DAY SEVEN AND EIGHT: May 16 and 17, 2008
Posted by on May 17th, 2008
|Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus|
On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books).As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches. [TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]
DAY SEVEN - May 16, 2008
Up early again. Have to make tracks today and there's a telephone interview to do first, this with a woman at the Iowa Tribune, in anticipation of my arrival there (weeks from now, I assume).
The next gig is in Austin, Texas, almost 800 miles away, so I won't plan to get there tonight, but want to take a good bite out of it in order to get into the city relatively early tomorrow. I've not been to Austin and am looking forward to it. I keep hearing that it's the "Berkeley of Texas," a bastion of liberality in an otherwise conservative state.
With thanks to Bobby and Eugenie for their gracious hospitality I head back into Santa Fe, through the narrow lanes of that lovely town, and finally to U.S. Highway 285, which runs a pretty straight shot southeast to West Texas.
It's beautiful heading down out of the highlands under a bright blue sky pebbled with cottony white clouds. Driving up from El Paso on Tuesday, the climb from Las Cruces to Santa Fe was so gradual as to not be obvious, but a climb it was. Like El Paso, Las Cruces is less than 4,000 feet above sea level (actually higher than I had thought), while Santa Fe is nearly 7,500, so Mule had work to do - and did it without complaint. It was a 'beepless' day, thank heaven, without great panicky moments.
I filled up the tank in Taos last night despite the fact that I still had two squares showing on the gas gauge and could probably have easily made the 65 miles back down to Santa Fe, but since it was very dark and there wasn't a lot of civilization until we got close to Bobby and Eugenie's, I decided not to test the Mule. And again this morning the gauge says it's still full. Amazing.
As we race southward the mesas become less prominent and the land flattens out. It's interesting to watch the outside temperature rise (the one thing I CAN understand on the dash screen so full of complex diagrams and information) as our altitude falls. From the time we left L.A. and hit the desert the outside temperature has been in the high 90s, only dropping into the high 80s in El Paso. Once we pushed up to Santa Fe it got into the 60s and 50s, dropping one morning into the 40s, so having the connection between altitude and temperature spelled out before me is interesting. Taking full advantage of the downward slope and a lack of traffic, I push the Mule along at a good clip. I figure I've now broken the speed laws in every state we've touched so far.
I'm still pissed at President Stupid. Actually, that's too easy. I've never been convinced he's the moron so many think he is. He seems to me to be quite clever in many ways, only one of them having manipulated himself into the spot he now occupies. John Kerry once told me that he didn't think W was at all stupid, but what was troubling was that he seemed to lack any intellectual curiosity. Once he determined that something was what he believed it to be, there was no questioning, no analysis and no willingness to budge. It's the position of a frightened child - or an utter narcissist. (How's this. I looked up Narcissistic Personality Disorder: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.")
As Governor of Texas he presided over 152 executions and went so far as to mock the plea of one of them, Karla Faye Tucker, to a reporter. In Iraq, he's been responsible for over 4,000 U.S. military deaths, tens of thousands of injuries among our military personnel and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. Has there been any sign of empathy?
That smirk makes me nuts.
But forget him for the moment. Here we are in southeastern New Mexico, zipping long under the now-less-cloudy blue sky. The flat, scrub-covered land stretches as far as one can see on each side, and as I look to the left I note the entrance to a vast, fenced piece of property with a sign over the gate that reads 'Victor Perez Ranch.' When I say 'vast,' I mean that the road under the gate runs straight away from the highway and disappears over the horizon without a single structure in sight. Somewhere off in the far distance beyond the edge of the earth I envision a huge, elaborate ranch house and attendant structures looking like something out of the movie, "Giant."
Considering this as we roll along gets me thinking about the whole idea of owning property. As a city boy from a working class background, I know the satisfaction that comes from owning a home and a piece of property, but thinking of Victor Perez and his rancho, or people like the characters in "Giant," or so many others with huge landholdings - the kind of acreage that makes one understand the use of the word "spread" - gives me pause. It brings to mind the Native American concept of living in harmony with the land, perhaps as a visitor, or as one who is granted a kind of stewardship over it because it cannot be owned, as such; one lives in partnership with it.
Closing in on the Texas border we pass through the New Mexican town of Encino. Unlike the wealthy San Fernando Valley community of the same name, this Encino (meaning Evergreen or a kind of Oak tree) is a shambles. A virtual ghost town, to say it has fallen on hard times is to understate it by miles. Shuttered stores, overgrown yards, huge weeds covering the front of what was once a filling station mark some kind of tragedy in the lives of the people who once lived here -and the few that perhaps still do. Very sad to see this; shocking, in a way. And, not to make Victor Perez out to be a villain, because he's probably a nice man who worked hard for what he has, the disparity between some lives and others in this country is writ large for me in these two sets of circumstances.
Crossing into Texas the clouds have come together and turned gray. Soon there is a steady sprinkle on us that continues down to and through the town of Pecos, "Home of the World's First Rodeo," per the signs. And as we cross the Pecos River I note that Mule and I are no longer "west of the Pecos."
Rattling on down, I see that we again have two squares left on the gas gauge. Fort Stockton, where we'll hook up again with the Interstate 10 E, is about 55 miles away, so instead of stopping to fill up I figure we'll just sniff haughtily at the gas stations and keep right on going.
And we do.
Less than an hour later, as my attention is diverted to making the correct turn to get onto the Interstate, Mule hesitates and seems to lose power. Suddenly I'm hearing all kinds of beeps!
"What the hell…?"
"Mule can't run with no oats."
"What? But we had two full squares…!"
"Look again, smart guy. There's only one now and it's blinkin.' And that red triangle with the exclamation point in it? That's not a good thing."
Shit, the one remaining square is blinking its head off, there are red lights flashing on the dash and the damned car is beeping and slowing down.
"Damnit, Mule, you can't do this! Don't quit on me now! Not here, we're in the middle of the goddamned highway!"
"Not up to me. You're the hero wants to see how far you can go. Take a good look; this is it."
"No, come on! You're electric, what about that? Can't you run on the battery?"
"Whaddya think I been doin'? See that thing in the middle of the screen, the one says 'Battery'? It's s'posed to have four or five of them little blue lines across it; see how many it's got?"
There were two - and one was fading fast. We're putting along, ever more slowly, but at least there aren't any cars racing up behind us.
"Can't I charge it? Doesn't it charge when I put on the brakes?"
"You sure you want to do that, Sherlock?"
"No, no! Of course not! But if I take my foot off the gas?"
"You're the boss, boss."
We're literally creeping along. When I take my foot off the accelerator the blue line seems to brighten a bit, but it also makes us go slower - and if we go any slower…
"Jesus, Mule, there's a turnoff up ahead. Don't quit on me now."
"I'm losing my voice here…"
All kinds of scenarios are playing out in my head: pull off and hitch a ride to get some gas; push the damned car off the Interstate; flag someone down and explain… that I thought… well, see, these things don't use much gas… Uh huh, yes. Evidently they do need some once in a while.
But we creep forward and just make it to the turnoff. We're down under 10 miles an hour and I see, off on the other side of the Interstate, a sign for a gas station!
"Mule, look! Over there! Come on, pal, we can make it!"
"Don't call me pal," he wheezes.
Amazingly, we creep into the station and up to the pump. Just as I hit the brake, everything goes dead. Sweating and shaking with relief, I get out of the car and grab the pump. As the gas pours into the empty tank I think I hear a faint whisper - "Asshole!"
Gassed up and all paid for - and just to get back on her good side I washed the windshield - I wasn't sure what to expect, but crossed my fingers, put my foot on the brake and pushed the Power button. God bless her, she started up - no bells, no whistles, no mumbled imprecations. Maybe, I thought, all is forgiven.
