FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Death Row Talks Back to Etan Thomas

by DAVE ZIRIN

This Sunday at 4pm, I am proud to be speaking at an event in San Francisco called a “Civil Rights Slam for Justice,” sponsored by among others the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. The slam will be at the Malcolm X school at 350 Harbor Street. In addition to myself and a crew of young artists, activists and poets, speakers will include an NBA basketball player by the name of Etan Thomas.

Regular readers of this column know that I’m not exactly shy about singing the praises of the Washington Wizards forward. Etan plays a gritty, elbows-up style of basketball, but on a microphone he is pure Jordan. In the tradition of Amiri Baraka, his poems are sharp enough to cut glass, and generous enough to leave seedlings that can sprout in the cracks.

I first heard about Etan’s political poetry when a rumor started going around Washington DC that this rather gigantic gentleman with dreads was going to U street coffee houses reading anti-death penalty, anti-racist verse in front of a crowd you could fit in a van. Since then Etan has risen to every occasion, speaking out at last September’s anti-war rally, speaking out against the mistreatment of Katrina refugees, speaking out against the execution of Stan Tookie Williams, and speaking out through a published book of verse fittingly enough called “More Than An Athlete” [Moore Black Press].

Right here, for the first time, Death Row speaks back to Etan Thomas. This comes in the form of a letter from Illinois Death Row prisoner Stanley Howard. Stanley, always organizing, typed his message to Etan on the back of a fact sheet that explains his case. Here his letter is republished with permission from both Stanley and Etan.

I pass on Stanley Howard’s letter so folks can see that athletes don’t take political stands for their own amusement or ego, but to be part of something larger than themselves. I also pass it on to demonstrate how a prisoner on death row has as much a capacity to inspire as any jock.

See you in the Bay Area,

DAVE ZIRIN

Dear Brother Etan Thomas:

My name is Stanley Howard, and I’m currently incarcerated at the world famous Stateville Correctional Center/Warehouse in Joliet, Illinois.

I’m a 43 year old Black poor man from Chicago who has spent the last 22 years kidnapped by this unmerciful system — 16 of those years were spent trying to stop the State of Illinois from lynching me on Death Row.

I’m no longer suffering on Death Row (fighting yet another wrongful conviction), but my heart is still in the struggle to end the Death Penalty because I can still hear the cries for justice and understanding loud and clear in my ears.

I’ve recently heard about your upcoming scheduled appearance at a Campaign to End the Death Penalty (“CEDP”) event, and I just wanted to send these words of thanks to show my sincere appreciation.

I’ve heard so much about your activism against classism, racism and this unjust system and government, and you’ll be surprised to know that you’re a great inspiration to many of the guys behind this 30-foot wall. Because like the title of your book says, you’re “More Than an Athlete.”

I was on Death Row when it seemed like nobody cared what happened to Death Row prisoners, and worthless politicians were climbing on top of each other to pass laws and rules designed to make it easier to be sent to Death Row; harder to get off; and, faster to execute. They caused 100s to be executed during this time period trying to prove they were not soft on crime.

They were able to kill all these people (some of which had to be innocent, like me), even though we had many well established groups and organizations fighting to abolish the Death Penalty.

Everything began to change with the bold and aggressive grassroots efforts of the CEDP, because they consist of everyday people whose not sitting behind desks pushing paper, but out on the streets organizing, educating, protesting and agitating the so called Powers That Be. Everyone on Death Row loves the CEDP, because they changed the face of how this life saving movement is fought — helping to put the Death Penalty under the national spotlight; obtaining a Death Penalty moratorium; highlighting many cases; and, convincing Gov. Ryan to empty out Illinois’ Death Row and granting my request for a pardon and three other pardons.

So on behalf of all the Brothers and Sisters still fighting to stop from being lynched on Death Rows around the country, I thank you for joining the struggle and helping to bring this madness to an end.

THEY SAY DEATH ROW — WE SAY HELL NO!!!

Thank You for being More Than an Athlete!!!

Stanley J. Howard
Reg. # N-71620
Stateville Correctional Center
Route 53, P.O. Box 112 Joliet, IL 60434

 

 

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail