January 6, 2006

Commentary:

Another Execution Nears – Where Are the Protesters?

By Jasmyne A. Cannick
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

In the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 17, another man will be put to death by lethal injection in the State of California. This comes exactly 36 days after the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. But where are the protesters?

With less than a month to go before the scheduled execution of a 76-year-old blind, deaf and wheelchair-confined man, there has been no public outcry of support for clemency for Clarence Ray Allen, a non-black. There’s been no planned protests and celebrity read-ins in support of saving an old man’s life. Community activists and civil rights leaders aren’t organizing statewide tours to bring attention to Allen’s execution. There hasn’t even been one “Kill Clarence Ray Allen Hour” from KFI-AM’S “John and Ken Show.”

Which raises the question: Was the community cry for clemency for Williams because he was a black man, or was it because the death penalty is immoral, inhumane and cruel?

Granted, Allen hasn’t written any children’s books, been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, or had a Hollywood actor play him in a film, but that doesn’t mean his life isn’t worth saving.

The fight for clemency should not have died with Stanley Tookie Williams. With two more executions scheduled in the New Year, including Michael Morales, who was convicted at the age of 21 for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old female, now is not the time for all of Williams’ supporters to retreat back to their separate corners of the world. In fact, it’s time for the opposite. We need to get back into action and show the world that the fight for clemency for Williams was not solely based on the fact that he was a black man but rather that he was a man who did not deserve to have his life prematurely taken from him, no matter how heinous were the crimes that he was accused of committing.

Californians are very close to establishing a moratorium on the death penalty. Although the vote didn’t come soon enough to save Williams’ life, our work today and through the 10th of January, when an assembly committee plans to consider the legislation, could aid in saving the lives of many condemned prisoners, including blacks, while a state panel reviews the system.

Black Californians who supported clemency for Williams need to re-examine their reasons for wanting Williams to live. Was it because he was a black man? Was it because he co-founded the Crips? Was it because of his anti-gang and anti-drug work? Or was it because we abhor the death penalty?

Allen poses no significant risk. Blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound, it’s very unlikely that he will be ordering the killing of anyone if left to live his remaining days on death row.

Many of the black leaders who supported clemency for Williams vehemently denied they were racists when challenged by a pair conservative radio DJs in Los Angeles who sponsored the repulsive “Kill Tookie Hour.” Accusing the black leadership of getting involved in the fight to save Williams only because he was black, the shock jocks noted that these same activists were going to be nowhere to be found when the next execution of a non-black person came up.

If all of the protests around clemency for Williams were not just for show, it should be no problem for the black community to reassemble for the fight to save Clarence Ray Allen. He may not have been our homeboy from back in the day, or demonstrated to the world that he is a redeemed man. He may not even be likeable, but his life is worth trying to save even if he’s not black. What kind of message does it send if we sit back and do nothing while another person was systematically put to death on our watch?

Jasmyne Cannick, 28, is a Los Angeles-based writer of political and social commentary and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She can be reached via her Web site, www.jasmynecannick.com.

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