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Monday, February 28, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Thousands Protest Acquittal of Police Officers Who Killed...
2000-02-28

Mumia Supporters Hold Mass Civil Disobedience at US Supreme Court

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The US Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act should deny those facing execution the right to appeal when there is new evidence on their innocence. The fate of more than 3,000 death row prisoners hangs in the balance. Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of those inmates. [includes rush transcript]

This morning, hundreds of protesters are assembling in front of the Supreme Court to demand a new trial for Abu-Jamal and to abolish capital punishment. Death penalty opponents believe that momentum is building for a moratorium on capital punishment. Governor George Ryan of Illinois halted executions in his state after thirteen people were released from death row. And states and cities around the nation have followed suit. Recently, the Philadelphia city council voted for a non-binding resolution against executions.

Guests:

  • Mumia Abu-Jamal, journalist and death row prisoner, speaking from SCI-Greene in Pennsylvania.
  • Jeff Garis, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.
  • Ernie Preate, former Pennsylvania attorney general, who supported the death penalty but now opposes it.

Related link:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, scores of people are gathering at the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on whether the, quote, "1996 Effective Death Penalty Act" should deny those facing execution the right to appeal when there’s new evidence on their innocence. The fate of more than 3,000 death row prisoners hangs in the balance.

Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row in Pennsylvania is one of them, and he is also the subject of today’s protest, as people call for a new trial for him. He joins us on the line now from the Greene Correctional Institute, the state prison in Pennsylvania.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: How are you? On the move.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to hear your voice today, as people gather at the Supreme Court. But before we go to this protest of the death penalty, what is your reaction to the acquittal of the four New York City police officers for the killing of Amadou Diallo?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, like a lot of people, I was deeply disturbed. In fact, I wrote something, and I’d like to share it with you, if that’s OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, I begin with a quote from MOVE founder John Africa, who wrote back in July of 1976, "When are you Black folks gonna throw off the KILLERS that are JAILIN’ you for murder?" unquote.

The Amadou Diallo trial of four white cops charged in the firestorm slaughter of the West African has ended in the predictable acquittal of his killers.

When is a killing not a killing? Apparently, this is so when the victim is someone slain by the police. When police kill, it is an accident, a "mistake," an "oops!"

Let us examine how the police achieved this judicial sleight-of-hand.

As soon as the case arose, the legal forces defending the state fled the very area that the police claim to be "serving."

Why is it okay to enforce the law in a given neighborhood, yet automatically wrong to have citizens of that same neighborhood try to enforce (as jurors) some of that same law when it comes to these particular "public servants?" Those four cops fled the jurisdiction as quickly as possible, showing their continued and naked contempt for the people that they say they were sworn to "serve."

Amadou Diallo was "served" by the state, and his name has now become a dark example of the paramilitarism of police power; the deadly wages of the so-called "oops factor."

In New York City in recent months, Black and Latino men have been shot for having keys, candy bars, wallets in their hands. This deadly rain of "accidents" is an official expression of Negrophobic oppression, and it can only escalate after this unholy acquittal of the four killer cops from the Bronx.

When the case began, the police immediately opted for a bench trial, before a judge, not a jury. When an African-American jurist was selected, they put in a change of venue motion that put them on the first-thing-smoking to Albany, in upstate, white-bread New York. So much for the "community" that they "serve!"

The service that the state delivers is death!

What of the recent case of the Orthodox Jewish man, Gidone, who was born Gary, Busch, who was cornered by four cops in Boro Park, New York City? Busch, a Ba’altshuva, a newly Orthodox Jew, was shot twelve times outside of his home.

Immediately, New York’s Mayor, Rudolf Giuliani, and Police Commissioner, Howard Safir, attacked the dead youth, and painted him as a "fanatic," whose shooting was "justified." Key to their justification theory was their claim that Busch "attacked" an officer with a hammer.

Eyewitnesses uniformly disputed that claim. Nonetheless, three months after the August 1999 shooting, a Grand Jury exonerated all four cops, pronouncing the killing "justified."

Welcome to the Terrordome.

The vile and violent attacks on Black and Puerto Rican life in the nation’s capital of capital cannot long be limited to their communities. Consciousness does not obey the laws of geography, and repression, like water, seeks the lowest level.

