Sacco, Vanzetti Memorial Service Planned for Aug. 23

SPRINGFIELD, MA – The 90th anniversary of the executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927 will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

To commemorate the date and to build concern for criminal justice and opposition to the death penalty in Massachusetts, the Hampden County Chapter of the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, in association with The Sisters of Saint Joseph, will be sponsoring a memorial service in Springfield.

The memorial service will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at Sinai Temple, located at 1100 Dickinson St.

This year the main focus of the event will be mass incarceration and the need for justice in the criminal justice system. A panel of concerned citizens will present their perspectives and experiences in a “Progress Report on Criminal Justice.” Panel members include: Chuck Battle of Springfield; Cassandra Bensahih of Worcester; and Susan Tordella of Ayer.

The event, which has been held annually since 1991, will also honor two individuals who have worked for the abolition of the death penalty and on behalf of issues of social justice.

Longmeadow resident John J. Fitzgerald will receive the Ken Childs Award for his work on behalf of the local chapter and for his work on behalf of criminal justice and social justice issues over the years.

The Ken Childs Award is given in honor of the late Ken Childs, a social justice activist, who was the principal organizer of the Hampden County Chapter of Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty in 1991.

This year the Clarence Darrow Award will be given to Attorney William “Bill” Newman of Northampton. Attorney Newman has long been a defender of civil rights and civil liberties in Western Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth. He heads the Western Massachusetts office of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The Clarence Darrow Award is given in honor of Clarence Seward Darrow. Darrow was an American criminal defense lawyer and a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is perhaps best known for defending Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murder. Some of his other cases included defending William “Big Bill” Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World, Ossian Sweet, and John T. Scopes in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Called “the attorney for the damned,” he remains one of the most famous American lawyers and notorious civil libertarians.

Western Massachusetts folk singer and social justice activist Ben Grosscup will provide musical entertainment.

Sinai Temple is air conditioned, and there will be free parking available. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be served.

A Brief Background for the Sacco and Vanzetti Executions (compiled by John J. Fitzgerald)

Most students of this controversial case regard the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti as a classic example of the injustice inherent in the application of the death penalty.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants. Sacco was a shoemaker and Vanzetti was a fish peddler. Both men were outspoken anarchists; they believed that government was an unnecessary evil that should be abolished. This was a political philosophy, whose advocacy was (and is) protected by the First Amendment.

In April 1920, five armed men robbed a shoe company payroll in South Braintree, MA. The paymaster and his guard were murdered. In May, the police arrested Sacco and Vanzetti. They were carrying pistols when arrested and made false statements to the police when they were interrogated. However, neither had a criminal record, and none of the stolen money showed up in their possession.

The behavior of the trial judge and the prosecutor frequently evidenced bias and prejudice.

In 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were both found guilty of murder and robbery and sentenced to death. Mass demonstrations to prevent their executions were held by defense committees, civil liberties groups and sympathetic people throughout the US, Europe and Latin America.

Despite legal appeals, the verdict of the lower court was upheld, and on Aug. 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed by electrocution by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The facts of the case are still being debated. Defenders of Sacco and Vanzetti charge that: the trial was unfair; the evidence was flimsy, at best circumstantial; and that they were really convicted for their political views, not for armed robbery and murder. To this day, many people still have a reasonable doubt as to their guilt.