Announcing the 8th Amendment Project

Announcing the 8th Amendment Project

May 23, 2014
 
Henderson Hill
Executive Director
The Eighth Amendment Project
 
Because the evolving standards of decency demand an end to the death penalty in America.
 
On May 15th, I became the Executive Director of the Eighth Amendment Project, a strategic and targeted campaign to end capital punishment in this country. I am both honored and humbled by the trust reposed in me by this community to build upon the ongoing strategies already underway to end the death penalty once and for all. While our community does not speak with one voice, we do speak with the same purpose. I look forward to building on this solidarity, while also seeking to further develop a campaign to refocus and sharpen our approach towards abolition. Our community has never been larger, stronger, wiser or more diverse than it is today. Never have we been better positioned to gain more from within our movement and from the broader movement aimed at achieving justice and equality for all people.
 
Dawud Abdullah Muhammed, just hours before being rolled into the execution chamber in North Carolina’s Central Prison, spoke of life, love, family, and politics. A dead man walking for 15 years, he had become a poet, a philosopher, and an imam. Years of litigation had exposed a campaign of prosecutorial misconduct and racial bigotry in the investigation and prosecution of his case. In the end, the systematic campaign to deprive Dawud of a fair trial was dismissed by the courts as mere “harmless error.”
 
Dawud had cause to be bitter on his last day of life, but his last consultation with his friend, fellow Brooklyn native, frequent debate partner, and attorney, focused little on the law or the frustration of his wholly unfair trial and cynical appellate and post conviction review. Instead, his words returned repeatedly to how blessed his final hours had been. He hugged his daughter for the first time in 16 years, met his grandson, and embraced a long-time pen pal. Dawud looked into my eyes, gripped my hands, and spoke softly but firmly: “Brother, don’t let my death be in vain.”
 
Dawud’s final plea was on behalf of hundreds of others like him. Some, like Dawud, had viable claims of innocence, others suffered from prosecutorial or juror misconduct, nearly all had ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Regardless, Dawud said, each man had a spirit, a potential and a value, that the State had no right to extinguish.
 
A couple of hours later, holding hands with Dawud’s daughter, I sat outside the execution chamber. Hushed by the circumstances, I watched, wept, and bore silent witness.
 
Both preceding and in the years that have followed Dawud’s execution, I have been privileged to be part of a community of lawyers, activists, investigators, doctors, mental health experts, historians, social scientists, and journalists who have helped us try to make sense of this most barbaric system of vindictive justice. Together we have saved thousands of lives, at trial, at the negotiating table, on appeal, in post-conviction, and in state legislatures.
 
Over many years and clients, I have cherished my work with colleagues who have keenly identified, nurtured, and pursued legal and legislative approaches in pursuit of ending or limiting the use of the death penalty. Fruition has come in different forms: categorical death penalty exemptions for juveniles and the mentally challenged; the near-total disuse of the electric chair and continued challenges to lethal injection; and successful abolition efforts in six states over six years.
 
The Eighth Amendment Project will build on this progress. Our undertaking: a targeted campaign to end the death penalty through smart litigation, sound policy, strategic organizing, and targeted communications efforts. Working in collaboration with attorneys, allied organizations, and movement leaders, the Eighth Amendment Project will lead a strategic and refocused campaign to end the death penalty and restore justice to all it has impacted adversely.

I have long since banked my grief over my father’s death in a recess from which I, more often than not draw inspiration and warmth than I do sadness and loss. My father, a high school drop-out, disabled World War II veteran, social recluse and avid reader, swung a mop for 25 years for GSA, and wore his patriotism on his sleeve. A native of Georgia, with the horrors of the lynching tree forever seared on his soul, my father dreaded the courthouse—any courthouse. While knowing too well the horrors of America’s affection for capital punishment, if he had been asked which would happen first—the end of the death penalty, gay marriage, or the election of a black man as President—he would have answered without hesitation: abolition! Yet its stronghold on the American psyche remains real and unbroken, a reality the Eighth Amendment Project seeks to change.
 
In the coming days, I look forward to meeting and talking with my many friends—old, new, and from every corner of our movement—as we bring greater clarity to the objectives and common purpose of this campaign to end capital punishment in America once and for all.
 
 
Peace,
 
Henderson Hill
Charlotte, NC