Back on the 10E things looked pretty good. Texas is greener down here than I remembered and the etched walls and mesas to the north are very pretty. One had been eaten away to the degree that it looked like a pyramid - with a little pillbox hat on top. The speed limit on the Interstate down here in West Texas is 80 MPH, a number I don't remember seeing anywhere else.
Mule doesn't seem to mind it, so we press on. But I do need to check in somewhere with a TV so I can watch the Laker/Jazz game. They're playing in Utah, which can be tough, but the Lakers really need to put these guys away. Sonora, Texas, looks good. It's a ways down the line yet, but if I can get there and get a bite to eat before the game I should be OK. That'll leave us about a three-hour trip to get into Austin tomorrow.
DAY EIGHT - Saturday, May 17, 2008
The first thing I do this morning is look out the peephole in the door to see if Mule is still there. She is, thank God. Hasn't spoken to me since that… slight mishap… and I wasn't sure she wouldn't steal off in the night. I didn't get a lot of sleep worrying about her. I apologized all over the place and promised that I'd never let the gas gauge get down below two squares again, but she still wouldn't talk. I'm hoping the fact that she's still out there means we're OK again.
Anyway, we made it to Sonora for the Laker/Jazz game last night. We're on Central time now, so it didn't start until 9:30 here and I think it was after midnight before it was over. I'll bet Utah wishes it had lasted even later as they were on a scary roll in the last few seconds, but time ran out and the Lakers won. Next it's the Spurs or the Hornets.
Mule starts up without a snort and we head out into the rain again, but the rolling hills are green and pretty and she perks right along, so I'm feeling pretty good. Rather than going down to San Antonio and then north we cut off 10E onto Highway 290 and make a beeline for Austin through the Texas Hill Country. I have to say I'm impressed. Even though I've been through it a number of times, I always expect Texas to be hot and dry and flat and brown. And it is, in parts, but this area is beautiful. The rain stops and it stays fairly cool as we cruise along between great groves of gorgeous, thick green trees separated by the occasional goat or horse ranch. I haven't seen any cattle for quite a while.
Crossing the Pedernales River (which Texans seem to want to pronounce PER-din-AH-less) I begin to suspect we're in LBJ country. And we are, it becomes clear, as we pass through Fredericksburg, which boasts the Lady Bird Johnson Park, and then Johnson City, where LBJ was born. Fredericksburg is a beautiful city, clean and well-kept, with street signs and store names indicating a German influence. Lots of tourists. Johnson City, on the other hand, boasts of the former president at every opportunity, but looks a bit the worse for wear.
Austin is a big place, bigger somehow than I had expected. Checking into the hotel I just have time for a quick change and then head out to a reception arranged by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty at a beautiful private home not too far from the University of Texas. A warm and friendly group is gathered, some of whom I met when I spoke at the TCADP conference here in January. This is a courageous bunch, taking on the death penalty in the most kill-happy state in the union, but they're dedicated, hard at work and making progress.
The district attorney here in Harris County, the most killing county in this most killing state, was recently run out of office in a scandal caused by the release, in court, of hundreds of emails he had sent from his office computer that exposed him as a womanizer, a cheater, and a racist. They're good at looking the other way, but even the good ol' boys couldn't ignore all that. To top it off, the Houston crime lab has been mired in a scandal of its own, with the discovery of hundreds of boxes of "misplaced" evidence concerning 8,000 cases dating from over 30 years ago.
Police are investigating. (!)
And in Dallas, a new district attorney is cooperating with a process of DNA-testing for potential innocence in a number of old cases in that jurisdiction which has resulted in 18 exonerations and caused an uproar that is having statewide ramifications.
Also, the Dallas Morning News, after years of unquestioning support for state killing, did a series of editorials investigating the subject and has now called for an end to capital punishment in Texas.
So, these good, if beleaguered, folks at the TCADP, who are doing everything they can to break their fellow Texans of this 'cultural' bias toward the death penalty are making strides and deserve all the support we can provide them. (See www.tcadp.org)
From the reception, Bob, a retired military officer and one of the leaders of the TCADP, leads me to the BookPeople Bookstore, very near the University (and right across from the home base of Whole Foods), for tonight's book event.
A very nice crowd of terrific folks are there and we have a good time. Before the event, a career Army man, leader of a Green Beret team, had pulled me aside and said how much M*A*S*H has meant to him and his family, who are all there to hear me. He's still in the Army, his wife is an Army nurse and their son is serving in Iraq. His daughter, still in college, is considering breaking ranks and becoming a veterinarian - "something to do with animals," anyway. Nice folks. Then another man cornered me; he's close to Magdaleno Rose-Avila, a good friend of mine and one of the premier voices for social justice in the country.
The presentation goes very well, with lots of questions about all the issues - and about M*A*S*H, of course - and at the end I introduce Bob, who will pass out brochures and happily answer any questions about the TCADP, which is co-sponsoring this evening's talk.
People line up to have me sign books, which is the routine. When I get to the end of this line, however, a tall, good-looking young man with dark hair hands me a book. When I ask his name, he says, "It's John. I think we're kind of related." "Really," I respond, "what's your last name?" "It's John Flynn," he says. "No kidding? Are you Joanne's son?" "Yes," he says, pointing to a lovely blonde woman who had been sitting in the front row for the whole event, "she's right here."
It was amazing! This trip has really brought people out of the woodwork, but this is stunning. My father's youngest brother, an Army Air Corps officer, was killed in an automobile accident shortly after the end of World War II and left behind his wife and baby daughter, Joanne. Gracie, his wife, left California and our families lost touch. About thirty years or so ago, my cousin Joanne had come to L.A. and contacted me and we met and visited for a while. She then left for Houston and we somehow lost contact again. I had tried to find her, but to no avail. And here, thirty years later, she was.
Unbelievable! Bob had made plans to take me to dinner at a natural food restaurant, so when Joanne asked if I'd go somewhere with them I told her of our plans and invited the two of them to join us. It turns out that she not only knew the restaurant, but was close to the owner, so we all went out to dinner and reconnected. And this time we won't lose touch.
DAY THREE AND FOUR: May 12 and 13, 2008
Posted by on May 13th, 2008
On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books). As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches.[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]
DAY THREE - Monday, May 12, 2008
OK, a new day and we're to head for El Paso, Texas. But this hybrid and I are starting off with a new relationship. First, I have to say I'm very impressed that the little line of squares that tells me how much gas has been used hasn't moved at all! None of them have disappeared! None! I only filled up once, in Tempe, after arriving there Saturday night and we've come over a hundred miles from Phoenix to get here (then more trying to find a place to eat dinner after the book gig yesterday afternoon when I got pretty well lost trying to find a much-touted place up in the hills on Skyline Drive, but I finally figured it out). So, if I read this gas-gauge-thing correctly, it says we got here from Phoenix without using any fuel at all!
Whatever, I'm impressed with this rig; I admit it. So, I've been thinking over our relationship and I've decided I haven't been fair. I've been looking at the hybrid as a car… like, you know, a car. But it's a hybrid. Like a mule. And like a mule it can do a lot of work, maybe as much work as a pack-horse, but it's not a horse, it's a mule. And a mule can be contrary and confusing and a pain in the ass, but if you don't expect it to be a horse you won't be surprised when it gets weird and obstinate. Right?
Right. So, off we go, the hybrid and I, on down 10E toward El Paso with, according to the little squares on the dash, a still-full tank of gas.
