PITTSBURGH: Peace, education keys to election

With the National Rifle Association (NRA) holding its national convention downtown featuring keynote speaker Vice President Dick Cheney, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry addressed an estimated 8,000 at the University of Pittsburgh April 16. Then Bush rolled in April 19, marking his 27th trip to the state. The Pennsylvania primary is April 27.

Behind banners calling for a ban on gun violence, Pittsburghers prayed and marched on the NRA convention. Many marked the anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School. According to the NRA, it has 1 million members in Pennsylvania.

Hundreds protested Bush’s arrival to raise money for Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who faces a primary challenge this year. Outside the convention center, residents, youth and seniors demanded U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Others called for taxing the rich to restore federal funding to education and child care.

Pittsburgh police arrested six people and punched Annie O’Neill as she tried to take a picture of cops arresting demonstrators. O’Neill is a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the largest newspaper in Western Pennsylvania.

MONTGOMERY, Ala.: Death penalty moratorium on agenda

After four years of battling, state Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) finally got legislation that would place a three-year moratorium on the state’s death penalty out of committee, April 14. The committee voted 7-1 to send the bill to the full Senate floor for debate.

Sanders successfully argued that minorities and people who use court-appointed lawyers are more likely to end up on death row than wealthy whites. “Quite often people don’t receive a fair trial,” Sanders said.

The committee also sent up legislation that would prohibit execution of anyone under age 18 at the time of the crime, and people who are mentally retarded. It also endorsed a bill that abolishes Alabama’s practice of allowing judges to impose the death sentence when a jury recommends life imprisonment.

Furthering the struggle for justice, Family Members of Inmates held their convention in this city, April 16. Freddie Brookins, one of a group of 46 working-class people – 39 of whom are African American – who were arrested in Tulia, Texas, on a phony drug sweep in 1999, addressed the group.

Most of those arrested were convicted and sent to prison. A lawsuit won their freedom and recently the group was awarded a $6 million civil settlement.

The group was originally convicted on the testimony of one cop. “The way people look at things, this is a police officer,” Brookins said. “But I think racism had a lot to do with it, also. They saw us as guilty before we ever went to court.”

BRUNSWICK, Ga.: Free speech under attack

On June 8-10, Bush will be on secluded Sea Island near Brunswick to host a meeting of leaders of G-8 countries, England, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Russia, to broker “free trade” deals. Thousands of fair trade and anti-globalization protesters are expected to demonstrate.

The town responded with draconian regulations on “public gatherings.” According to Robert Randall, local spokesman for the coalition organizing the public response to G-8, Brunswick requires a $150-$700 per day fee to use a public park plus $1.50 per participant toll to pay for cleanup and police. The town prohibits signs bigger than 2 by 3 feet or mounted on sticks, and limits gatherings to two-and-a-half hours. Brunswick can deny a park permit if it believes a gathering would impede traffic or commerce.

“This law would not exist if G-8 were not coming here,” Randall said. “It makes it impossible to express oneself through assembly or speech on public property unless you have money.” The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating.

DES MOINES, Iowa: Bush nixes student reporters

In the heartland, Des Moines, the Bush campaign locked out all student newspaper reporters who attempted to cover the president’s visit, April 15. Mike Allsup, reporter for the Ankeny campus of the Des Moines Area Community College Chronicle, said that the White House press office said that the president did not want students covering the campaign event in Des Moines.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696@aol.com). Bruce Bostick and Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s clips.