Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
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Ryan, in the last passing days of his first and only term, saved
the best for last.
He sent shock
waves across the nation when he issued four pardons to men sitting
on the Condemned Units of the state's prison system, opening the
doors of the dungeon for four men, one who sat in the shadow of
the gallows for nearly two decades. Speaking in a soft, Midwestern
accent, his words were as damning as the death sentences that his
orders negated: "The system is broken."
With these orders,
he ushered four men, Stanley Howard, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson,
and Leroy Orange, from the darkest corners of the land, into the
light. Quoting a tale of that famed Illinoisan, Lincoln, he recalled
the job of the nation's chief executive, who, reviewing execution
orders for those who were convicted of violating the military code
during the Civil War, asked one of his generals why one young man
had no letters in his file from any who wished his life spared.
The General, shrugging his shoulders matter-of-factly, said, "He's
got no friends." Lincoln, lifting his pen, remarked, "He's
got one friend," and pardoned the man from the clutches of
the hangman. Ryan said those four denizens of Death Row, each having
been subjected to police torture, falsified confessions, prosecutorial
misconduct, and judicial blindness to these vile transgressions,
had one friend, and decided to cut the Gordian knot, by issuing
full pardons to the four, and proving a friend to men who had few
real friends in the dark, deserted abode of death. Before day's
end, three of the four walked away from the closed cell of state
repression, into the fresh air of a windy Chicago, and freedom.
By so doing,
Ryan has dealt a serious, crippling blow to the state system of
death, and the inability of the dignitaries and officials of the
system, to cure the serious problems of the death penalty, were
shown in sharp and stark relief.
It is fitting
that Ryan, a one-term, embattled politico, and a non-lawyer ("I'm
a pharmacist", he repeatedly explained) would be the one to
solve these deep and troubling problems. It is equally as fitting
that the problems of the Illinois death system came to light, not
through the members of the Bar, but through the meanderings of students
of journalism, whose investigations led to the ultimate conclusion
voiced by Ryan some years later: "The system is broken."
his unprecedented announcement of the pardon package, Ryan's office
would announce another earth-shattering event: the full commutation
of every man on Death Row in the Prairie State. By the end of the
week, 167 folks would no longer be on Death Row.
Elected as a
conservative Republican who "never gave a moment's thought"
to the rightness or morality of the death penalty, Ryan would be
the last politician one would expect would strike down the nation's
7th largest Death Row in the United States.
With a hoarse
voice, his nervousness evident by his fidgety presentation, the
one-term governor struck a mighty blow against the Death System
breadth of vision that is truly remarkable in an American sitting
(albeit departing) politician, Ryan spoke of the problems facing
not just those condemned to death, but in the processes, prosecutions,
and judgments affecting those condemned to 'life'. His words were
a rare gubernatorial recognition of the deficits in the system entire:
"The system has proven itself to be wildly inaccurate, unjust,
unable to separate the innocent from the guilty... and racist."
of over 150 death sentences, unquestionably stays the cold hand
of death, but it does not address the injustices that led many to
Death Row, nor keeps them confined on 'Life Row', for those problems,
those deep cracks in the system, remain.
It is tragically
true that, as Ryan charges, "The system is broken." The
bitter truth is his efforts, while undeniably noble, and unquestionably
historic, does not fix the mess.
To his credit,
Ryan assembled a blue-ribbon panel to examine the state's death
system, and the commission, after three years, came to a political,
yet systematic, conclusion: 'The system is broken.' The commission,
composed of prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and scholars, joined
in the report, and issued some 85 recommendations to 'fix' the system,
including the recording of confessions, from beginning to end, the
end of 'jailhouse confessions', (which are notoriously unreliable,
yet influential to unknowing jurors), and a host of others. The
legislature opted to ignore the recommendations, just as the state's
highest judiciary chose to ignore many of the most blatant injustices,
and Ryan, the 'non-lawyer', felt compelled to act.
If the system
is broken, how can the system fix the system?
extraordinary act, seems to suggest, that it cannot. For while those
4 men are free of unjust convictions, are they the only four innocents
on the state's large Death Row, or larger Life Row? That seems unlikely.
In another sense,
as the underlying system remains tightly embedded in place, what
of those to come? How many years will other innocents suffer in
the suffocating holds of steel and brick slave ships (prisons) before
another scandal threatens the stability of the system?
Like the notorious
cycle of police corruption cases that plagues U.S. cities, like
New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and -yes- Chicago, the problem
isn't fixed, but passed on to later administrations.
It seems an
abolition movement must take this, not as a final victory, but as
a first step of a systematic battle for real change.
We may all agree
that the system is broken. But that mere agreement does not insure
that that which is broken will indeed be fixed.
Check out Mumia's
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
The Power of Truth
is Final -- Free Mumia!
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.