Visiting flew by on April 24th, and it seemed like I had just walked in the door when the guard tapped me on the shoulder. I put up my hand to touch his through the glass, the closest to a greeting and a goodbye possible. I walked out, past the cages they hold the prisoners in, through the automatic metal doors. I looked back through the window, and the white mesh backing of the visiting cell almost obscured his frame, but then he raised a black fist in the air, and I felt his smile through the glass.
HB: Haramia’s execution date is set for Aug.30. You’ve written that everyone, from the prosecutor on down, agrees that Haramia did not kill anyone, he never even touched the gun? How can someone be executed on these grounds?
WI: Haramia was convicted under the Law of Parties, which has two parts: “A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if "acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense he solicits, encourages, directs, aids or attempts to aid the other persons to commit the offense" or "If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy."
So basically it’s saying you are as responsible for a crime if you knowingly help and support someone in that crime OR you are guilty for the crime if you SHOULD HAVE KNOWN it would happen based on your actions.
Haramia was 19 years old when the crime he was convicted for occurred. He and three other young men were out riding around, and decided to commit a series of armed robberies. Haramia’s role in them was only as the driver of the car. After holding up two parties, Haramia asked them to stop the robberies, which all agreed to.
On the way home, they stopped the car so one of the men, Mauriceo Brown could talk to a woman. He got into an argument with her boyfriend Michael LaHood, and shot and killed LaHood. Haramia had no knowledge that this was occurring until it was too late. Brown acted on his own, and admitted to the shooting (claiming it was in self-defense), and freely stated that he acted alone. Brown has been executed by the death machine of Texas. In invoking that statute, prosecutors had to prove that Foster and his cohorts agreed to commit armed robbery when they encountered LaHood, and that they should've anticipated that their risky behavior might cause LaHood's death.
Those of us supporting Haramia argue that he was falsely convicted under the Law of Parties, that this case does not fall without the jurisdiction of that law (he was not charged with armed robbery, only with first degree murder).
But on the bigger scale, which is the way Haramia, as a political organizer and activist, wants it framed, we also hold that the Law of Parties is completely flawed and needs to be eliminated. To try someone for what they should have known was going to happen is Orwellian in design and horribly frightening in its application. But of course, the work doesn’t stop there; we have to address the fact the death penalty is a brutal corrupt flawed and pointless means of “justice,” and do it away with it. We must build a criminal justice system that is based on rehabilitation, restoration and healing, about making whole, rather than punishment and further violating the communities and individuals who have been victimized by the ravages of oppression. This is the work that Haramia does every day from a cell the size of a bathroom. This is the work that we, out here, are tasked with as well, if we are look ourselves in the face.
HB: Do you think him being a political organizer is a motive for attempting to carry out this extreme sentence?
WI: Haramia became a political organizer after his conviction, while on death row. The reactions that he and other political organizers in prison and on the row suffer is definitely based on their commitment to justice and uncovering the truth. There is a strong desire, on the part of the prison system, the courts and this society, to silence the voices of the oppressed who demand not only answers, but solutions and who refuse to compromise or negotiate away pieces of their liberation.
HB: You wrote that Haramia’s death row organization DRIVE is “an amazing example of oppressed people in the worst of circumstances organizing themselves for self determination.” What kind of organizing is DRIVE doing? Has the movement now spread to Philadelphia?
WI: (www.drivemomovement.org) DRIVE is a very powerful case of oppressed peoples directly affected in the bowels (not even the belly) of the beast organizing themselves. It was founded by Haramia and other brothas on the row in Texas. It is organized across racial lines, which is fairly unheard of in prisons. DRIVE is committed to nonviolently opposing the death penalty in all its manifestations. They protest not just their own death sentences, but those of people across this country.
This has taken the form of hunger strikes, the last of which went from October of 2006 to January of 2007, a three month strike. Haramia spoke of that when I went to visit him, saying how difficult it was to see these men turn into walking skeletons. But they feel that they can not in good conscience go along with the death penalty, with all its contradictions, the overall racism and classism of who is issued the death penalty, and the inherent inhumanity of taking a person’s life.
They also have on their website a memorial to the people who refused to “walk,” that is, when their death sentence came time, they refused to go along with the program and walk to the death chamber. Haramia said they refuse to be led like cattle to the slaughter, that as human beings, it is an inherent desire to want to continue to live, and that each person who refuses to walk is engaging in an act of civil disobedience.
A recent really exciting development with DRIVE is that they have expanded to include a chapter from women on death row in Pennsylvania. This is such a powerful step because these women are organizing and mobilizing themselves, and also because there is so little discourse about women in prison, let alone women on death row.
HB: Are there any appeals left, or any other grounds to stop the execution