January 13, 2006

The Public Forum . . . El Foro Público

For a Native American’s Execution, Where Is the Press? Lack of Press Attention to Clarence Ray Allen’s Execution May Be Seen As Race-Based

by Barbara Becnel and Elizabeth Terzakis

On January 6th, La Prensa ran an opinion piece by Jasmyne Cannick (“Another Execution Nears – Where Are the Protesters?”) accusing the African American community and its leaders of a lack of activity in the ongoing struggle to end the death penalty since the state of California killed Stanley Tookie Williams on December 13th.

Specifically, Cannick claims that the people who fought to save Williams’s life are doing nothing to gain clemency for Clarence Ray Allen, who is scheduled to be executed at a minute after midnight on January 17th. “With just a few days to go before the scheduled execution of a 76-year-old blind and deaf man who uses a wheelchair,” writes Cannick, “there has been no public outcry of support for clemency for Clarence Ray Allen, who is white.”

This statement is inaccurate on several counts. First of all, Clarence Ray Allen is not white. He is a Choctaw Indian. The racism of the criminal justice system in general and of capital punishment in particular is no less evident for Native Americans than for African Americans; Native Americans nationwide are more likely to receive death sentences than any other group, and California has more Native Americans on its death row than any other state.

Secondly, there has been plenty of “public outcry” against Allen’s execution. Throughout the campaign to save Williams’s life, activists of all races incorporated into their appeals a call for an end to executions in general—in the immediate form of a moratorium like the one just passed in New Jersey—and for a stop to Allen’s execution in particular. On December 19th, barely a week after Williams was killed, Save Tookie Committees met to plan actions protesting Allen’s execution. On December 29th, which would have been Stan’s 52nd birthday, we joined speakers from the NAACP and the Nation of Islam on the Capitol steps in Sacramento to honor Williams’s work and mark our organizations’ ongoing commitment to ending the death penalty. In Los Angeles, a multiracial crowd of 100 attended a Live From Death Row on January 7th that called for an end to the death penalty and clemency for Clarence Ray Allen.

Please note that these events represent only a small sample of the work that has been dedicated to stopping Allen’s execution, which former San Quentin Prison warden Dan Vazquez correctly characterized as “a shameful act.” Please also note that many of us have not missed a beat in our organizing despite the fact that the state just killed one of our loved ones. Finally, please note that the one element most notably absent from all the above events was not, as Cannick suggests, the African American community—which was well-represented at all—but rather the press.

Cannick insists that “Black Californians who supported clemency for Williams need to re-examine their reasons for wanting Williams to live.” We believe it would be more useful if members of the press were to re-examine their reasons for covering some anti-death penalty events and not others.

There have been some exceptions, of course. The San Francisco Bay View, a Black newspaper serving the community of Bay View/Hunter’s Point, has featured anti-death penalty activity continuously, since long before Williams’s case gained prominence. On January 4th, the Bay View ran an appeal for clemency for Clarence Ray Allen by an African American activist for the disabled named Leroy Moore.

Moore writes, “Clarence Ray Allen became disabled because of prison, due to the lack of appropriate health care for his diabetes. As a result, Mr. Allen is now legally blind and relies on a wheelchair.People with disabilities in our society are devalued, and our lives are viewed as even more expendable than others when we are imprisoned. Because of this, we are concerned that Mr. Allen’s humanity is not fully appreciated and respected.”

Moore’s appeal raises the issue that really needs to be discussed—not who is or isn’t fighting Clarence Ray Allen’s execution, but why the state wants to go forward with it at all. And this is where Cannick got it right. It is inhumane, unjust, and, as previously noted, shameful, to carry a disabled, 76-year-old Native American man into the execution chamber at San Quentin, strap him to a table, and pump poison into his veins until he dies. It was inhumane, unjust, and shameful to execute Stanley Tookie Williams, who was convicted and sentenced based on flimsy evidence and who dedicated his life behind bars to stopping gang violence.

It is inhumane, unjust, and shameful to execute anyone. And that is why anti-death penalty activists of all races have continued and will continue to organize against Clarence Ray Allen’s execution and all executions. A multiracial movement to end the death penalty is what is needed, and thanks in no small part to the Stanley Tookie Williams’s work with minority youth, our movement, contrary to Cannick’s concerns, is not only more multiracial but younger than ever.

Barbara Becnel is Executive Director of the Neighborhood House of North Richmond, and a long-time friend and advocate for Stanley Tookie Williams

Elizabeth Terzakis is Assistant Professor of English at Cañada College in Redwood City, and a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Sweetwater District Seeks Community Participation on Budget Committee

Committee will make recommendations on the 2006-2007 school year district allocations

As the second semester of the 2005-06 school year gets under way, the Sweetwater Union High School District is putting together a committee to take a look at how hundreds of millions of education dollars are spent for the 2006-07 year throughout the South Bay. The committee, comprised of district staff and community members, is open to all who are interested.

Last year’s committee was responsible for submitting recommendations for $298 million to the Board of Trustees in February 2005. Nearly $300 million is on the drawing board again for the upcoming school year for committee members to allocate. In recent years, state and federal cutbacks in education have affected Sweetwater, as they have other districts in the area, state and nation. Committee members face the arduous task of ensuring that next year’s budget takes advantage of every single dollar in the most effective way possible in order to maximize achievement for Sweetwater’s more than 75,000 students in grades 7-12 and adult learners.

Upcoming budget committee meetings will take place on five sequential Wednesdays: January 18 and 25 and February 1, 8 and 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sweetwater District Administration Office at 1130 Fifth Avenue.

Interested community members should contact Dianne Russo, Sweetwater’s Chief Financial Officer, by calling 619-585-6081.

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