Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cesar E. Chavez... The Path to Nonviolence

On what would have been his 82nd Birthday, NCADP presents this guest commentary about Cesar E. Chavez, by Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila, NCADP's Death Penalty Abolitionist of the Year, 1994.

Cesar E. Chavez

A Clear Voice Against Violence

As a community and farm worker organizer early in his career, Cesar E. Chavez studied Gandhi, King and others, building a solid foundation for his nonviolent political/moral position.

When I first met Cesar I was not impressed by either his speaking style or his being a vegetarian. And he was far too religious for me. I did not understand how this humble man with an eighth grade education could plan to lead a revolution believing in and practicing nonviolence.

I was in my twenties and I wanted action… a revolution like Che’s. I wanted to confront those who did violence to our community with a taste of their own violence…

In later years I learned that his position of nonviolence was a wonderful place from which to respect all life - even the lives of those who hate you and what you stand for. On the picket lines Cesar would not let us respond with swear words and name calling to those who would call us by the worst of names. Instead he would make us shout to them in the following manner.


So it was this calling of our enemy brother and sister that made us value their lives as much as we valued our own.

When some of our strikers were killed by agents of the growers Cesar instead lead us in prayer, forgiveness and a re-dedication to our strike, our boycott and our commitment to non-violence.

Cesar Chavez, and co-founder of the UNITED FARM WORKERS UNION Dolores Huerta, were always voices to stand up against violence including the penalty of death. Today Dolores continues to raise her voice against this act of violence.

Cesar’s example turned the minds and hearts of young militants like me and many others from a road filled with revenge to one of forgiveness and reconciliation. At first it was hard to be non-violent but as the years and tests passed, I personally found a new freedom in forgiving and by loving my enemies. It is when you truly embrace non violence that you can find a peace and liberation that can help others to heal and live full lives.

Cesar today would have called Governor Bill Richardson and would have thanked him for abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico. And then would have asked him to make calls to convince the other governors.

He, Dolores, the Filipinos and others at the core of this non-violent movement encouraged that we all become strong and dedicated voices in our communities, for non-violence…

And yes we can overcome violence and change our world for the better. We can, and we will abolish the death penalty.



Written by Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila

Former United Farm Workers Union Organizer

Founding Executive Director Cesar E. Chavez Foundation

Executive Director Social Justice Fund NW

Friday, March 27, 2009

Montana Takes Another Step

On Wednesday the Montana House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the death penalty repeal bill in that state. Click here for coverage from the Helena Independent Record. The committee is expected to vote next week.

The Montana Standard is running the death penalty as its Question of the Week. Go to that site, scroll down to find it on the right, and Vote for Abolition!

And visit the Montana Abolition Coalition for more details. Urge anyone you know who lives in Montana to be sure to sign up on that site and to take any actions requested of Montana residents - such as contacting MT State Reps ASAP!

Go Montana!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Abolition - It's Just Common Sense

Last Friday, March 13, 2009, as I sat in the gallery of the New Mexico Senate listening to that body debate whether to pass a bill to repeal New Mexico’s death penalty statute, I felt very much like I had been there before. In fact, 15 months ago, December 13, 2007 I was in the gallery of the New Jersey Assembly listening to pretty much the same debate. As in New Jersey, New Mexico’s legislature sent the bill to the Governor’s desk, and today, Governor Richardson signed the bill. This makes New Mexico only the second state since 1965 to legislatively repeal its death penalty.

As a person who used to support the death penalty who is now working to abolish it, I feel both proud and privileged to have so far been a part of two successful repeal campaigns. It validates my own experience, clearly demonstrating that the more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it. I find validation in the years of daily grind, working on the front lines to sow and tend to the seeds of abolition, and helping other individuals and groups do so as effectively as possible. And it validates my experience that no one can do this alone – it takes a team of many, and it takes time.

To me, this victory comes not as a surprise, but with a very happy sigh of relief. Moving any bill through a legislature and all the way to an executive signature is no small feat. I’m relieved that we did it *this year*. I will not be surprised to see at least one more legislative repeal in another state this year, and I will not be surprised when we finish this job across this country sometime in the next decade or two.

We will finish this struggle. We will finish it just as long as leaders like the legislators who sponsored and pushed these bills in New Jersey and New Mexico continue to step forward. We will finish this struggle as long as people of faith and people of good conscience – regular people making themselves heard - continue to raise their voices in concert with all those who participated with the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty and its many coalition partners. We will finish this struggle as long as scholars continue to uncover the facts about the failures of the system. We will finish this struggle as long as more and more members of the law enforcement community continue to step up and show us how it is wrong and does not work as a tool to fight crime. We will finish this struggle as long as “Voices of Experience” like murder victim family members and survivors of wrongful conviction put an undeniable face on this issue.

We will finish this struggle because it is the common sense thing to do. Our challenge is to help more people understand why the death penalty is a bad public policy, and give greater backing to legislators and governors willing to stand up for what is right. Our challenge is to support the people and organizations doing this work day in and day out. Our challenge is make and keep a promise to leave this world a better place for our children by working to abolish the death penalty in the United States and worldwide. It’s just common sense.

Today is Abolition Day in New Mexico – March 18, 2009. I am keeping my promise.

Governor Richardson's Press Release

For Immediate Release Contact: Gilbert Gallegos
March 18, 2009 505.476.2217

Governor Bill Richardson Signs Repeal of the Death Penalty

SANTA FE – Governor Bill Richardson today signed House Bill 285, Repeal of the Death
Penalty. The Governor’s remarks follow:

Today marks the end of a long, personal journey for me and the issue of the death penalty.

Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just
punishment – in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that.
But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to
challenge my own thinking on the death penalty.