A conservative, pro-Giuliani, Orthodox Jewish community, is still, essentially, a Jewish community. And the social forces that truly run New York City regards them as just another flavor of difference.

Busch’s life, like Diallo’s life, was expendable in the larger interests of the consolidation and projection of state police power.

Both men were gentle souls, who couldn’t fathom the hatred and vehemence with which they were perceived by the police.

Both men were executed twice, once in the streets near home, and next in the court system, where their sacrifice was deemed acceptable to the larger political interests of the status quo.

According to published reports, one resident of Boro Park confided to a black reporter, quote, "Yesterday I believed that when the police would shoot down a black man, they had a reason. Now I realize that the police can be animals — and they have the power to cover it up at all costs. The next time a black man gets shot, I’m marching with you," unquote. That was reported in the most recent edition of the Village Voice.

Let us hope that really happens, so that a vast movement can be built.

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

AMY GOODMAN: On exclusively Democracy Now! in this live broadcast, Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking to us from SCI-Greene, the state prison in Pennsylvania, where he is on death row. And Mumia, I should tell you that the girlfriend of Busch was yesterday at the rally at the United Nations protesting the acquittal of the four police officers.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Remarkable. That is a beginning, isn’t it?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about what’s happening as we speak, and that’s hundreds of protesters are expected to gather in front of the Supreme Court to demand a new trial for you. In fact, we have one of those protesters on the line with us right now. I do know that we’re going to lose you. Is it a ten-minute time?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So I don’t want to go to him right now.

Jeff Garis of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty, just say a quick hello, because we want to ask Mumia Abu-Jamal just one last question. Jeff, are you there?

JEFF GARIS: Yes, I am.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you in front of the Supreme Court?

JEFF GARIS: I am about halfway down the block.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mumia Abu-Jamal is on the line with us right now from prison, so you can tell him what the scene looks like.

JEFF GARIS: Well, a crowd is beginning to gather. There is a prayer vigil that has begun at the Methodist Church at 9:00 a.m.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to stop it there, because we’re going to lose Mumia.

JEFF GARIS: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But Mumia, two quick questions. Your comment on what’s happening in Pennsylvania now, the Philadelphia city council calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, now the state considering this? And we’re seeing the same thing happening in Illinois, with a conservative Republican, George Ryan, the governor, who has now imposed a moratorium on the death penalty because of how many people have been exonerated.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, those reflect similar trends, of course, but they’re very, very different and cannot be put together, and I’ll tell you why. What happened in Philadelphia was, in a sense, a political coup. I mean, in the city council vote. But it reflects the changing political realities in Philadelphia. I mean, most of the people on death row in Pennsylvania come from Philadelphia, so it was a distinctly local issue and concern. And, of course, I think that the city council did something very noble.

What’s happening with the state, however, was far more complex. I don’t think it has a chance in hell, a snowball’s chance in hell. What will come out of it, of course, is that some defense funding will be restored. It had been cut several years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mumia, since you’re going to get cut off, your case now, as people gather outside the Supreme Court calling for a new trial for you, where does it stand?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, I applaud those people in Washington. I say that, you know, it is always difficult, if not impossible, to predict what a court will do. Courts will do what they want to do for their own interests, of course. But I think the Virginia case is a very important one, because at the center of it is, of course, the anti-terrorism bill that is eviscerating habeas corpus. I mean, I think the point should be made, and I think someone as famous as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter has said it several times, that had that act been in effect at the time of his appeal, he would still be in prison, or dead. I mean, it is clear that this evisceration of habeas corpus is perhaps the greatest retrenchment of the so-called "great writ" in 700 years of Anglo-American law. It is essentially — I mean, on its face — unconstitutional. But, of course, I’m not a sitting Supreme Court justice. It is what the judges say it will be. But if you read what the writ was supposed to do, if you read the history of the writ in England and in the United States, and then you read the impact of that, in terms of the anti-terrorism bill, then you see that it is an evisceration, a destruction, a ripping to shreds of the very law of habeas corpus. It is putting federal judges in deference to state elected jurists, and that’s literally putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: What about your case, which is now — you’ve begun the appeals process in federal court. What is the next step?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, we are waiting for the end of a briefing date. Some briefs have been filed, and we’re waiting for the court to read, consider and come to its conclusion on those briefs. When I say that it’s difficult, foolhardy and virtually impossible to predict what a judge will do, I mean, I say that of all judges. I mean, how many people would have predicted an acquittal in the Amadou Diallo killing? I mean, here on the row, I talk to guys all the time, and, you know, jailhouse being what it is, it’s like gallows humor. I had told several guys, on my own inspiration, kind of, that there would be an acquittal. And I was argued down: "No, you have four African Americans on the jury. At the most, there will be a hung jury. It’s impossible. It’ll never happen." Well, I won my bet, even though I wish that I hadn’t. So, I mean, it goes to the thing about its being virtually impossible, truly, to predict. i mean, it’s always a case of good law, but bad courts.