The land south of Tucson is very flat but doesn't seem to be peopled with as many Saguaros as before. In fact I don't see any. Maybe they're all at the convention up north. Before long the flat land gives way to a sort of rolling, undulating topography (don't you just love to use a word like that in a sentence?) and as I'm watching the speed, keeping an eye on the little squares (still all there) and noting the slight changes in the landscape, suddenly I hear three distinct beeps! With the first one I start to panic, with the second I look to see that the passenger seatbelt is still fastened from the other day, and with the third I begin to decelerate… But… there's no fourth! Just three damned beeps! And then nothing. Nothing at all. There appears to be no problem. So I take a deep breath and think about it. The beeps seemed to be slightly lower in tone than the A-bomb alert from Saturday. There's no damned reason for them. It's just trying to get to me. It's a mule.
After undulating for a few miles, we come around a bend and begin a long decent into a deep, wide valley. It's kind of amazing to see, because everything has been so relatively flat for the last couple of days I assumed we were at, like, sea-level, but this grade will probably bottom out at 500 to 1000 feet below where it started. And it's getting windy, pushing us around a bit. Mule doesn't like it.
Before long, we approach the Continental Divide. It seems funny to have the Continental Divide be so far west. We're only a bit more than 700 miles from the west coast, so you'd think the CD would be closer to the middle of the country. But go figure. It probably has more to do with the Rocky Mountains and which ocean the waters drain into.
The air is very brown down here. I saw that in Phoenix, too, making a snarky comment about smog, and my friend Rick said that a good part of it was dust from the desert floor kicked up by the wind. But, he added, smiling, it's also smog. Down here, as we settle into the floor of this valley, the dust is blowing pretty well and signs warn of dust storms and the possibility of zero visibility.
Pulling up into the hills on the other side of this broad valley there's a phenomenal area that looks like a giant's playground; instead of regular hills made up of solid masses of dirt and impacted stone, these are made of great piles of, rounded rocks that look like some huge kid played with them, rolled them around and stacked them. It's really quite spectacular.
Entering New Mexico it's dry and flat and windy as hell, with giant dust devils hundreds of feet high off to the side of the road twirling like brownish-red mini-cyclones. I note the political tone down here, writ large on a huge billboard that says "ONE NATION - UNDER GOD."
After some miles I feel the need for a bathroom-break. A couple of squares have disappeared by now, but there's no apparent need for gas, so I park by a truckstop. Inside, as I walk toward the restroom, three guys, two older and one younger, are behind the counter having a spirited conversation, with the young one saying, "It's comin', I'm just waitin' for it." The older of the three says, "These earthquakes and these storms…" I want to stop and listen, but can't, so go on into the men's room and wonder what they're talking about. When I come out, the young one is saying, "McCain's just gonna keep doing the same thing." The older one seems to be in agreement and adds, "Yeah, I don't know if Obama can do everything he says he will, but I'm willing to roll the dice."
Grinning with surprise, I go out, fire up the mule, get back on the highway and turn on the radio. Few stations are playing, but I find the dulcet tones of Rush Limbaugh and listen for as long as I can stand it. Clear Channel then provides The Choirboy, Sean Hannity, telling me they're "putting the Stop Hillary Express to bed and ratcheting up the Stop Obama Express." I consider calling him about the guys at the truck stop, but decide not to bother.
The wind blows us through Las Cruces and over the border into Texas and on to El Paso. Looking off to the south as you near the city, the incredible poverty of Juarez is just a stone's throw away, right down below the highway and across the Rio Grande. It's dramatic, and heartbreaking.
Pulling into the downtown hotel I look down and see that there are still four little squares on the gas-gauge. All the way from Phoenix with a stopover in Tucson and here we are in El Paso with gas to spare. This mule is skittish and contrary, but damn, it's practical.
The book event at Barnes and Noble here is a tonic. This whole celebrity thing continues to boggle my mind. Pulling into a strange city, knowing no one, and having a large group of strangers waiting, apparently happily, to see you is … well, it's hard to explain how it feels. Men and women, young and old, a mix of ethnicities, and they're all there with smiles on their faces. I'm reminded of the guy who once asked me, "How does it feel to have half a relationship formed with millions of people?" It feels good, very good, but it carries with it a certain responsibility. Clearly it's about M*A*S*H. We have in common a love for this show that became a social phenomenon and I'm happy to carry the banner for its message. But the embrace of it - and of me - the sense of personal relationship and appreciation, is almost overwhelming at times.
So I thank them for coming and talk a bit about the book, about my personal journeys and how my sense of social responsibility and the extraordinary luck I've had in my career intertwine, and then ask what they'd like to know. This evening's group is again a mix of people with different concerns, but a couple of them stand out. A young woman is here after driving, as I have, from Tucson. Her mother, she says, was upset about missing me there, so she's here to get me to sign a book for her mother and one for her father and is then going to drive all the way back. A bit stunned at this, but happy to oblige, I wanted to write something about the extraordinary lengths she'd gone to, but she wouldn't let me. She said she didn't want them to know she'd come all the way down here because she thought they'd be mad. Despite my protests, she took the two books and left to make the drive back. Amazing!
Then there was a question about the hope of meeting Shelley, which allowed me to apologize and explain her absence. This is followed by a voice from the back of the crowd, a Latino man who asks with a grin, "Did you ever live in San Diego?" Seeing something in his eyes, I said, "Not since I joined the Marines and went through Boot Camp there." And he said, "I know, I was there with you." He came up and produced a photo I haven't seen in 50 years, a group shot of all of us in Platoon 374 at MCRD, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. What an incredible hoot! After Arturo and I talked for a bit, the young woman from Tucson was back, saying she'd called her brother and he was mad because she didn't get a book for him, so she needed a third. And now, she said, she was "busted" because her folks knew about her jaunt, so she wanted a picture with me to be able to show them.
This crowd was wonderful. We laughed and talked about all kinds of things. But this life is hard, sometimes, to square with reality. People reach out in the most incredibly generous ways, wanting to say hello, to express gratitude for what the show meant to them, to know a little something about what I'm doing and why I do it. It is deeply touching and so very humbling.
People from the El Paso Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty co-sponsored this event. A woman from an anti-poverty organization came. Two doctors and a nurse brought their sons to meet me because of what M*A*S*H meant to them. A man asked about the political scene and if I'd be willing to say who I was supporting for president. I said I wasn't sure it would be appropriate to say my candidate's name, but I could say it was very prominent in the news and that it wasn't McCain and it wasn't Clinton.
DAY FOUR - Tuesday, May 13, 2008
An easy day, travel only. Mule and I just have to get to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a bookstore event tomorrow night. Heading back into New Mexico on 10W, I decide to stop in Las Cruces and try to look up my old friend Blair, one of the guys from school who was in the club with Rick and me.
The wind is up again today and Las Cruces is covered with a cloud of brown dust. I call Blair hoping to see him for an hour or so, but get a machine. I leave a message explaining that I'm just passing through and hope to catch him, then drive around the city for a bit in the hope he'll call back, eventually scouting out a health food store where I pick up lunch. After another call and still no Blair, we hightail it up Interstate 25 North toward Santa Fe where I'm invited to stay with Eugenie and Bobby, friends from Los Angeles who have a home north of town.
This is new territory for me, never having driven up through the center of New Mexico before, and I'd been warned by a woman in El Paso that it was "desolate." Sparsely populated, certainly, and flat as hell for a while, but the terrain is covered with scrub brush and doesn't seem any more 'desolate' than the desert we've pushed through for the past few days. The wind keeps the dust flying and pushes Mule around a bit, but other than being attacked by the biggest tumbleweed I've ever seen there's nothing out of the ordinary. Mule behaves well as we climb gradually toward what look, through the dust, to be rolling hills.
