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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Government & Elections | Womyn
Barbara Becnel: Why I joined the Green Party
In 2006, Barbara Becnel was the first black female Democrat to have ever run for Governor of California. Now she is a member of the Green Party. In Oakland this evening, Barbara joined area Greens to describe the events that led to her conversion.
January 14, 2007
As guest of the Alameda Greens in Oakland this evening, Barbara Becnel described how the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams led her to embrace the Green Party.
Her political conversion began on the last day of Williams' life. She described how she was with friends and supporters in the visiting room at San Quentin. Jesse Jackson was present. William's attorneys brought in a 5-6 page message explaining why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had turned down their clemency request. A councilwoman from Oakland, Desley Brooks, had brought in 500 petitions to no avail. Barbara's initial shock turned to outrage. She decided then and there that she could no longer support any politician or political party that was in favor of the Death Penalty.
With the help of Todd Chretien and Williams' assent, she set up a meeting with Peter Camejo to tell him that she wanted to run for Governor-- as a Green. "I'll give Peter his 'props'. He was willing to step aside," she said referring to how Peter had been planning his own candidacy. Unfortunately because of the "way the two parties [Republicans and Democrats] have created the rules," she and Camejo soon discovered that it would be virtually impossible for her to run as a Green. Barbara decided she would make her "last hurrah" as a Democrat: by running as an "anti-Democrat Democrat!"
"It was the most horrific experience of my life," Becnel said, her thoughts returning to the day when Williams was killed. "It took 35 minutes to kill Stanley," she said. "It was horrific torture... what happened at San Quentin rises to the level of unconstitutionality."
Referring to a report issued by US District Judge Jeremy Fogel which led to a moratorium on executions in California and even Jeb Bush's Florida by the end of 2006, Becnel described how crude the procedures are in administering the lethal drugs to those being executed. She described how one guard shrugged off errors after being questioned by the judge saying, "Shit just happens. So?" Becnel also described how some of the drugs used for capital punishment come up missing or are mixed up by untrained guards. Becnel also described a cruel policy used by prisons of "one dose fits all." "Why do we bother having anesthesiologists in hospitals if one dose fits all?"
She described Williams as being 250 pounds of muscle. She said Judge Fogel said it was likely that Williams was not administered the "correct" amount of drug. Barbara exclaimed, "I know it happened!" [That that was the case.] She described how it was likely that Williams woke up from the short-lived drug that was supposed to put him to sleep before being killed. He was paralyzed by another drug (for the sake of the audience, she said). "His midsection and feet [however] contorted in a horrible way as if his body caved into his bones. Forty witnesses heaved a collective gasp. It was the worst thing to see. Stan was used to pulling muscles and feeling pain [he was a bodybuilder]. I hoped for a miracle... I hoped for a phone call. My brain went: "O.K. God. Kill him now." Barbara described her horrible anguish knowing how Williams was suffering... and her own disgust with herself to think that she could herself wish another human being's death even if to him out of his misery.
"Any which way," she said, "it was horrific, horrific, horrific."
Barbara described how she had been against the Death Penalty before viewing Williams' execution, but left uncompromisingly against it. Before, she said, she was able to rationalize it as something her political allies regularly compromised about to win votes for the sake of promoting their larger progressive agendas. After the execution, however, she pledged to never again vote for any candidate who supports the Death Penalty.
Becnel described how Phil Angelides once made light of a question she put him about whether or not he supported the Death Penalty. By later running for Governor, she said, she hoped to get in his and Arnold Schwarzenegger's faces about the issue.
"But it didn't happen," she said.
Blacklisted from being invited to key Democratic Party events, Barbara said she felt like Fannie Lou Hamer. "The Dixiecrats have become the 'Richiecrats'," she said referring to the Democratic Party gatekeepers who can bar a black woman from full participation in 2006 the same way they did in 1964.
She said that she was happy when finally one group, The Progressive Democratic Caucus, asked her to come speak to them on a Saturday night. On the Friday before the event she got a phone call. The voice on the other end of the line said: "Well um, um. We've-- um-- we've changed our rules this time, so... um, um... you are not going to be able to speak on Saturday.... But, um, for 30 minutes you can man the table!"