AMY GOODMAN: So you still have faith in the law.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: No, that isn’t what I said. I said —-

OPERATOR: Two minutes remain.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I said the law is good, you see. I mean, the arguments are great. But it depends on who decides those arguments. You know, I mean, who would have said, if they honestly looked at that case, that there would have been an acquittal? Who would have said that there would have been an acquittal in the first Rodney King case? You see. And, you know, we’re dealing with -— we’re dealing with legal expertise, the best legal expertise that money can buy. I assure you, if Joe Average had the kind of legal defense that those four killer cops had up in Albany, there would be no death row in America, you see, because people who are poor get the worst legal defense possible, you know, and they’re convicted, in large part, because they cannot afford competent counsel at trial. You know, it shows the inversion of the system that the best lawyer that someone may ever acquire in their life is after they’re convicted, after their first round of appeals have been had, and perhaps at the time they enter the federal court system. That’s, you know, crazy. It’s just logical that the best defense should be had at trial, when you’re facing the possibility of being sent to death row or sentenced to life or — [dropped call]

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking to us from SCI-Greene, State Correctional Institute-Greene, the state prison in Pennsylvania, where he is being held on death row. And as you can hear, he was just cut off. Mumia Abu-Jamal, exclusively here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

When we come back, we’re going to go to the Supreme Court, where people are gathering, and we’re also going to speak with the former attorney general of Pennsylvania, Ernie Preate, who opposed — who supported the death penalty for years, but now opposes it. And then we’ll be going to the streets of New York, where you’ll hear the speeches of people like the Reverend Al Sharpton, who spoke in front of the United Nations yesterday on the acquittal of the four police officers in the Amadou Diallo murder. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. Again, we will be going to the speech of the Reverend Al Sharpton in front of the United Nations yesterday. He is calling for federal intervention, a federal civil rights prosecution of the four New York City officers charged — acquitted of the Diallo murder. He is also calling for a boycott of New York City businesses that support the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

But before we go there, right to the Supreme Court right now, which will hear arguments on whether the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act should deny those facing execution the right to appeal when there’s new evidence on their innocence. The fate of more than 3,000 people hangs in the balance. That is the number of people on death row around this country. Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of those prisoners.

This morning, hundreds of protesters assembling in front of the Supreme Court to demand a new trial for Abu-Jamal and to abolish capital punishment. Death penalty opponents believe that momentum is building for a moratorium on capital punishment. Governor George Ryan, the Republican governor of Illinois, halted executions in his state, after thirteen people were released from death row. And states and cities around the nation have followed suit, as we just said, the Philadelphia city council voting for a non-binding resolution against executions.

We’re joined on the line by Jeff Garis, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty, in front of the Supreme Court, and Ernie Preate, former Pennsylvania attorney general.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

JEFF GARIS: It’s good to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you give us an update on what’s happening right now, a few minutes after we talked?

JEFF GARIS: Well, there are a number of barricades that have gone up. People are beginning to assemble. It is an absolutely incredible day here in Washington, perfect weather. And I think that — it’s my understanding that the actual civil disobedience action will begin at 10:00 a.m.

AMY GOODMAN: Ernie Preate, tell us a little about your changing views on the death penalty. When were you the attorney general of Pennsylvania?

ERNIE PREATE: Hello?

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Are you there?

ERNIE PREATE: Yes, Ernie Preate here.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. When were you the attorney general of Pennsylvania?