Sean Hannity's nonsense helps pass the time as he exchanges what seems to be a new mantra with each caller: "You're a great American, Sean!" "You're a great American, Jack," or Bill, or Steve, or Zeke. (No, no Zekes.) The women callers seem to uniformly express how fearful they are at the possibility of an Obama presidency while the men, after assuring each other they are 'great Americans,' complain to Sean about McCain's apostasy. It seems he has betrayed the movement by admitting that there may be something after all to this global warming nonsense.
Between the "Stop Obama Express" and what now appears to be the 'Get McCain Back on the Tracks' campaign, Sean's got a lot of work to do. But he's up to it, Great Americans. With righteousness in his heart and God on his side he'll steer this country back to the legitimate Reagan-loving conservative cause. He's very strong in defense of the much-misunderstood George W. Bush, who will, "mark my words," be vindicated in the future; he'll go down in history as the president who protected us from terrorism, built up our defenses and put America back into a forward-leaning posture in the world.
Not only that, but in response to another Great American who described himself as a "charter member" of Rush's Operation Chaos, Hannity paid tribute to Limbaugh's genius (urging his dittoheads to cross over and vote for Hillary in the "Democrat" primaries to keep stirring the pot and create continuing havoc for them, maybe even to the point of causing "riots in the streets of Denver" during the "Democrat" convention), saying Chaos was the best thing he's ever done and claiming the strategy was responsible for Hillary Clinton's win in Indiana.
Having heard as much as I could stand, I hit the 'off' button and paid attention to the alternating hills and arroyos we were crossing as we climbed, noting in particular the wind- and water-scoured cliff faces that lead up to the now-more-numerous New Mexican mesas. Not desolate at all, but rather majestic testimony to the forces of nature and the passage of time.
As I near Albuquerque, Blair calls. He's sorry we missed, but he's been with his wife, Sylvia, in the hospital where she's being treated for an intestinal problem. She'll be OK, he's been assured, so we catch up a bit and promise to connect next time - hopefully at the reunion in July.
Once in Santa Fe I connect with Eugenie and Bobby. He meets me at a turnoff north of the city and leads me down a steep, twisting dirt road into the "hollow" where I'm quickly sheltered in the embrace of their fabulous adobe home.
New Death Penalty Focus Chapter forms in the Inland Valley, CA
Posted by Stefanie on May 13th, 2008
The first meeting of the new Inland Valley Chapter of DPF is tonight! To find out more contact Constance at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Check out this article from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that came out about the first meeting:
Anti-death penalty group to meet for first time in I.E.
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
By Will Bigham, Staff Writer
An Inland Valley chapter of a prominent anti-death-penalty group has formed, and will meet for the first time next week.
The Inland Valley chapter of Death Penalty Focus will be the San Francisco-headquartered organization's 12th local chapter, all in California, said Stefanie Faucher, program director.
The new local chapter is holding its first meeting at 7 p.m. on May 13 at the Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd., said Constance Waddell, chairwoman of the local chapter.
Waddell said the local chapter already had about 20 members, most of whom are from Claremont. But the organization welcomes anyone in the larger Inland Empire region, she said.
"They really feel that they can be an active group that will engage the public, and have a debate about the issue of the death penalty," Faucher said.
Waddell said the group has already begun planning for a large meeting in September where they hope to attract prominent guest speakers.
In the future, the group may aim to make appearances at local schools and churches to speak about the death penalty, and may also lobby local county administrators and other government officials, Faucher said.
Upland resident Audrey Owens, a member of the local chapter, said she first became involved with Death Penalty Focus when she helped organize the Riverside leg of an 800-mile march to oppose the death penalty.
"(The death penalty) is not an absolute science in its application," said Owens, a deputy public defender for Riverside County. "Until it is, I would definitely oppose it."
Owens said the Inland Valley chapter will "attempt to raise the consciousness of what's going on with the death penalty."
"There is a lot of potential to actually get people to look at it," Owens added. "It's one of those issues that people want to turn away from."
Author: email@example.com or (909) 483-8553
Death Penalty Focus releases a 20th Anniversary Report
Posted by Stefanie on May 13th, 2008
LETTER FROM THE BOARD PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Never has that statement resonated with us as it does now
that we are marking the 20th Anniversary of Death Penalty Focus. For two decades, the staff and Board of this organization have worked to educate the public about the brutality and injustice inherent in the death penalty system, and to mobilize people to
fight for human rights.
In this document, you will find information about the heroic men and women who make our work possible, as well as several exciting new projects we’ve launched to carry us toward the inevitable achievement of our goal of abolition.
Our longtime board member and friend, Rabbi Leonard Beerman, sometimes offers a bit of Rabbinic wisdom at board meetings to lift the mood:
A traveling merchant noticed a man sitting on the roof of a synagogue and called to him asking what he was doing. “I am waiting for the Messiah,” said the man confidently. “This must be very difficult work for you,” sympathized the merchant. “Well,” said the man on the roof, “The pay is low, but the work is steady!”
We’re thrilled to report that recent developments suggest our work is becoming unsteady. Thank you for your support throughout the years!
Mike Farrell, President
Lance Lindsey, Executive Director
DAY TWO: Sunday, May 11, 2008
Posted by on May 11th, 2008
|Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus|
On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books). As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches.[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]
Happy Mother's Day, sweetheart!
The day begins with an old friend. Rick and I grew up together and when I joined the Marines as a buck private he had the audacity to get an appointment to West Point. We stayed in touch for a while but lost contact over 30 years ago, only to reconnect because he heard mention of my being there and sent a message to the manager of Changing Hands, the bookstore last night.
A couple of hours over orange juice makes for a quick race through 30 years, but I've got to make tracks for Tucson. Now living in a house he built in the wonderfully named Carefree, Arizona, he seems to be doing well. Rick still has that same off-beat sense of humor I remember as a kid. And now that he knows of the yearly reunions of the club that protected and sustained us through our school years, he'll try to make it to the next one.
Back on 10E out of Phoenix, I'm reminded that the sheriff of Maricopa County is that cheap self-promotion machine, Joe Arpaio, the media-hog who dubs himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." I spent a day at his prison a few years ago with the old Bill Maher show and found him to be every bit the "megalomaniac, liar and bully" Harper's Magazine labeled him. Popular with the voters because he plays on their fears, his bluster and bravado keep his name in the press and get him re-elected. It's like Cheney and Bush playing the fear game with terrorism. Given to heaping abuse on those under his control, Arpaio plays into the idiotic notion that you can correct the behavior of inmates through humiliation and brutalization while diverting potential law-breakers with the threat of dehumanization. Scorned by human rights groups and those who champion decency, Arpaio is a blight on the very idea of "corrections" and an insult to intelligent law enforcement, just one step out of the cave and moving in the wrong direction.
Leaving the Superstition Mountains behind, I head down the long, flat highway through the Sonoran Desert toward the sharp, sawtoothed Santa Catalinas and, beyond them, Tucson. Along the way the occasional slopes to each side are dotted with a huge population of what to the casual observer might look like strange, tall beings waving hello. The Saguaro cactus is said to appear nowhere else on earth but in this southwestern desert.
I figure the least one can do is wave back.
Suddenly this car, to which I'm only slowly becoming accustomed, begins a rhythmic beeping. Alarming enough because a sudden outburst of beeping can't mean anything good as one is racing down the highway, it becomes even more frightening as the beeps speed up, becoming closer and closer together! In the movies, this means a bomb is about to go off. Frantic, I look around and see no signs of distress or alarm on the dash or anywhere else; I check my cell phone, though I know that's not it; and I begin to slow and pull over as the beeps reach a crescendo and, just as suddenly as they began, stop.