The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two
things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death
penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone’s death warrant.

I’ll be honest. The prospect of either decision was extremely troubling. But I was elected by
the people of New Mexico to make just this type of decision.

So, like many of the supporters who took the time to meet with me this week, I have believed
the death penalty can serve as a deterrent to some who might consider murdering a law
enforcement officer, a corrections officer, a witness to a crime or kidnapping and murdering
a child. However, people continue to commit terrible crimes even in the face of the death
penalty and responsible people on both sides of the debate disagree – strongly – on this issue.

But what we cannot disagree on is the finality of this ultimate punishment. Once a conclusive
decision has been made and executed, it cannot be reversed. And it is in consideration of this,
that I have made my decision.

I have decided to sign legislation that repeals the death penalty in the state of New Mexico.
Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the
criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who
lives and who dies for their crime. If the State is going to undertake this awesome
responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be

But the reality is the system is not perfect – far from it. The system is inherently defective.
DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the

Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we can’t be 100-
percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes. Evidence, including
DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot
ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants. The sad truth is the wrong person can
still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the
ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence – I would say certitude – that the system
is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

And it bothers me greatly that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on
death row.

I have to say that all of the law enforcement officers, and especially the parents and spouses
of murder victims, made compelling arguments to keep the death penalty. I respect their
opinions and have taken their experiences to heart -- which is why I struggled – even today –
before making my final decision.

Yes, the death penalty is a tool for law enforcement. But it’s not the only tool. For some
would-be criminals, the death penalty may be a deterrent. But it’s not, and never will be, for
many, many others.

While today’s focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this
bill I’m signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the
option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
They will never get out of prison.

Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect,
my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society

The bill I am signing today, which was courageously carried for so many years by
Representative Gail Chasey, replaces the death penalty with true life without the possibility
of parole – a sentence that ensures violent criminals are locked away from society forever,
yet can be undone if an innocent person is wrongfully convicted. More than 130 death row
inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New
Mexicans – a fact I cannot ignore.

From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should
be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support
and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not
something to be proud of.

In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not
vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for
wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to
our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.


Albuquerque Journal On-Line Poll Says REPEAL!

The Albuquerque Journal started this poll sometime before midnight on the evening of March 16, 2009. On-line polls are notoriously unscientific - a measure of people who happen upon them and care to express their opinion. To its credit, the Journal put in a place a protection that allows only one vote per computer. There appears to be strong interest in the poll, and the percentages have been pretty steady since about 5pm on March 17. This snapshot of the poll results was grabbed at about 10:40am on March 18.

Amazingly, the above unscientific poll results mirror somewhat those of a scientific poll of likely New Mexico voters conducted by the New Mexico firm, Research & Polling, INC., completed in December, 2008. The 1st question below includes the concept of restitution combined with life in prison, and the 2nd shows simple preferences for life imprisonment without the concept of a restitution program.

And would you support or oppose replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without possibility of parole for people convicted of murder, plus restitution to the victim's family, meaning the prisoner would work in prison to pay compensation to the family of the murder victim?

Random Sample

64% Support*

29% Oppose

6% Don’t know/won’t say

Would you support or oppose replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without possibility of parole for people convicted of murder, meaning the person convicted would never be released from prison for the rest of his or her life?

Statewide Random Sample

53% Support

37% Oppose

10% Don’t know/won’t say

In New Mexico, The People Speak!

For Immediate Release Contact: Caitlin Kelleher

March 17, 2009 505.476.2299

Governor Bill Richardson Continues to Hear from New Mexicans Today on HB 285

SANTA FE – Governor Bill Richardson continues to hear from New Mexicans about a bill to repeal the death penalty and today released details on the more than 9,400 calls, emails and walk-ins he’s received on the issue. The Governor has heard from a total of 9,413 constituents who voiced their opinion on House Bill 285. Of those, 7169 were FOR the repeal of the death penalty and 2244 were AGAINST.

After lawmakers passed the bill on Friday, the Governor urged New Mexicans to call and email him on their thoughts of the bill. The Governor then met with more than 100 New Mexicans at his office on Monday, many of which had concerns either pro or con, the repeal of the death penalty.

The Governor has until midnight on Wednesday, March 18th to take action on HB 285.


Caitlin Kelleher

Media Coordinator for Governor Richardson

Office of the Governor

State Capitol, Suite 400

Santa Fe, NM

office 505.476.2299| cell 505.795.2480

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Mexico Senate Approves Abolition Bill

Earlier today, Friday, March 13, 2009, The New Mexico Senate voted 24-18 to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. House Bill 285 now goes to Gov. Bill Richardson for his signature.

Governor Richardson's office has set up a hotline to receive the opinions of New Mexicans (and anyone else!) on the issue. That number is 505-476-2225. Those wishing to weigh in via e-mail can do so through the governor's web site at:
www.governor.state.nm.us and clicking on "Contact the Governor."

"This is an extremely difficult issue that deserved the serious and thoughtful debate it received in the Legislature," Richardson said in a prepared statement. "I have met with many people and will continue to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision."

Please take action RIGHT NOW to urge Governor Richardson to sign the Death Penalty Repeal bill whether you live in New Mexico, or anywhere else! IF you know people who live in New Mexico, please forward this and urge them to take this action immediately.


A few faces in the crowd....

Michelle Giger of Murder Victim's Families for Reconciliation speaks with the Associated Press immediately following the historic vote.

Allen Sanchez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops with Viki Elkey, Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.
Very happy key players....

Michelle Giger and Cathy Ansheles of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, after a bite to eat and a bit of celebration, on their way to deliver hand written thank you notes to the NM State Senators who voted to repeal New Mexico's death penalty.