ERNIE PREATE: I was the attorney general in — starting in 1989 until 1995.

AMY GOODMAN: And while you were attorney general, what were your feelings about the death penalty?

ERNIE PREATE: Well, I was a prosecutor all my life. I started out in 1970 as an assistant DA, then a district attorney for three terms in Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. And so, as district attorney, I prosecuted people and obtained the jury verdict of death against five individuals. And then in 1989, I argued, where Jeff Garis is today, before the Supreme Court of the United States, the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s death penalty law, which is the current law, in which 230 men and women are being held on Pennsylvania’s death rows. So, during that period of time, I was a supporter. I spoke in favor of it.

And it’s recently, however, I’ve come to the conclusion — and I started this process of evolution, this evolutionary process, while I was attorney general, because I could start to see that the trial counsels that were doing the death penalty work in the state, and indeed around the nation, were just not the kinds of people that should be called advocates for the defense, that the advocates for the defense should be out there very vigorously defending and putting forward evidence of innocence or mitigating evidence, particularly in the death penalty phase, and they were not doing that as a whole. In some cases, yes, but as a whole, they were not. And so, I think that the evolutionary process for me started in the early 1990s toward the position that I hold now, which is we ought to have a moratorium, because what we have is not working. It’s — the system is broken.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you served time in jail?

ERNIE PREATE: Yes, I did.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened.

ERNIE PREATE: Well, I had a campaign reporting violation, a violation of state law for taking cash contributions of over a hundred dollars. And you can’t do that under state law. The cash contributions I received in a $10 million campaign were under $20,000, and so that became a violation of state law. And that was in 1985 campaign. And I went to jail in federal prison for a year for — because of the campaign expense report was mailed.

AMY GOODMAN: What year?

ERNIE PREATE: That was 1996 to '97.

AMY GOODMAN: So it wasn't prison that changed your views on the death penalty?

ERNIE PREATE: No, it’s not.

AMY GOODMAN: What did prison do, in terms of your views on the prison-industrial complex?

ERNIE PREATE: Well, I’ll tell you what it did make very clear to me, was that 12 percent of the population is 66 percent of the jails. And that is, we are incarcerating people of color in incredible numbers, far out proportion to their numbers in the general population. You can see that very, very clearly. I didn’t quite understand that. You know, you look at the raw numbers on a piece of paper, and it says that blacks and Native American Indians and all kind — Hispanics and Latinos are all being incarcerated there out of proportion to their numbers, but you don’t really appreciate that until you go into — in any prison. Whether it’s a federal prison or state prison or local jail, it’s just overwhelmed with people of color. We are turning the Civil War on its head in this country, because what we’re doing is we’re finding a way to incarcerate and enslave people of color under the guise of law, deny them the right to vote, deny them the right to participate in democracy, deny them the right to have families, all because of their color. In a lot of instances, a lot of it’s because of their color.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you vote, now that you’ve come out of prison?

ERNIE PREATE: I’m one of those in a clause that’s kind of grandfathered in. Now there’s the movement in Pennsylvania, which I’m a part of, to try to get the felon’s rights to vote reinstated, but — and there’s a hearing on it on Thursday of this week in Philadelphia. So we’re very, very much aware of the attempts to try to get felons to vote around the United States. There’s released felons and felons in prison. Four states permit felons in prison to vote. But I am able to vote because, under Pennsylvania law, I was registered to vote prior to my incarceration. There were other people who were registered to vote prior to their incarceration, but they were — they lost it, because they get purged if they spend two or three or four years in prison. I get out, and I’m still able to vote, because I wasn’t purged from the rolls. It’s arbitrary, it’s capricious, and it makes no sense to have people who’ve paid their debt to society, paid their debt, not be able — and are paying taxes, getting jobs, working hard to try to become rehabilitated citizens, to deny them the right to vote. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

AMY GOODMAN: I think it’s something that people often, who are on outside of the bars, don’t really think about, is that you have this growing population in prison. So many African American men are under the jurisdiction of the prison-industrial complex or the criminal justice system. I think in Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, we’re talking about something like up to half of the young people up to the age of twenty-four or twenty-eight. And you also have these laws that say, once you’re in prison, you can’t vote. So these people are taken out of any kind of, you know, being able to affect, in that way, the electoral process in this country for the rest of their lives.