Goddamit! This car is messing with me! This is unnerving as hell. Then, panic subsiding, I move back into the lane and resume speed as I go over everything I can think of that might be responsible. Finally, on the far right side of the dash I see a red light indicating that the passenger seatbelt isn't fastened. No one being in the seat, I hadn't thought to fasten it, even though I did set one of my bags there. It's a light bag, but could that be it? And why, if so, did it wait until now to yell at me? Did it let me know when I started out and I somehow missed it? Was it stewing about it all this time and then suddenly decided to give me hell? Man, this car is one temperamental sucker! I'm going to have to be careful.
Credit where due, I did discover something very interesting about the car - actually very cool. In the middle of the dash is a screen that, if you mess with the buttons around it, gives you all kinds of confusing information, complete with even more confusing diagrams. It'll tell you how much mileage you're getting at any given moment; it offers a very complex picture of the power train, apparently explaining the system by which the car is sometimes powered by battery and sometimes by the regular-old-fashioned-internal-combustion-engine. These things are just obscure enough to drive a newcomer to the world of hybrids a bit crazy, yet intriguing enough to pull your attention away from the road and get you killed. But that's not the cool part. The cool part is when you pull up the funky little plastic knob on the short stick and put the car in reverse (after, of course, putting your foot on the brake), the screen in the center of the dash becomes a picture of what's behind you! So you can see where you're going as you back up! Very cool! Though because the picture is a bit distorted I still prefer to turn and look out the back window. But it is cool.
Coming into Tucson I make my way to the Barnes and Noble Bookstore where I'm to do my thing - this one an afternoon gig. Since it's Mother's Day I doubt there will be a large crowd, but one never knows. Being a bit early, I check in and then go to a bar across the parking lot to watch most of the first half of the Lakers/Jazz fourth game. Tied at the half by one of Kobe's impossible shots. (I later learn we lost in overtime.)
Back in the store I was surprised to find a very nice crowd of over a hundred people, including some from the Coalition of Arizonans Against the Death Penalty and a few others with whom I had worked in the Sanctuary movement in the '80s. The movement, started by John Fife, minister of Tucson's Southside Presbyterian Church, a Quaker named Jim Corbett and a few nuns, priests, other clergy and lay-people, believed that those coming across the border fleeing murder, torture and mayhem in El Salvador and Guatemala deserved to be treated humanely and given shelter - as international law requires - rather than labeled 'communist' and sent back to their deaths. The Sanctuary movement became a modern version of the 'underground railway' from the days of slavery, ultimately involving more than 500 churches and synagogues nationwide. And for their trouble, these simple, decent people were arrested, tried, convicted and, probably because of embarrassment on the part of authorities forced to carry out the Reagan Administration's paranoiac anti-communist zealotry, sentenced mostly to five years of probation.
Today, John Fife and many of these people are still at it, having formed the Samaritan Patrol, part of the No More Deaths movement. They go out and provide food, water and sometimes directions to impoverished people attempting to make their way across the desert in search of work. The goal is to protect these poor folks from death by dehydration or starvation and occasionally to provide witness and help them avoid confrontation by Minutemen and others inspired by the racist raving of the Lou Dobbses, Bill O'Reillys and Tom Tancredos intent on saving America from "mongrelization."
Again, we spend an hour and a half or so talking about my book, Hollywood, the death penalty, politics, this bloody awful war, and a lot about M*A*S*H.
DAY ONE: THE START OF ANOTHER JOURNEY
Posted by Mike Farrell on May 10th, 2008
|Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus|
On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books). As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches.[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]
Well, this isn't the way it was supposed to work.
This marathon tour, this 8,000-mile drive across the country and back to promote the paperback release of "Just Call Me Mike; A Journey to Actor and Activist," was supposed to be a great adventure that Shelley and I would share, a month-long odyssey of laughing and looking, seeing new places and old ones, meeting new people and old friends, and just loving being together.
But it wasn't to be.
The timing had been perfect; we'd take off just a week after my son Michael married his sweetheart, Peggy, in our back yard. It would be tight, yes, working out all the craziness of a large wedding and the logistics of this trip (not to mention Shelley's inevitable all-night pre-trip packing frenzy), but nothing could stop us.
Not so fast, Johnson!
A few days before the wedding, while outside hosing off the side of the house to make it more presentable for the soon-to-be-gathering multitude, Shelley was startled by an unexpected squirt of water in the face, lost her balance and fell.
Paramedics, the ER, the X-Ray, the news of a badly broken hip, admission to the hospital and hip-replacement surgery soon had my head spinning, reconsidering everything. The wedding must go forward, of course, but could Shelley be there? Unfortunately, as it turned out, she could not. (Though a sweetly generous gesture by Peggy, who swept into the hospital room in her wedding gown, and a cell phone placed in front of a speaker during the ceremony made Shelley very much a part of it.)
And what of this long, well-organized, meticulously planned book tour, with dozens of appearances scheduled, commitments to stores carefully arranged and a raft of co-sponsoring political and social-justice organizations committed? Could it be canceled, delayed, adjusted?
Yes, of course, said the good people at Akashic Books with a gulp; they'd figure something out. Not a chance, said Shelley! She'd be fine. She'd be up and doing her physical therapy, she'd be supported by my family and our friends, and I had to get the hell out of town.
Well, of course it was more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it. And here I am.
DAY ONE - Saturday, May 10, 2008
After picking up a rented Prius at LAX - the insane price of gas demanding a hybrid - and quickly throwing everything I could think of into a couple of bags, I took off this morning for the first stop: Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ, just outside of Phoenix.
Driving east on Interstate 10 quickly takes you into the incredibly frightening air of the San Gabriel Valley. I keep thinking the smog in the San Fernando Valley is scary, but at least it gets blown away periodically. This stuff you can cut with a knife.
Past orchards of windmills and into the desert the haze thins out and the landscape grabs you. I've never been one to appreciate the particular beauty of the desert, but today it impresses. It is so clearly harsh, so openly hostile to all but the most hardy adventurer, that it proclaims itself with an impressive hauteur that has, I have to admit, a kind of arrogant beauty. "Don't fuck with me, pal," it seems to be saying.
As I careen along, trying to figure out what means what on the odd dashboard in this strange car - this is my first experience with a hybrid - I keep watching the gas gauge, remembering that the last time I came this way I had to stop and fill up in Desert Center, a particularly hot and unforgiving place that one in need of fuel is strangely happy to discover (but doesn't want to use the facilities). But the gauge doesn't seem to have moved, making me wonder if I'm looking at the right thing. That does appear to be a little gas pump on it, I reassure myself, so what else could it be?
What else could it be, indeed? It could be any damned thing, I tell myself, recalling that when I first got in the car I couldn't figure out how to start it, much less make it go. Embarrassed, I had to go find an attendant to show me how to make the bloody thing work.
It doesn't even have a key! Who knew you had to stick the square thing in the hole and push? And there's no gearshift! There's just a little kind of funky plastic knob on a stick - a short stick, at that - that kind of wiggles up and down. And a button you push for Park. I assume that means the gear, Park, which means you stand still, but I was already standing still. I wanted to go!
So, like I'm an idiot, the attendant shows me that you push in the square thing, then you have to push the button that says "Power." (Now, of course, being able to read I had already tried that, but nothing seemed to happen.) Ah, but you have to step on the brake when you do it! Uh-huh. Then, as he points out, the dashboard lights go on and with them a little red thing that says "Ready!"
Uh-huh. But when I step on the accelerator, nothing happens. That's because it's not in gear. Uh-huh. How do I get it in gear?
You jiggle the funky little plastic knob on the short stick. Up to go backward, down to go forward. Uh-huh. But nothing is happening. That's because you're not stepping on the brake. Huh? I have to step on the brake to shift? Right. Uh-huh.
So, despite the fact that I can't hear an engine running I step on the brake, pull the funky little plastic knob on a short stick down, step on the gas and….
Here I am.
