From the Associated Press, Today in History:
In 1927, amid protests, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in Boston for the murders of two men during a 1920 robbery.
"Death penalty opponents remember Sacco and Vanzetti," is Fred Contrada's report in the Springfield Republican of Massachusetts.
For years now, they have been gathering on the same day, Aug. 23, for the same reason.
It’s the anniversary of an event that encapsulates all they stand for and all they oppose. On Aug. 23, 1927, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts executed Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of murder, more because of who they were than because of what the prosecution proved they did.
The Hampden County Chapter of the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty has been carrying the torch for its cause since 1991. At times, it has seemed a hopeless one, but this year some members believe they can see their goal flickering faintly on the horizon: an end to capital punishment in the United States.
In conjunction with the Catholic Charities Agency of the Springfield Diocese, the group will hold its annual memorial to Sacco and Vanzetti at the Bishop Marshall Center of St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Anxiety was high in America when five armed men robbed a Braintree shoe company on April 15, 1920. The country was going through the “Red Scare” as Communism took hold in other parts of the world, and many people were suspect. The paymaster and a guard were shot and killed in the robbery, which netted about $15,000. The thieves got away.
A month later, police arrested Sacco, a shoemaker, and Vanzetti, a fish peddler. Both men were carrying pistols at the time and gave false statements to police. Although they were self-proclaimed anarchists, neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record and there was no hard evidence tying them to the robbery.
Their subsequent trial became the embodiment of what death penalty opponents believe is wrong with the judicial system. Eyewitness accounts that put the men at the scene have been called into question, and statements made by the judge and prosecutor were rife with prejudice, according to critics. The anarchism of Sacco and Venzetti had less to do with terrorism than with the workers’ rights movement sweeping the globe. That both were Italian immigrants didn’t help. Some death penalty opponents see parallels to the case of James Halligan and Domenic Daley, two Irish immigrants who were unjustly convicted of murder and hanged in Northampton in 1806.
Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted on Aug. 23, 1927. People still debate whether or not they were involved in the robbery, but many, notably death penalty opponents, are adamant that they did not get a fair trial.
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