The George Ryan mystery

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sun Jan 12 06:01:57 MST 2003

The simplest explanation for Governor Ryan's action may be
that given his personal political situation, he realized that
he nothing more to lose from doing the right thing
and so he went and did it.  Certainly unusual behavior from a
politician but such behavior has been occasionally been known to occur.

One is reminded perhaps of Governor John Peter Altgeld who
in 1893 pardoned the remaining prisoners who had been
falsely convicted of the 1886 bombing, known as the
Haymarket Massacre.  In the case of Governor Altgeld
though, he signed the pardons, knowing that it would
likely end his political career, which proved to the
case when he was defeated in his bid for re-election
in 1896.

Jim F.

On Sun, 12 Jan 2003 06:40:02 -0600 "LouPaulsen" <LouPaulsen at>
> As the above New York Times article recounts, outgoing Republican
> Governor
> George Ryan has commuted the sentences of all 167 death row inmates
> in
> Illinois.  The previous day, he had issued pardons for 4 prisoners
> who had
> been convicted of murder and sentenced to die on the basis of
> confessions
> extracted by brutal torture, including beatings, electric shock, and
> suffocation, by the Chicago Police.  (One of these, Aaron Patterson,
> celebrated his first full day of freedom by speaking to the anti-war
> rally
> in Chicago!)  In speeches televised live, Ryan recounted the details
> of the
> police torture, the abuses of power by police and prosecutors, the
> use of
> all-white juries, and the failure of the court system to provide
> justice
> even after the truth about these horrors came out.
> All of this is rather shocking to me personally and leaves me with
> an eerie
> feeling of unreality.  I don't mean that the facts are shocking.  We
> in the
> movement have known about them for years.  For that matter, the
> entire Black
> and Latino communities have known about them for years.  The media
> have
> known about them for years, in the wake of highly publicized cases
> where
> death row prisoners have been exonerated after years of struggle.
> All of the things in Ryan's statements have been known for years,
> but the
> shocking and hard-to-explain thing is that a Republican Governor
> made these
> true statements.  These indictments of the death penalty would be
> perfectly
> in place in a movement newspaper, but you have to pinch yourself and
> make
> sure that you aren't dreaming when you hear them from the governor!
> When governors do things like this we on the left almost
> automatically write
> that "the struggle forced them to do it", but in this particular
> case it is
> not really true.  Of course there have been many demonstrations,
> rallies,
> and so on, and a lot of anti-death penalty activists have done a lot
> of
> great work over the years, and all of the attention and evidence
> that has
> been generated by activists and volunteers were the necessary
> precondition
> for Ryan's action.  But the movement never produced anything like
> the amount
> of pressure that would actually force the bourgeois state to take
> such a
> step.  The proof of this statement is that not a single WHITE
> politician or
> official in the state, of either party, has supported his action.
> The
> Democratic governor-elect, Rod Blagojevic, who was endorsed by the
> Fraternal
> Order of Police,  and the Democratic state's attorney for Cook
> County, Dick
> Devine, both condemned his action.
> Ryan is in fact rather likely to be tried, convicted, and jailed
> himself in
> the near future.  Before Ryan was governor, he was Secretary of
> State of
> Illinois.  This office issues drivers' licenses.  During his tenure,
> his
> employees made a deal with some truck driving schools, whereby they
> would
> sell licenses to the graduates, whether or not they passed the
> tests, and
> put the money in Ryan's campaign fund.  Everyone involved except
> Ryan
> himself has since been indicted and convicted on federal charges.
> Ryan is
> clearly next.
> Thus, one of the popular explanations of Ryan's actions is that he
> is
> skillfully preparing inmate public opinion so that when he goes into
> the
> 'big house' himself he will have friends inside.  I said as much to
> my wife
> the other day, not entirely seriously, and she accused me of being a
> cynic.
> She reminded me that, years ago, when convicted child
> rapist/murderer Brian
> Dugan admitted to the rape/murder of another child for which Rolando
> Cruz
> and Alex Hernandez had been tried and sent to death row, she had
> said "Why
> would such an evil man admit to this crime?" and I had said, "Nobody
> is all
> evil - Dugan's impulses may lead him to rape and murder children,
> but that
> doesn't mean that he wouldn't save innocent people from death row."
> So why
> was it hard for me to believe that Ryan was sincere?  "Back then I
> was
> talking about a child murderer," I responded, "but now we're talking
> about a
> servant of the ruling class!!!"  But this doesn't entirely weaken
> the force
> of her argument.
> A second explanation is that Ryan is doing to stick it to his
> political
> enemies.  Since the "licenses-for-bribes" scandal really got exposed
> a few
> years ago, George Ryan has been pretty much a pariah in Illinois
> Republican
> Party politics.  The losing Republican candidate in the recent
> election was
> a man named Jim Ryan - no relation to George - who was a prosecutor
> in
> DuPage County and was one of the people who tried to send the
> innocent
> Rolando Cruz to the electric chair.  During the election, Jim Ryan
> went to
> great lengths to condemn George Ryan so that nobody would confuse
> him with
> the scandal-plagued governor.   George Ryan's anti-death penalty
> actions are
> a slap in the face to these Republican prosecutors and officials who
> have
> been distancing themselves from him for the last two years, as well
> as to
> Democratic judges and prosecutors like Devine.
> My own tentative working explanation is really sort of a
> social-psychological one, and not really very Marxist.  Marxism is
> of course
> a theory of class struggle, not a theory for predicting what
> individuals
> will do, and in fact I think that Ryan's actions were the product of
> his
> individual situation, in unusual circumstances which are not likely
> to
> recur.  Politicians like to be cheered and honored.  In normal
> political
> careers they win their cheers, honors, and positive reinforcement by
> serving
> the bourgeoisie.  Because of the scandal, however, Ryan was in the
> position
> of being a sitting governor who was isolated from his own party and
> condemned from all sides.  I think he became so desperate for
> approval and
> praise that he was open to the temptation of getting it from illicit
> sources
> and by forbidden means: that is, from the oppressed community, death
> penalty
> activists, and media people who have been progressive on the issue,
> and by
> means of actually doing justice.  It's sort of an anti-Faustian
> scenario: a
> man so desperate for positive reinforcement that he will buy his
> soul back
> from the devil, as it were.
> I might mention that Ryan is also the only U.S. governor to have
> visited
> Cuba with a business delegation.  Of course it is in the interests
> of
> capitalists in Illinois to sell their products in Cuba, so you can
> say that
> it's not mysterious, except that the same is true of every other
> state, and
> none of their governors have broken ranks and gone there.
> On the other hand of course Ryan has also presided over budget cuts
> and
> welfare takebacks and all sorts of other awful things in his time,
> so I
> don't want to give a false impression of George Ryan as being some
> sort of
> completely transformed man.  But it's very puzzling, no matter how
> you slice
> it.
> Lou Paulsen
> Chicago

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