Bing! One of the little squares on what looks like it must be a gas gauge goes away, telling me that some gas in being used. This I can understand because it's like the one on my motorcycle. But, like the one on my motorcycle, I'm not sure how much gas each little square represents. Oh well, on I go.
And you know what? Less than six hours after leaving home I'm through Phoenix, turning into the motel in Tempe, and there are still two little squares on that line. All the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix on one tank of gas! I'm impressed.
The event at Changing Hands is astonishing. Over a hundred people are there to say hello and hear me, including people from Code Pink, the Coalition of Arizonans Against the Death Penalty (CAADP) and Veterans for Peace. As part of the introduction, I'm presented an award by Veterans for Peace: a beautiful statuette of a hand giving the peace sign. Though I'd been warned to expect something, this is a huge and very moving surprise.
The discussion, mostly Q&A, goes on for quite a while and covers a broad range of subjects, from the war to the death penalty, prisons, M*A*S*H, Hollywood, politics, kids, values, my personal life and how we take back our country. The first question, though, was about Shelley, which gave me an opportunity to tell them why she wasn't here, as planned.
Nice people. A lovely evening.
For updates on Mike's journey, click here.
The Stars Came out for DPF in Beverly Hills!
Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin on April 30th, 2008
|Azim Khamisa and William Baldwin at DPF's 2008 Awards Dinner|
I must report that we have not resolved the important question of whether Alec Baldwin or William Baldwin is more charming. Let's hope they both come to our 2009 Awards Dinner and you can all judge for yourselves.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I must also report that nothing (not even André Braugher, DPF Board member Kevin Kilner, Jordan Baker and my friend Julia Sweeney at my table!) gave me more pleasure than DPF honoring my father, Arthur Zitrin, M.D., for his work keeping doctors out of the state killing machine.
But there were so many stars -- stars of our movement to end the death penalty, stars of the struggle for human rights, and stars from the Hollywood entertainment biz all came out for Death Penalty Focus at our beautiful annual Awards Dinner in the Hills of Beverly last Thursday.
We celebrated the twenty years of great work and national leadership by DPF, and thanks to the work of all of our members, friends and supporters, we could glimpse the future where we'll put ourselves out of business by getting our government out of the death business.
Civil Rights hero Julian Bond and novelist John Grisham, who wrote his non-fiction best seller The Innocent Man about a wrongfully convicted man on death row, were among the headliners honored at the dinner at the grand Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Both spoke eloquently about the importance of this work we are doing together. John Grisham spoke about exoneree Greg Wilhoit, who was at the dinner, and how his strength and support and friendship gave Ron Williamson the will to go on when they were both innocent but imprisoned on Oklahoma's death row.
Alec Baldwin, gracious and friendly to everyone - and a lot of people wanted to talk to him, believe me - is truly committed to human rights (check out his blogging at HuffingtonPost.com) and a great supporter of DPF. He presented the honor to Julian Bond. William Baldwin is tall and attentive, and wore the evening's most interesting plaid suit as he presented the award to Azim Khamisa.
Azim Khamisa's talk was the most moving part of the evening for me. His eloquence and grace in the face of overwhelming grief at the death of his son is inspirational. Azim has joined with the grandfather of the boy who killed his own boy, in a message of hope, forgiveness and redemption.
There were more stars.
Actor André Braugher, who works in Hollywood (think "Homicide: Life on the Streets") but lives in New Jersey, presented the award honoring our east coast colleagues who have lifted our spirits and our hopes - not to mention our expectations for 36 more states. New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak, who introduced the bill to abolish the death penalty, accepted on behalf of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and Celeste Fitzgerald accepted on behalf of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who have worked long and hard for their great victory.
Hollywood heroes Sid Sheinberg, and DPF Board members Ed Redlich and Sarah Timberman, all TV producers, received long deserved honors. Jane Olson of Human Rights Watch, herself a civil rights hero, honored her colleague Sid Sheinberg. Ed and Sarah were honored by a San Francisco star, District Attorney Kamala Harris, who was elected on a platform of being "smart on crime" without sending anyone to a useless, expensive and dehumanizing state execution.
Melody Ermachild, an investigator who has devoted decades to working on death penalty cases, and Henry Weinstein, who has written persuasively and courageously in the LA Times about the death penalty and criminal justice, were both recognized by our own star and hero, Board President Mike Farrell. The terrific success of the evening was made possible by DPF's exceptional staff, led by Executive Director Lance Lindsey, Program Director Stefanie Faucher, Development Director Alison Powell and Office Manager Yoko Otani-Spurlin.
As a DPF Board member I am grateful to all of these very busy and very dedicated people for their commitment to justice and the intelligence and inspiration of their work and their words.
Death Penalty Focus celebrates its 20th year working for alternatives to the death penalty
Posted by Mike Farrell on April 23rd, 2008
Please forgive this unusual message, but it's an unusual time. Last week
the U.S. Supreme Court gave its blessing to lethal injection in the
United States. The decision was not a surprise, frankly, but I keep
telling myself there's reason to hope... I knew what they'd do but
clung to the thought that they might still be moved by the clear tide
of reconsideration that's taking place in our country with regard to
Nope, tone deaf. Deaf to New Jersey's abolition of the death penalty;
deaf to the Gallup poll showing that most Americans prefer Life Without
Parole to the death penalty; deaf to the growing chorus of concern
about the current direction of our country when more than a million of
our citizens are behind bars - one in one hundred American adults, one
in 36 Hispanic adults, one in 15 African-American adults, one in nine
black men between the ages of 20 and 34. Deaf. And Dumb.
In the face of this senselessness, I chair an organization made up of
hopeful people who, like you, believe we can do better. Like many of
you who put your minds, energies, efforts and resources toward creating
a better world for future generations, the people of Death Penalty
Focus are committed to making a difference in the way things are done,
to making a contribution that helps us realize that goal of a fair and
Today's news hits home because this year is the 20th anniversary of
Death Penalty Focus. And while we've clearly made astonishing progress
in those two decades, the Supreme arbiters of law sit in their lofty
posts and give the back of their hands to the ideals we all cherish.
Well, despite them, we carry on. On April 24th at the Regent Beverly
Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, DPF will host its 17th annual Awards
Dinner, honoring heroic individuals whose lives and works epitomize the
human rights values that sustain us - Governor Jon Corzine and New
Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Julian Bond, John
Grisham, Sid Sheinberg, Ed Redlich & Sarah Timberman and Azim Khamisa
will be honored at what is always appreciated as a different and very
In this unusual time, certainly because of the shaky economy, probably
because of the writers' strike, maybe because of the difficult
political scene, the event has not attracted the degree of support we
had hoped for and counted on. So if you are able to help us celebrate our 20th year working for alternatives to the death penalty by giving a gift of any size, we will be incredibly grateful.
If you've gotten this far, I deeply appreciate it. As said, it's an
Former prosecutor Darryl Stallworth talks about his first death penalty case
Posted by Stefanie on April 16th, 2008
Recently on Perspectives - KQED Radio
Wed, Apr 16, 2008 -- 7:37 AM
Stallworth had no problem with the death penalty, until he prosecuted a
high-profile East Bay murder case that changed his perspective. Stallworth, who is the new Law Enforcement Outreach coordinator for Death Penalty Focus, was recently featured on Perspectives - a KQED Radio series.
Listen to this KQED Perspective
DPF on the Radio and in the News
Posted by Stefanie on April 10th, 2008
DPF spokespersons did several interviews discussing a package of bills aimed at speeding up and expanding the death penalty in California. Here are a few of the stories:
Capital Public Radio
San Bernardino Sun
DPF's new Law Enforcement Outreach Coordinator, Darryl Stallworth, was also recently featured on KPFK radio in Los Angeles.
