Interview: Rob WIll—-The death row resisters
The death penalty system is set up to hide the horrific conditions facing
prisoners–conditions that function to dehumanize prisoners, forcing them
to give in and accept the injustice being done to them.
Rob Will, an innocent man on Texas death row framed for the murder of a
police officer, has inspired activists throughout the world for standing
up to the system and fighting back. Along with Kenneth Foster Jr. and
Gabriel Gonzalez, Rob co-founded the Death Row Inter-communalist Vanguard
Engagement (DRIVE) Movement.
DRIVE members' nonviolent resistance within the heart of the death penalty
beast, in collaboration with the anti-death penalty movement on the
outside, won an amazing victory last August in stopping the execution of
Here, Ragina Johnson from Rob Will's defense committee interviews Rob
about his case and the founding of DRIVE.
WHAT ARE the details of your case? Do you feel they're unique?
BRIEFLY, ON December 4, 2000, in an area on the north side of Houston,
Texas, several others and myself were in the vicinity of 2 stolen cars
that were in the process of being stripped. Police came, and we all ran. A
Harris County Deputy Sheriff was shot and killed by another person. I was
the only one apprehended.
I was arrested later that day in a town outside of Houston. I refused to
work with detectives, and despite extremely harsh interrogation
techniques, I never gave a statement or "snitched" on the others who were
After a terribly unfair trial, I was convicted and sentenced to death,
despite evidence–which wasn't properly presented–proving my innocence,
— The fact that officer call-log transcripts confirm that I was
handcuffed when the shooting occurred.
— The person who actually committed the murder–who happens to be the son
of a well-known and well-connected police officer–confessed to at least 5
— My gloves, hands and clothes tested negative for gunpowder residue.
What you can do
For more information about Rob Will's case and how you can help with his
defense campaign, go to the Free Rob Will Web site. You can watch a video
of a direct action conducted by Rob in August 2006 and the vicious use of
force by prison guards in response.
To write to Rob, send letters to Robert G. Will #999402, Polunsky Unit,
3872 FM 350, South Livingston, TX 77351, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the politics and actions of the DRIVE Movement on
Texas' death row, visit the DRIVE Movement Web site.
For more information on the death penalty and the struggle to end it, see
the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web site. Articles from the
Campaign's newsletter The New Abolitionist are available on the site.
In some ways, my case and trial are unique. For example, the head district
attorney, Chuck Rosenthal, prosecuted me himself, and the courtroom was
packed with police officers, creating such a mob atmosphere that the judge
had to order the doors locked. I should mention that Rosenthal was
recently forced to resign due to a scandal involving racist and sexist
e-mails, pornography and evidence of illegal campaign finance activity
found on his work computer.
However, my case and trial are symptomatic of larger problems with the
criminal justice system, the prison industrial complex and society as a
One only needs to look at prison, where 1 in 9 young Black males reside,
to see that racism is a reality. This system is inherently racist and does
not take kindly to white folks who are not.
Plus, this system, of course, is classist–my case highlights this fact,
but is by no means an exception to the way the criminal justice system
functions on a daily basis. From the point of arrest, through trial and on
into the appeals process, the cards are stacked against anyone who doesn't
have hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire an experienced legal team or
perhaps be lucky enough to get pro bono attorneys involved with their
I've essentially had no appeals process. My court-appointed appeal
attorneys have filed nothing more than pitiful appeals. My state habeas
attorney merely copied the appeal of Angel Maturino "The Railroad Killer"
Resendez and turned it in as mine. It was, of course, quickly denied, and
I haven't been able to find any good pro bono attorneys willing to help
WHY DID you co-found DRIVE?
MORE THAN anything, oppression and injustice founded DRIVE.
Kenneth Foster, Gabriel Gonzalez and myself were all moved to the same
housing section around the same time. We were all involved in various
forms of organizing and activism before, but when we got around each
other, we started discussing our individual world views and found that we
shared a deep burning desire to fight for a better world.
We quickly went from igniting a spark to creating a small and righteous
subterranean fire of resistance here on Texas death row. We all had
similar mindsets, we remained focused and came together to form DRIVE.
The direct material conditions of our environment also had a lot to do
with the forming of the movement. Things were getting worse and oppression
breeds resistance. Being locked in a small cage for 22 to 24 hours a day
(and only let out to a larger cage for "recreation"), constantly deprived
of sleep, unable to touch another human being, fed disgusting food, and
having to face a host of other means designed to break the human mind and
body is nothing less than torture, and we decided to take a dramatic stand
against this oppression.
Also, several of our friends who we knew were innocent had received
execution dates, harassment by individual officers was on the rise, and it
seemed that the anti-death penalty movement was stagnating.
