THE DEATH PENALTY AND SHAKA SANKOFA

By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill (June 9, 2000)

The issue of the death penalty in America has become a raging debate, specifically as it relates to Africans in America who are on death row throughout the country.

Since the inception of the National Black United Front (NBUF), through its Houston Chapter, we have been involved in numerous cases involving people who were sentenced to death for crimes we believed they did not commit. NBUF has always been opposed to the death penalty and particularly its application to Africans in America.

It has been recently revealed in numerous publications that DNA, and other evidence, has freed 87 people from death row in recent years. NBUF agrees with numerous organizations, throughout the world, that the death penalty should be abolished in this country.

In this connection, African people, and others, are organizing and mobilizing to stop the announced execution of brother Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) scheduled for June 22nd in Texas.

As the Chairman of the Houston Chapter of NBUF, and our National Secretary, Kofi Taharka has pointed out "Many times in history a situation or an event takes place that represents a defining moment for a country, a people, or a movement. The nineteen–year fight for the life of Shaka Sankofa, I would suggest, argue and contend represents the potential for such a defining moment for Black people. Brother Shaka’s life and struggle represent what is wrong in our communities and in the criminal justice system. In many respects his fight represents the redeeming quality of the African spirit and the power of the people’s righteous cause for justice."

From the outset, the Houston Chapter of NBUF has been involved in the movement to free Shaka Sankofa and has consistently been at the forefront of the organizing efforts to expose the contradictions of his case.

We agree with the June 6th edition of the Final Call Newspaper that observed "Without divine intervention or a pardon from Texas Governor George W. Bush, death row inmate Shaka Sankofa, also known as Gary Graham will die from lethal injection June 22nd."

We further agree with the Final Call when it observed, "…if Mr. Sankofa is put to death, a mixed blend of politics and racism could open the door for the execution of Mumia Abu–Jamal, a Pennsylvania death row inmate, who supporters say is innocent."

Let us briefly review the facts concerning Brother Shaka’s case as developed by NBUF and Kofi Taharka:

  1. Shaka was 17 years old when he was charged with murder. Shaka has always maintained his innocence and subsequent evidence that could clear him of these charges that has not been allowed to be heard by a jury.
  2. During his two day trial, his court appointed attorney failed to mount substantial evidence that could clear him of the murder of Bobby Lambert outside a Houston grocery store almost twenty years ago.
  3. Shaka’s innocence rests on the following facts:
    1. four alibi witnesses have passed lie detector tests stating he was miles away at the time of the murder;
    2. six eyewitnesses failed to identify him as the killer;
    3. the 22 caliber pistol found on Shaka at the time of his arrest was presented at trial as the weapon that killed Bobby Lambert, however ballistics tests showed the murder weapon and Shaka’s weapon incompatible;
    4. Sankofa was convicted on the testimony of one eyewitness that saw the killer for a few seconds.

Additionally, according to the research uncovered regarding this case, much of the evidence came to light twelve years after his conviction, when his defense team did a full scale investigation.

As Brother Kofi points out, "Sankofa is alive today because of the work of community organizers and thousands of peoples out cry for justice. He has supporters representing a diverse spectrum— from the brothers and sisters in the streets, activists, working people, religious leaders and those in the motion picture industry."

In the climate of the rise of the prison industrial complex and its impact on the African Community in America, we must review our deceased elder, Dr. Charshee McIntyre’s insightful book, Criminalizing A Race, in our efforts to help understand the severity of the problem from a historical standpoint.

Dr. McIntyre explained, "Over the past two hundred years, African Americans over representations (in the criminal justice system) certainly has increased in the Southern prisons and has remained the same or has increased in the Northern ones. Today, this society still presumes that all African Americans are naturally criminal, and that only some of us get caught. One might expect some democracy at the lowest level of the echelon. But in this nation racism reigns supreme."

In the name of all our ancestors, we must do everything we can to stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa!


National Chairman
National Black United Front (NBUF)


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