Becnel said that her habit at the end of any conversation or meeting is to do "a reality check"-- to repeat what was said to review that everyone is on the same page. "With all those um ums--" she explained, "I wanted to be clear about what was actually said." She described how she repeated the message back to the caller: "What I hear you saying is that I am DIS-invited to speak Saturday but I can man the registration table for 3o minutes! Is that right?"
"No! No!" said the caller. "The INFORMATION table!"
"I therefore am disinvited to speak Saturday night, but I can man the pamphlet table for thirty minutes! No thank you!"
Becnel described how she marched with Todd Chretien, Peter Camejo, and others to Sacramento to protest on the steps of the Democratic Party State Convention. The man she had talked to on the telephone came outside and asked her if she wanted to come inside and meet the candidates.
Barbara's answer: "NO!"
She described how afterwards, she joined Peter Camejo and Nativo Lopez to celebrate her becoming a full-fledged Green. Becnel said that there is no love lost between herself and the Democrats; she is very happy to have left them. She admitted that the many Democrats in Richmond where she works are "a little outdone" with her. Barbara laughed aloud though to recall that of eight candidates in the Democratic Party primary she had ran third! Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, she said, had to spend $60,000,000 to beat her. "And $40,000,000 between them was their own money."
Barbara mused aloud about a fantasy of hers. "I would like to get rich," she said, "so I can become the George Soros to end the Death Penalty."
A person in the audience asked Barbara a question about Tookie Williams-- jarring her back to reality. She described Williams without shoes-- in his socks... "That's how I could see his feet moving." [Meaning that he was not completely sedated.]
Becnel described how Judge Fogel sought a moratorium on the Death Penalty with the idea that a more "humane" execution is possible. Even a veterinarian had told the judge that the protocol used to euthanize people would never be employed on animals.
"Why? the judge asked him.
"Because I have ethics and standards," the veterinarian replied simply. "I would not knowingly put an animal away which would cause it pain. First, medical professionals not guards should administer the drugs. They should stand by the inmates' side to check to know what to do." [As it is, no one wishes to be close to the inmate when he is killed, Barbara said, nor does anyone want to risk being held personally culpable for the death even when so many people are involved.]
Williams' execution was "surreal" she said, "It is Death Theater. They even had a curtain. Macabre. Worse than anything I've seen in my whole life. We were told that two rules would be enforced. No one was allowed to speak above a whisper. No one was going to be allowed to 'sob loudly.'"
You disconnect and ask yourself: 'am I in a civilized society'?"
Becnel described how she was later attending a Wrongful Death Conference at UCLA when somebody said to her, "Nobody cares about the last ten minutes in a Death Row inmate's life."
Barbara replied that she herself did.
She said that she will never tire of speaking to people about the horrible things she saw during Williams' execution until the Death Penalty ends forever. She recalled to the audience the vitriolic and hateful e-mails Williams was still getting even after he was gone. "People called him a 'Buck'," she recalled with disgust.
"Schwarzenneger, and Bush (who killed 150 people in Texas-- more now in Iraq): these two made it 'O.K.' for these people to come out from under the rocks." Barbara said that the e-mails came from people from all walks of life; some had been sent from the peoples' workplaces. She said she wonders to herself if persons she meets in the course of her day might not be some of these creepy people. "Do these people I do not know hate me?" she asked. She quoted one of the most common messages she had read in the e-mails: "One nigger down, a billion to go."
She said that 80% of Williams' e-mail was positive and supportive though.
"The Green Party is right on the issues-- no ifs, ands, or buts." Becnel concluded after looking over the small but dedicated audience that had come to hear her speak and hung on her every word.
It still faces many hurdles to be sure, she added, particularly in its need to attract membership and leadership from minority groups.
Green Party of Alameda
Event info and site of the Alameda Greens "Green Sundays" Program
Award winning movie about Stanley Williams
Amnesty International USA Response to U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel's Ruling Deeming CA Lethal Injection Procedure 'Intolerable'
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Barbara Becnel speaks to Alameda Greens at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Oakland.
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