It's important to note that the formation of DRIVE didn't just suddenly
happen; we put in a lot of work. Kenneth, Gabriel and myself were spending
10 to 12 hours some days coming up with a strategic plan, while keeping in
contact with others like Reginald Blanton (who was on another pod) and
getting their input.
It was like we were having a weeks-long "Resistance on Death Row
Conference" or something. We were literally having days-long discussions
and engaging in dialectics on how we could apply lessons learned from
everything from the Foco theory that grew out of the Cuban Revolution to
Gandhi's Satyagraha movement, to just about every other social justice
movement or theory one can imagine.
We realized that we had to reach out to organizations fighting the death
penalty on the outside as well as other political groups, and work in
tandem with them. This system likes to operate in the dark so we went
about creating the DRIVE Web site to shed light on the reality of the
death penalty and the conditions on Texas death row.
It would be counterproductive for me to expose our tactics and strategies
in an open forum that is subject to the prying eyes of prison officials,
but we have been very effective in improving the conditions here and
strengthening the abolition movement as a whole.
WHAT DID the victory for Kenneth Foster mean to you and your comrades on
Texas death row?
I CAN remember shedding deep tears of happiness only twice in my life.
Once was when my son was born, and I saw him breathe his first breath.
Second was when I heard that Kenneth's sentence was commuted.
Not only was I overwhelmed with a deep sense of inspiration, relief and
happiness because a personal friend and comrade of mine wasn't murdered by
the state, but also because Kenneth's commutation proved that grassroots
activism can and does work.
I was in consistent contact with main organizers of the Save Kenneth
Foster Coalition, hearing from them and/or meeting with them on a weekly
basis. I saw what they did. I witnessed firsthand how they built a solid
grassroots campaign from the ground up and showed that community
organizing works, even in the arch-conservative state of Texas.
The state is not omnipotent. We can be victorious. Kenneth's victory was
not his alone, it belongs to all of us on death row and everyone involved
in the abolitionist movement on the outside. Kenneth's commutation showed
us all that if we struggle, we can win.
YOU OFTEN talk about how struggles are interconnected. Can you explain
WE REALLY have to look at the intersections of oppression from not only a
state or national, but an international perspective. The parallels are
endless. The military, petrochemical and prison-industrial complex are
intimately intertwined–they are the health of the state that, through
foreign and domestic policy, is responsible for the social ills facing
working-class people worldwide. War funding is draining the community of
taxpayer money that could be used to build a strong and sustainable social
network that prevents the causes of crime. Billions go to Israel every
year to fund apartheid against the Palestinians. The poor in Iraq are
suffering the most. The poor in the U.S. are the ones in the prisons and
on death row. The death penalty and prison issues are working-class issues
just like the war in Iraq and the struggle for Palestinian liberation,
labor and immigrants' rights are. This is why Eugene Debs said that as
long as there's a lower class, he'd be in it, as long as there's a
criminal element he'd be of it, and while there is a soul in prison he'd
never be free.
Also, those on the right like to spew their rhetoric about this supposed
"culture war" we're in–and perhaps we are indeed in a culture war. But
our enemies, the enemies of the working class aren't "Islamofascists,"
"those pushing the homosexual agenda," the "illegals," or other favorite
fantastical enemies of the right. Our real enemies are those like the Bush
regime and their neo-con supporters who seem hell bent on shredding the
Constitution, fervently attacking civil liberties and human rights and
destroying the livelihood of everyone who isn't in their ruling class
We're also fighting against North America's thriving and ever-expanding
love affair with violence. In order to advance the process of healing
humanity, genocidal wars, and U.S. support of oppressive regimes, the
death penalty and all other forms of state-sponsored violence must be seen
as morally unacceptable by the masses, who do have the power to change
foreign and domestic policy.
WHERE IS your case at now and what can people do to support your struggle?
I'M AT the last stage of the appeals process, the federal level. My
federal habeas writ has already been filed.
For years I never really focused on my case. I always focused on
anti-death penalty, prisoner rights, and other activism as a whole. At
this point, I really need to publicize my case as well as the work we're
doing here on death row. I need all the solidarity I can get. An easy way
people can help out my campaign is to go to my Web site,
www.freerobwill.org, and download my 'zine to get the word out about my
I need to live so I can continue to fight. My defense committee was only
formed about a year ago and consists of only a few people. They're
overwhelmed with work and could surely use help. They also run the DRIVE
site by themselves and need help with that as well.
As we've seen, the state has wasted no time in fervently pursuing
execution dates since the Supreme Court ruling on lethal injection. Now is
the time for increased action. Anyone interested can drop me a letter or
e-mail me and we can make change happen, not just for myself but for the
overall struggle that we're all engaged in.
(source: Socialist Worker)