Comedian Joe Klocek Blog:
Posted by on April 8th, 2008
Stand Up for Justice 2008
Follow That!(Note: this has been excerpted. Click on the link above to read the full blog post).
Last night. I performed at Cobb's for a benefit against the death penalty. I thought it hilarious that when everyone wished us good luck, they said it like this. "Go out there and kil...break a leg!" Here was the order of the line up:
Sandy Stec, as host and MC for the night.
Aundre the Wonder Woman. She also sits on the board and works with project innocence. They take another look at people convicted and sentenced to death. As we continue to learn, a lot of the people sentenced to death turn out to be innocent of the crime they were convicted of.
Then it was Brian Copeland. A local celebrity who gained fame with his one man show, Not A Genuine Black Man.
Paula Poundstone, icon and huge supporter of this cause.
Benefit or not, the one thing all comics have in common is our ego's. In a week, I went from being first up on the bill, to the headliner. Not because I wanted to, but because I had the least amount of clout to say where I wanted to be in the line up. I will admit that the idea of following an icon like Paula, especially because she is a master riffer, made me more than a little nervous. But a glance at the evenings program left me with something else to be worried about. After Paula, there was an award ceremony I had to follow.
It's not exactly the raffle at a room in Modesto, but it's this crowds equivalent.
Paula, who said she didn't want to close because she had to leave early, ended up doing 35 minutes instead of the allotted 20. I don't really care. I go long all the time too. But I do it when I am last, not when there is an award and another comic after me. Finally, she gets off the stage to thunderous applause.
James Cromwell, from Six Feet Under, L.A. Confidential and a thousand other movies gets on stage.
All I can think when I see him is, "You shot Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential!"
This isn't just an award they are presenting to Aundre for all her service, it's a reminder to everyone exactly what this is a benefit for. In a very dramatic, professionally trained voice, Mr. Cromwell reads a long dissertation on the horrors of the death penalty and Aundre's impressive list of accomplishments. The room is utterly silent with respect for her and disgust for the death penalty. A few people wipe tears from their eyes. When Mr. Cromwell finally comes to end and presents this award to her, the room explodes in not only a resounding wave of applause, but they rise to their feet!
To read more, go to: Follow that!
Northern California Innocence Project Dinner
Posted by Nancy Oliveira on April 3rd, 2008
|Antoine Goff, recipient of the Freedom Award|
Last week was the inaugural awards dinner for the Northern California Innocence Project at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. What a beginning! They raised more than ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
An audience of more than 600 people listened to Barry Scheck, co founder of the national Innocence Project in 1992, deliver the keynote address. The group bestowed a number of awards to deserving people in the innocence movement.
The Leadership Award was presented to Frank Quattrone, the investment banker who had been found guilty of obstruction of justice and later had his conviction over turned in March 2006. The Justice Award was presented to former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp, the Media Award was presented to Dana Nachman and Don Hardy. Exoneree, Antoine Goff, received the Freedom Award on behalf of all those who were exonerated.
The Northern California Innocence Project is a program at Santa Clara Law School to help wrongfully convicted prison inmates to gain their freedom. A number of exonerees attended the dinner. They also provided the evening's most moving moment: when they all stood on stage holding a sign with their prison number. One by one they approached the microphone, stated their name, their prison number and the state and the number of years that had been stolen from them. When they finished, in unison, they ripped up their prison number signs and tossed the pieces into the air.
The evening left us all feeling even more committed to ending the injustice of wrongful convictions.
Stand Up for Justice 2008 a Great Success!
Posted by Alison Powell on April 3rd, 2008
With comedians Paula Poundstone, Brian Copeland, Aundre the
Wonderwoman, and Joe Klocek, MC Sandy Stec and special guest James
Cromwell (of Babe, Six Feet Under and The Queen),
Sunday's benefit event for Death Penalty Focus was a great success.
Over 250 DPF supporters attended, to show their support for the death
penalty abolition movement. James Cromwell also presented the 2008
Stand Up for Justice award to Aundre Herron, DPF Board Member and
attorney with the California Appellate Project.
Aundre Herron, who accepted this award on Sunday, once said, "The death penalty finds its truest and most sinister meaning... as this country's way of destroying the evidence of its failures, its hypocrisy, its shame. It is the last relic of America's worst legacies-- slavery, segregation, lynching, racism, classism and violence. We must be unwavering in our resolve to end the death penalty once and for all. We must not settle for temporary reprieves or lip service to justice. The courtroom battles are critical. The moratoria are critical. But abolition is the main event."
Stand Up for Justice 2008 celebrated all the amazing individuals who fight every day in this country for human rights-- with the subversive power of humor, with legal advocacy, with public education and grassroots activism. Thank you to all who attended, and see you next year!
Race to Execution
Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin on April 2nd, 2008
Death Penalty Focus star Aundré Herron had a busy week. In addition to appearing at DPF's Comedy Night and receiving the Stand Up for Justice award after having us all rolling in the aisles, she was more in her role as capital defense lawyer as she shared the podium with filmmaker Rachel Lyon and journalist Claire Cooper on Thursday evening at the new downtown campus of San Francisco State University.
They were there for a screening of Rachel Lyon's extraordinary documentary, Race To Execution, which examines racial bias in the American criminal justice system. The film examines bias in the death penalty system and the role of the media in promoting racial stereotypes. It features personal stories of two death row inmates and testimony defense attorneys, prosecutors, scholars, media experts and family members. It's a chilling exposé and a stirring call to action.
The screening room was full to overflowing and there was a great discussion between the expert panel and the audience. The event was cosponsored by the SF State Center for Integration & Improvement of Journalism, Amnesty International, the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism and The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
If you are interested in organizing a screening, contact Active Voice, www.activevoice.net.
Report on San Francisco's Chapter Meeting
Posted by Nancy Oliveira on March 21st, 2008
As the Chair of the San Francisco Chapter of DPF, I will be posting on this blog from time to time to update you on the chapter's exciting work.
At our last meeting held on March 11th, we had a great conversation about drawing more people to our monthly meetings. We decided to invite guest speakers to discuss current death penalty issues and/or to do mini-workshops on letter-writing, how to speak on the death penalty, and other topics each month.
I'll be keeping you posted about future meetings and upcoming speakers. You can also check our calendar for meeting dates.
The next meeting is April 9, 2008 from 6:00pm - 7:00pm
at 870 Market St., Conference Room 838,
San Francisco, CA 94102.
I hope to see you there!
"Where is the Justice for Me?" The Tragic Case of Troy Davis
Posted by Stephen F. Rohde on March 20th, 2008
We can now add the case of Troy Davis to the ever-growing list of injustices in the system of state killing.
Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he steadfastly maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.
One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles the principle alternative suspect, according to the deefense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
Troy himself has explained what happened:
"In 1989 I surrendered myself to the police for crimes I knew I was innocent of in an effort to seek justice through the court system in Savannah, Georgia USA. ... In the past I have had lawyers who refused my input, and would not represent me in the manner that I wanted to be represented. I have had witnesses against me threatened into making false statements to seal my death sentence and witnesses who wanted to tell the truth were vilified in court."
"Because of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the blatant racism and bias in the U.S. Court System, I remain on death row in spite of a compelling case of my innocence. Finally I have a private law firm trying to help save my life in the court system, but it is like no one wants to admit the system made another grave mistake. Am I to be made an example of to save face? Does anyone care about my family who has been victimized by this death sentence for over 16 years? Does anyone care that my family has the fate of knowing the time and manner by which I may be killed by the state of Georgia?"
"Where is the justice for me?"
On March 17, in a narrow 4-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected Davis' appeal, finding that the evidence of his innocence came too late despite the fact that he offered "affidavit testimony consisting of four types, recantations by trial witnesses, statements recounting alleged admissions of guilt by Coles, statements that Coles disposed of a handgun following the murder, and an alleged eyewitness account."
