice is not on the horizon, then revolution is." This is the common sentiment of many that are involved in the struggle to stop the death penalty and the system that supports it.

Noted human-rights activist, Rick Halperin, recently supported the Huntsville 8 in a statement of solidarity and argued that "activists must be willing to non-violently act and disrupt the State/nation from carrying out its horrific process of premeditated state-sanctioned extermination. We must be willing to go to jail, to hunger strike, and even to sacrifice more to ensure that this nation elevates itself to a spirit and a policy based on compassion, mercy, reconciliation, and life."

With outspoken criticism of the government and its oppressive policies, has come repression and the criminalization of dissent. Seven of the Huntsville 8 face trials, charged with class B misdemeanor Criminal Trespass charges for their protest actions at the Walls Unit on June 22. The eighth protester has been accused of Assault on a Public Servant, a 3rd degree felony. District Attorney David Weeks has stated that "we intend to prosecute these cases." Walker County officials know that successful prosecution of these cases would send a chilling message to others in the anti-death penalty movement; those who step outside the boundaries set by officials for acceptable protest, will be hounded with arrests, fines and even jail. Public support for all those who act against their bloody system is crucial.

The Huntsville 8 argue that the only crime committed on that day was the murder of Shaka Sankofa, and demand that their charges be dropped. As recently noted by their attorney, "the sense of people demonstrating that day was that this was a government sponsored murder of a man who was not guilty of the crime for which he was being executed." Much has been done during the past few months in support of the campaign to make this demand a reality.

Most recently, events have been organized in Houston, Austin, and Seattle, in order to raise funds for the ongoing expenses of the group's legal and political campaign. The outpouring of support has been inspiring.

On February 17, over one hundred people showed their support by attending the Huntsville 8 Benefit Show at Not Su Oh, a coffee shop in downtown Houston. Kornlikker, IBM, and the Free Radicals got down with the cause by playing great sets. There was a Puppetista Communique to entertain and inform the crowd. Many people signed letters that were later mailed to the Walker County District Attorney David Weeks and Judge Barbara Hale demanding that all charges be dropped against the group. One supporter, new to the issue of the death penalty, commented that this evening had "opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the reality of this country's criminal injustice system. We need to raise the level of resistance because this kind of abuse must stop!"

The next week, a Huntsville 8 Defense Committee member in Austin organized a fundraiser in conjunction with a weekly poetry reading at Café Mundi on February 28 that helped to familiarize locals there with the case. A bicycle donated by the Yellow Bike Project was raffled off,and a support statement was read to a receptive crowd, from Rick Halprin, a well-known anti-death penalty activist. He compared the group's June 22 action to the acts of civil disobedience taken during the Civil Rights movement, and argued that those who oppose the death penalty should "fill the jails" until the state's death machine is brought to a halt and then smashed for good.

Support from prisoners continues to be sent in. One brother wrote from Huntsville, "it takes a lot of guts to stand against the massive array of repressive police-state power that was so glaringly present on that awful day. I wish you all the best of luck with your defense...stand proud as the true revolutionaries you have shown yourselves to be..."

Local alternative media has been outstanding in its coverage of the Huntsville 8. Defendants and supporters have appeared on 90.1 FM KPFT's Progessive Forum and Prison Program, and the benefit show was announced and covered on 91.7 FM KTRU. Print media, including The Houston Peace News, Houston's Other, Austin's Javelina, and the Community Address, a new paper in Huntsville, have run articles that have helped raise awareness about the case and the issues raised by the group's declaration that the only crime committed on June 22, 2000 was the state sanctioned murder of Shaka Sankofa.

Meanwhile, the group's legal battle in Huntsville continues to bring more attention to the shameful actions officials are trying to hide behind the high bricks of the Walls Unit. After the group's last court appearance, Judge Barbara Hale moved to separate the case into individual trials. While this makes it much harder to build support , as court dates are announced little more than a week in advance, the defense continues to file motions to expose the political nature of the arrests and trial. These motions will result in court hearings, and every time the Huntsville 8 are dragged into court, they hope to have supporters present with them to show that the public will not accept the state's attempt to criminalize protesters in order to draw attention away from death row. Officials must be shown that not only does the movement to end the death penalty refuse to go away, but in fact, it is growing. The spirit of Shaka Sankofa lives! For more information, please contact: huntsville8@hotmail.com


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