Monday, January 03, 2011

Statement by Bomani Shakur of the Lucasville Uprising death sentenced prisoners

Four prisoners unjustly sentenced to death for
the Lucasville (OH) prison uprising are going on
hunger strike beginning today, to demand that
they be placed on Death Row rather than be held
in solitary confinement (and to initiate a
campaign that will hopefully lead to executive
clemency). Here, the first of the prisoners to
begin the strike speaks out:

If We Must Die

Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing
perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to
live and breathe and strive to do something
righteous with my life. Truly. For the past
sixteen years, however, I’ve been in solitary
confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day
for something I didn’t do, and, speaking
honestly, I have gone as far as I am willing to
go. Am I giving up? No. This is a protest, the
only non-violent way I can think of to express
the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation
that I am in. Make no mistake: my physical and
mental strength is intact. However, to continue
on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a
process that is both fraudulent and vindictive;
this I am no longer willing to do.

I realize that for some of you the thought that
an innocent man could be sent to prison and
ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it
happens. In a system that’s based more on
competition than on the equitable treatment of
others, the football field is not the only place
where participants are encouraged to win at any
cost. Hence, in order to be victorious, some
prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court, and
even pay for the perjured testimony of their
witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in
my case (and in the majority of cases stemming
from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern
Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio);
and there are a few people among you who have
reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.

But let us for the moment put aside the question
of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe
it or not, is not what this is about. On that
score, we have written several books, produced a
play, and are putting the final touches on a
full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty
of justice that has taken place here; and these
things are available to you if you are
interested. For now, I want to talk about dying…

In all that is presently unclear, one thing is
certain: I have been sentenced to death, which,
as you know, is the severest penalty known to
man. Typically, when one has been given the death
penalty, one is placed alongside other
similarly-sentenced prisoners and they, together,
are housed in an area that has been designated as
Death Row. As living situations go, this is a
very bleak and miserable place: men are sent here
to die, to be killed by the state. No one in
their right mind would ask to be sent here; and
yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which
should give you an indication of just how
insufferable the situation I am living under is.
And I am not alone…

When the uprising was over, and all was said and
done, five of us were singled out as leaders and
sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or
Namir, as he prefers to be called), Siddique
Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes, and myself. With
the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past
ten years has been in a less pressurized ­ though
by no means acceptable situation, we have
undergone penalty on top of penalty, been kept
from fully participating in our appeals, from
touching our friends and families, denied
adequate medical treatment, and so many other
things that are too numerous to name. In a word,
we have been tortured. And yes, I am aware that
the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but
I know of no other word that adequately describes
what we have been through. We have been put through hell.

A few months ago, a Federal judge recommended
that my case be dismissed, which effectively
moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s
hard to explain how this made me feel; but upon
hearing the news I immediately thought that a
mistake had been made and that my attorneys had
somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it
turns out, I was the one who misunderstood.
Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all
along. When I was first named as a suspect in
riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name
would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received
a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty
specifications. I was shocked. And then they
offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we'll
forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m
innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the
truth of this would somehow set me free. And so,
with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to
trial, thinking and believing that I would
receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would
ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then,
when I was sentenced to death, it was my
understanding that I would be placed on Death Row
and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other
similarly-sentenced prisoners; but, again, I
misunderstood…”Just wait until you get to Federal
Court,” I was told, “and you'll definitely get
some relief there.” So I waited…I waited for sixteen years!

If justice as a concept is real, then I could
with some justification say, “justice delayed is
justice denied.” But this has never been about
justice, and I finally, finally, finally
understand that. For the past sixteen years, I
(we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for
the state, and convenient excuse that they can
point to whenever they need to raise the specter
of fear among the public or justify the
expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for
more locks and chains. And not only that, but the
main reason behind the double penalty that we
have been undergoing is so that we can serve as
an example of what happens to those who challenge
the power and authority of the state. And like
good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and
wait until they take us to their death chamber,
strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison
through our veins. Fuck that! I refuse to go out
like that: used as a tool by the state to put
fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing
a system that is bogus and sold to those with money.
That’s not my destiny.

At the beginning of this I wanted to make it
perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I
don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when
one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s
life. Sadly, it took going through this process
for me to wake up and finally understand the
value of my life. I say “wake up” because,
unbeknownst to me I had been asleep all this
time, oblivious to the reality of my situation
and unaware that the only way for one to stop
dreaming (and gain control over things) is for
one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.

Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the
books have been written, the play has been
performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will
be completed. But what good are these things if
they never enter into the stream of public
opinion and force the governor (who answers to
the public) to issue a general amnesty?
Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in
our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one
that will require huge amounts of energy and
effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the
very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime,
we who have been sentenced to death must be
granted the exact same privileges as other
death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we
should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is
all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our
appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our
friends and family, and to no longer be treated
as playthings but as human beings who are facing
the ultimate penalty.

Again, I stress that fact that I do not want to
die, but in the words of Claude McKay, I share
the following as my parting sentiments:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us through deed!

O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Bomani Shakur
December 2010

The four hunger strikers are all at the Ohio State Penitentiary:
Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders) R130-559
Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were) A173-245
Bomani Shakur (Keith Lamar) 317-117
Jason Robb A308919

Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505

Staughton Lynd and Alice Lynd, attorneys and
activists, have been active in the movement for
justice for the Lucasville Five. A current
article from Staughton's ZSpace page:
This the facebook page for support of the
strikers, which I got from Sharon Danann of the
Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network in Cleveland:

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