As the Chief Justice noted in his dissent:
"I believe that this case illustrates that this Court's approach in extraordinary motions for new trials based on new evidence is overly rigid and fails to allow an adequate inquiry into the fundamental question, which is whether or not an innocent person might have been convicted or even, as in this case, might be put to death.
"We have noted that recantations by trial witnesses are inherently suspect, because there is almost always more reason to credit trial testimony over later recantations. However, it is unwise and unnecessary to make a categorical rule that recantations may never be considered in support of an extraordinary motion for new trial. The majority cites case law stating that recantations may be considered only if the recanting witness's trial testimony is shown to be the 'purest fabrication' To the extent that this phrase cautions that trial testimony should not be lightly disregarded, it has obvious merit. However, it should not be corrupted into a categorical rule that new evidence in the form of recanted testimony can never be considered, no matter how trustworthy it might appear. If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically."
Three members of the Georgia Supreme Court believe it "defies all logic and morality" that Troy Davis is facing execution despite immense evidence of his innocence. One more vote and Davis would be spared the death chamber and get a new trial.
Where is the justice for Troy Davis? TAKE ACTION NOW!
These letters hit the mark
Posted by Stefanie on March 19th, 2008
These two letters to the editor by our board member Nancy Oliveira really hit the mark.
San Francisco Chronicle
Doesn't add up
Editor - Can someone please explain to me why our teachers are getting pink slips and San Quentin gets a new death chamber? Our death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life.
San Jose Mercury News
Teachers cost less than death penalty
Editor - How can our state government send teachers pink slips and do nothing to end the outrageously expensive death penalty system in our state? The use of executions is far more expensive than simply locking the convicts up for life. We should all be ashamed.
Saluti di Roma
Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin on March 19th, 2008
Pilgrims from all over the world filled the historic Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome as the quarterly meeting of the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty was held at the Communità di Sant'Egidio on St. Patrick's Day.
I arrived in Rome on Sunday, after flying overnight from Denver through Munich. It was a long flight, and I still had my cold weather clothes from Colorado, so while I toyed with the idea of the train to town I decided to treat myself to an expensive taxi -- even more expensive this week than last, with the dollar dropping again to historic lows against the Euro. We got into the city from Leonardo da Vinci Airport, but all of the many bridges over the Tevere -- the Tiber River, which runs through Rome -- were blocked by the police and not even a taxi could drive into the Centro. Who but the Romans would schedule a "maratona" foot race along the main streets of a very busy city on Palm Sunday, when there are even more people here than usual?
It was longer than I wanted to walk with my suitcase on cobblestones, so I went to the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood, which was on "my" side of the river, and was rescued, as are many truly lost and homeless souls in Rome, by my friend and colleague Mario Marazziti, from Sant'Egidio, our host for Monday's meeting.
The meeting day was full. Our new Action Plan and Working Group plans were presented and discussed. Chinese human rights lawyer and death penalty abolition activist Teng Biao had been detained by Chinese authorities for two days just over a week earlier, right after WCADP published an interview with him on our website. Steering Committee members had the opportunity to review our response to Teng Biao's detention, and to further discuss our 2008 China Campaign
. This year, with the world focused on China as host of the summer Olympic Games, the World Coalition is focused on China's death penalty. Our Campaign theme is "China 2008 : some records must be broken." China leads the world in death sentences and executions, and we are calling for Chinese legislators to take concrete measures towards the abolition of the death penalty. You can read more about our China 2008 Campaign, and about Teng Biao, on the WCADP website, WorldCoalition.org
GETTING OFF THE HOOK ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Posted by Jonathan Leigh Solomon on March 10th, 2008
On the night of Thursday March the 6th, the state of Pennsylvania did not execute John Eichinger. He joined a growing group of men and women on death row whose executions have been stayed pending the Supreme Court decision in the case of Baze v. Rees. Each time one of the these lives have been, at least temporarily, spared, Americans have been spared fully confronting the moral implications of capital punishment.
If the court's decision in Baze v. Rees finds that execution by means of lethal injection - specifically the use of a three drug "cocktail" - constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, the fate of capital punishment will be thrown into even greater limbo than it is presently. Eventually, due to challenges to its various components, it may be eliminated entirely. But if capital punishment ends only because of these sorts of challenges and not because of a national reckoning with its full meaning, ironic as it may be, Baze v. Rees and cases like it will have let our nation off the hook in a way that cheapens our claim to being a judicious people.
As a result of repeated exonerations, 58% of Americans, according to a poll by the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides analysis on capital punishment, agree that a moratorium on executions is necessary until the possibility of wrongful convictions is addressed. There is also wide support for limiting the scope of capital punishment as evidenced by the Supreme Court abolishing the practice for juveniles and the mentally retarded and referring to "evolving standards of decency." But for most of us, reaching the first conclusion is obvious and the choosing the second position is relatively easy.
But what if inequity or prosecutorial misconduct of any sort could be eliminated, all the accused had sufficient counsel, there was no possibility of wrongful convictions, no juveniles, or mentally retarded or disabled executed, none with extenuating circumstances? Clearly, this is not possible - but what if it were? For or against, is it right to put a man or woman to death for their crimes? For those who consider it mandatory to have a position on the Iraq war, human rights, the guarantees of the constitution or Roe v. Wade in order to claim to be an engaged citizen, answering "yes" or "no" to his question is mandatory as well.
In fact, that question says as much or more than the other issues about who we are as a people. Particularly, those of us who live with most of our basic needs met. For us, in order to sleep easy while executing another, no matter how brutal or heinous their crime, we must have the talent to distance yourself from that person. Up close, difficult - guards on death row, particularly those involved with the mechanics of the actual execution process, report depression, even PTSD as a result. But safe in our own homes, it is quite possible.
With that talent in hand, we can distance ourselves from others of many descriptions. Executions are not televised; the caskets of soldiers aren't on the news. Similarly, if we can allow for death by commission, we can allow for it by omission. A man dies by lethal injection at San Quentin; an elderly woman dies in an SRO for lack of medical attention. And that, in turn, entails a talent for ranking, each person becoming a point of reference for our own lives. We end up terrified of being an unfortunate and envious of the more fortunate. The driver of the Honda hands a dollar to the man at the top of the off-ramp and redoubles his efforts to own a Lexus. As much as we don't want to see the families still living in squalor in the wake of Katrina, we want to watch the Oscars. To read, even to write, that somehow executing a killer has any relation to a desire to watch a movie star walk down a red carpet can seem absurd, but our society is caught up in the artificial, and the death penalty is impossible without that.
In addition, boiling down the passion for justice that we do have to a necessity for executing one person demonstrates in a microcosm how our politics addresses symptoms rather than causes, thinks short term rather than in the long run and when we get rained on, look down instead of up. One of the unlimited supply of examples: California has been going back and forth on spending as much as $356 million on a new death row facility while the budget for drug rehabilitation programs under its Prop. 36 will be reduced to approximately $100 million in 2008-09.
Finally, what does it say about us when we express our passion for justice by way of retribution rather than compassion?The question of whether to execute should be asked of our presidential candidates, it should be asked of each other. Four thousand men and women have been put to death in our name since 1930 and over one thousand since the reinstatement of the modern death penalty in 1976. No matter the brutality and heinousness of their crimes, no matter if they showed no remorse, we owe it to them to say if, standing in front of the judge of our own best nature, we owe them our own show of remorse.
Video of historic death penalty hearings!
Posted by Stefanie on February 29th, 2008
This video featuring DPF Board Member, Aundre Herron, testifying in front of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice is really great. It's a little less than three minutes, but it really hits on several good points.
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