ERNIE PREATE: Well, we’re going to see that, in twenty years, the demographers predict, that if we continue at the rate of incarceration we’re doing right now, there will probably be four or five million people in jail, which is remarkable. We’re now at two million. And most of those people are going to be people of color. And, in fact, the numbers show that between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, that perhaps two-thirds of all black males will be in prison in twenty years. That has enormous social ramifications for this country and for the African American family and for the future generations of African Americans, going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ernie Preate, former Pennsylvania attorney general, who supported the death penalty, argued for it in the Supreme Court, but now opposes it. And Jeff Garis is standing by in front of the Supreme Court. He’s executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. Hundreds of people are expected to be in front of the Supreme Court calling for an end to death penalty and also for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Jeff Garis, talk about the movement in Pennsylvania that you’re a part of, Pennsylvania Abolitionists, and how you got the city council to vote the way they did, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

JEFF GARIS: I think so. I just want to mention here — I’m going to give an estimate. It looks to me like we’ve got about 1,500 to 2,000 people already assembled here, people from all walks of life, people who are speaking out, not just about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, but speaking out against the death penalty, people speaking out regarding the Diallo decision. It is really building right now.

In Pennsylvania, it has been our goal to try to build grassroots opposition to the death penalty, to work strategically together for a moratorium. What happened in Philadelphia city council, you know, Mumia described earlier as a political coup. And I believe that it was, but like many political coups, like virtually all, it was something that required months, if not years, of work, organizing people. We’ve had about fifty organizations in the city of Philadelphia sign on in support of a moratorium. We have worked with politicians. We have worked with educating the public. And, you know, I really believe that it’s ultimately the work of people on the streets. It is the work of individuals coming together corporately to demand — to demand of this system some justice, as opposed to simply giving things out to the highest bidder, as Mumia mentioned regarding the funding for defense. So, you know, it was an exciting day in Philadelphia city council, with 75 percent of the city council members signing on. We are continuing to work at the state level with fantastic allies like Ernie Preate, like people in the religious community, people in the legal community, to basically keep the pressure on, because it is my belief and it is the belief of Pennsylvania Abolitionists that if the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow. And I think today, outside the Supreme Court, we see many, many people taking a lead today.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jeff Garis, the moratorium that the resolution calls for in the city council of Philadelphia, that is non-binding, right?

JEFF GARIS: That is correct. It is — effectively, it’s a symbolic statement, but I think it’s representative of the people of Philadelphia. You know, we had city council members who were largely backed by the Paternal Order of Police who came out in support of a moratorium. To say that we do not need to examine this system in this country, that we do not need to take a halt from the killing to begin to, at the very least, look at what’s happening, I think, is totally falacious, and I think that it’s becoming clear to even people in the political establishment. So it’s non-binding; however, it is a non-binding call that has been heard across the country and even around the world. And I think the message is beginning to get through to people in our state government. I think, as Mumia said, regarding a snowball’s chance in hell of a moratorium, at this point that is the case. I think what they’re going to try to do is offer concessions, funding for defense, funding for appeals, possibly accessing resources for DNA, and they’re going to try to give that to us an overture, to try to take the heat off. And there is absolutely no way that we are taking the heat off of this system until the death penalty is stopped and until we have justice in our criminal justice system.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Garis, we hear people starting to roar. What’s happening?

JEFF GARIS: There is a feeder march coming in. It’s a few hundred more people carrying signs —- "No justice, no peace!" "New trial for Mumia," "Stop legal lynching," "Jamaicans say free Mumia." I would say, at this point, we’re probably easily up to 2,000. There’s a contingent of religious leaders down the street, as well, who have not yet arrived, and a number of political leaders. I saw Dennis Brutus down there. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Brutus, the South African writer.

JEFF GARIS: Yes, that’s correct, Dennis Brutus, who has been jailed along with Nelson Mandela, where they were together in prison, who has become an outspoken advocate for ending the death penalty in the United States, for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and for justice in our system.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s ironic. Yesterday I was riding back on the Amtrak from Washington to New York, sitting in the cafe car, and a young man sat down across from me. He said he was from South Africa, and he said the one thing that would bring justice to South Africa first would be reimposing the death penalty. He works for an investment firm here in Manhattan.

