Death watch

Jun 28, 2000 at 12:00 am

They did not save Shaka Sankofa, also known as Gary Graham, from execution in Huntsville, Texas, last week. Nor did they convince Gov. George W. Bush to prevent the 34-year-old African-American, who has been on death row 17 years, from becoming the 133rd person executed under the presidential candidate’s watch. And they did not persuade the parole board to review overwhelming evidence that supporters say could have proven Sankofa’s innocence.

What eight Detroiters did do last week is draw public attention to this issue and shed light on a judicial system that sometimes – perhaps even frequently – results in the death of innocent people. David Sole, Jeff Nelson, Shirley Sanders, Arnetta Grable, Walter Knall, Elena Herrada, Sally Peck, and Garry Herring fasted five days and held daily vigils outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building to protest Sankofa’s execution. The eclectic crew of labor, religious and political activists came together because they oppose the death penalty, says Sole, a UAW member. "We decided this was a way to break through the media and get the public’s attention," he says.

Though there was not much local coverage of the groups’ efforts, Sole says they reached thousands of passersby, handing out literature and collecting 600 petition signatures that were sent to Bush asking that he pardon Sankofa.

Despite the execution, Sole said the protest was not in vain. "We are going to build a bigger coalition and broader base," he explained. "We will do what (Sankofa) asked, which is to keep the struggle going."

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]