In less than 24 hours I have left work and driven like a bat out of hell with 4 fellow activists so that I could be in Huntsville by 5:30 to protest the murder of Willie Shannon and then gone to court this morning so that Harris "Kill 'em All" County could set an execution date for a wonderful friend and innocent man, Joseph Nichols-Bey, and then tracked down an African Liberation Flag for Saturday's funeral.
Damn! I would have rather been bird watching or sleeping or teaching or even cleaning my house instead of dealing with death and grief and racism and injustice.
There were almost 20 of us outside the Walls Unit death house last night as Willie Shannon was executed. His parents could not bring themselves to make the trip inside to witness their son being killed, but his loved-one, Regina Schmall, and three friends were with Willie until his last breath.
After touching Willie’s still-warm face and saying good-bye at the Huntsville Funeral Home last night, I tried to sleep after I got home but kept reliving the words that Willie told Regina this week during last visits--that he remembered me and my beautiful granddaughter telling him hello through the glass at the Ellis Unit so often many years ago.
My granddaughter Luchita was 5-7 years old when I babysat on Saturday nights as her mom waited tables. My daughter was in college then and working full time to raise Chita and pay rent and stay in school. So every Saturday night Chita would drive with me to Huntsville for death row visits. She got to know Tee, Emerson, Carlos, Nick-Bey, Nanon, Kamau and so many other guys because she would walk around and talk to them while I visited. Chita is now a senior in high school, making plans for college and medical school, but as a child she delighted the men at the Ellis Unit with her beautiful smile and cheery hello's. And Willie remembered this. I was truly touched. Willie looked so peaceful as Regina gently stroked his face and spoke to him after the execution. We are so glad that she could offer him comfort these last weeks and now we hope we can help comfort her with this tremendous loss.
I woke up early today, even though I had taken a sick day, so I could do a live interview with WBAI, the Pacifica radio station in New York City, at 6:40 AM. They wanted to talk about the death row hunger strike that is going on. Finally, the New York Times reported on it, so now it is legitimate news.
Then at 10:00 AM I went to the Harris County Courthouse and walked in to Judge Harmon's courtroom on the 19th floor to find the place packed with Joe's family and friends. His mother, father, his 3 brothers and one sister, his aunts, uncles, numerous nieces and nephews, cousins, high school friends and a bunch of abolitionists were there for Joseph as well as being there for his mom who works with us in the struggle.
Joe was told he was scheduled to die at 6:00 PM on March 7.
Then, in an unexpected move, the court let him speak from his chair at the attorneys' table to his family. He recognized everyone and called most of them by name. He cracked jokes with his brothers and his father. He actually had everyone laughing and enjoying the mass family conversation.
But as the family flowed from the courtroom 15 minutes later, there was a strange mixture of laughter and tears, of smiles on sorrowful faces. Everyone was so happy to have been able to speak with Joseph, yet the devastation of knowing the exact date and time that he would leave them was overwhelming. The countdown has begun.
Joseph still has appeals before the US Supreme Court and like Kenneth Foster, James Beatherd, Jesse Gutierrez, Carlos Santana and countless others, he is a victim of the law of parties. He and a friend had robbed a store over 25 years ago but had left the store when much to Joe's surprise the other guy went back in and shot the owner. Not only did Joseph not know this was going to happen, but it was not planned, and he was as surprised as anyone that it did. Nick-Bey's mom spoke at the rally to stop executions in Austin on October 28. She has worked with the Abolition Movement for over a decade, but this was the first time she had spoken in public about her son. She was so grateful to the chairs of the rally for giving her that opportunity.
For those of us in the Abolition Movement who were there with the family today, watching this loving family get the most devastating news of their lives was difficult. We left with our hearts filled with sadness but also with righteous anger at a criminal justice system that is racist to the core and one does not value the lives of the working class.
We are outraged that on Saturday we will go to Willie's funeral. Today I found the large African Liberation flag to put on Willie's coffin and Regina bought the black beret and black boots and our friend, Bro Kenya, is looking for a Panther button. Willie had been a member of PURE--Panthers United for Revolutionary Education, and wants to be buried as a Panther. Tomorrow, Howard Guidry, who was on death row for 10 years before his case was sent back for retrial in Harris County, will call me from the jail and dictate a statement to be read at Willie's funeral. Howard and Willie were both Panthers. We will see to it that Willie gets his last wish.
I know that the death penalty is not the only evil in this system. I teach kids every day whose mothers have to choose between food and utilities. I see kids that are the victims of family violence because their parents are so frustrated at trying to survive that they take it out on the children. Under capitalism, where medical care can be denied if you don’t have money, where affordable housing is a joke, where the children of the working poor join the army to stay off the streets and out of prison, violence is a way of life. Just look at what the US has done to the people of Iraq!
To end the injustices of the criminal injustice system, we must ultimately get rid of this system. Like the death penalty, it is broken for working people and poor people and people of color, and it cannot be fixed
Long Live Willie Shannon! Damn this despicable system! Let's fight like hell to stop ALL executions, from Charles Nealey's this month through Joe's in March!
"Without struggle, there can be no progress."