Ernie Preate, you were former Pennsylvania attorney general. You argued for the death penalty before the Supreme Court. What kind of effect does protests like these, did it have on the old Ernie Preate?

ERNIE PREATE: Well, protests have a way of galvanizing support amongst a democratic populace so that they can then show their leaders that there is an interest, and a deep and abiding interest, in changing the way things are. So the more people that show up, the more the politicians get interested, because they recognize that those are people that can go out and vote and change minds. So it does have an effect. And I’m delighted to see that Jeff is and the folks down in Washington are getting a very strong voice together in this particular instance about Mumia’s case and about the death penalty, in general. It’s that kind of interest that must be built, both in the streets and in the legislatures, in the halls, in the halls of government, that makes change possible. I think Jeff is right when he says that leadership on this issue is going to come not from the leaders, but from the people in the street, because they’re going to — the leaders are going to follow the people in the street. They want to see if it’s politically OK for them to step into this abolition water.

AMY GOODMAN: Ernie Preate, you’re Republican or Democrat?

ERNIE PREATE: I’m Republican.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re Republican, so here we have George Bush and John McCain campaigning around the country, not to mention Bradley and Gore, all of them supporting the death penalty. Your thoughts on that?

ERNIE PREATE: Neither one of them — none of those people have ever tried a death penalty case. I know that George Bush has signed a lot of death warrants. But the fact of the matter is that they’re going to speak out in favor of the death penalty, for the simple reason is that they’re not sure how it would be interpreted in the political sphere by the political spin doctors if they came out and said, "Well, you know, I have a very conscientious objection to the death penalty." Some people interpret that as being weak. Some people interpret that as being soft on crime. And fact of the matter is, in the end, if a politician stands up and says, "In my conscience, I cannot do this," then I think the people respect him. For example, the leader of the abolition and the moratorium movement in Pennsylvania is an old guard Republican, Senator Ed Helfrick from central Pennsylvania, white, old guard farmer, and his constituency is Republican. And he goes out and consistently has said he’s opposed to the death penalty, and he wants this moratorium. And he’s consistently reelected —- in fact, no opposition. So it just goes to show you that people respect him because he’s speaking his conscience. And if politicians would speak their conscience instead of looking at focus groups and polls, they’d probably do a lot better in the role of government.

AMY GOODMAN: At this point, George W. Bush in Texas as governor, I believe, has signed more death warrants than any governor in the history of the United States. I want to thank you, Ernie Preate, for joining us. We’ll have you again, former Republican Pennsylvania attorney general, supported the death penalty, argued a case for the death penalty before the Supreme Court, now opposes it. Jeff Garis, on the line with us in front of the Supreme Court, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.

Jeff, we hope to come back to you by the end of the show to get a picture of what’s happening in fifteen minutes, if that’s OK with you.

JEFF GARIS: OK, great.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. And when we come back from our break, we’re going to go to the streets of New York and what happened over the last two days in reaction to the acquittal of the New York City police officers acquitted of murder in the killing of Amadou Diallo.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Those last speakers, New York Civil Liberties Union’s attorney Norman Siegel and the Reverend Al Sharpton. In this last minute of the program, we go back to Washington, DC, to the scene in front of the Supreme Court where thousands have gathered to protest the killing of Mumia Abu-Jamal by the state, calling for a fair trial for him, and also calling for an end to the death penalty. Jeff Garis is with us.

Jeff Garis of Pennsylvania Abolitionists, can you describe the scene?

JEFF GARIS: OK. The scene is, we have about 2,000 people out here on the sidewalk in front. The US Supreme Court is, for all practical purposes, closed down, not by the people coming to demand justice, but by the barricades put up by the police, who are standing across the front of the building to prevent the voices of the public from coming into the building. You know, so it should be noted that as people come out in support of justice, they are being denied access to that. The action is about to begin. It is my understanding there are at least a hundred people who will be risking arrest. There are signs with all kinds of messages: "Free Mumia," "Moratorium now," "End to the death penalty," "Thou shalt not kill." It is truly an amazing day here in Washington, DC. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Garis, standing in front of the Supreme Court, as we wrap up the program.

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