Our Tuesday's Focus series continues today with a look at California death row exonoree Shujaa Graham:
Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, LA, where he grew up on a plantation. His family worked as share-croppers, in the segregated South of the 50s. In 1961, he moved to join his family who had moved to South Central Los Angeles, to try to build a more stable life. As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riot and experienced the police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad Prison.
Within the prison walls, Shujaa came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. Shujaa taught himself to read and write, he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community.
In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute, Stockton, California. As a recognized leader within and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense, and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin's death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction.
After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and Eugene Allen, continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system.
Shujaa was released in March, 1981, and continued to organize in the Bay area, building community support for the prison movement, as well as protest in the neighborhoods against police brutality.
In the following years, Shujaa moved away from the Bay area. Shujaa learned landscaping, and created his own business. He and his wife raised three children, and became part of a progressive community in Maryland.
In 1999, Shujaa was invited to speak about his experiences on Death Row at fund raiser for the Alabama Death Penalty project, sponsored by the New York Legal Aid Foundation. This was a new beginning, and provided Shujaa the opportunity to begin to tell his story, his experiences and grow through work with other death penalty opponents.
Links to Shujaa’s Journey:
Shujaa’s web site
Campaign to End The Death Penalty
Faces of Wrongful Conviction
Death penalty debated The Post and Courier
The New Abolitionist: I See This Struggle As A New Challenge
Former Inmate Condemns Capital Punishment
A Life’s Sentence
STOP The Death Penalty
Shujaa Graham Quotes:
"I was framed because of my beliefs and because I was outspoken about prison conditions."
"We need a government that would be so sensitive to the needs of the people that its every endeavor would be towards building peace and happiness and not preying on the misery of people. And that’s really how the death penalty goes--it preys upon people’s fears"
"I've tried to integrate the prison issue with other movements. My politics go far beyond prison itself, but because I’ve been in prison, I felt a responsibility to try to expose the conditions of prison life, to fight against new prisons, to address how the disenfranchised will be tomorrow’s victims of the prison system.
“I stand here wounded by the blows of the death penalty of racism, trying to end this awful reality”