After over 30 grueling hours in D.C. lock-up—Supreme Court police, D.C. Dept. of Corrections Central Cell Block, and holding cells of D.C. Superior Court—where seventeen friends and I experienced one part of the racist and dehumanizing mass incarceration complex, we, who were arrested on January 17th at the U.S. (un)Supreme Court for holding a 30 foot-long banner on the court steps saying “Stop Executions,” were released last evening. It was a small sacrifice to make in light of the enormity of the evil we face. We and some eighty other friends who vigiled on the sidewalk in front of the court also left 80 roses on the court steps to remember the victims and the executed over the last forty years. Before our release we were arraigned in chains before Judge Staples in D.C. Superior Court. We were all charged with “parading” and given a “stay away order” from the grounds of the (un)Supreme Court. A February 24th status hearing date was set. We acted at the (un)Supreme Court because the majority of the justices support and sanction state-sponsored murder. There’s nothing “supreme” about a court, which is the highest in the land, that sanctions killing.
Last night the State of Virginia executed Ricky Gray and the U.S. (un)Supreme Court denied Gray’s final appeal for a stay of execution. We hope and pray that those justices that espouse the death penalty will soon have a change of heart and work to abolish, once and for all, this barbaric and immoral practice.
Participating in this year’s action were a number of people risking arrest for the first time. Also involved was Derek Jamison, who spent 20 years on Ohio’s death row and faced six execution dates for a crime he did not commit. It was truly a great blessing to meet and be jailed with this most gracious and courageous man.
Below is a press release about the action and the names of those who participated. There are also several links to photos, a video and media stories about the action. Incidentally, news reports of the action were reported by the AP, N.Y. Times and Washington Post.
N.Y. Times Article Link:
https://mobile.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/01/17/us/politics/ap-us-supreme-court-protesters-arrested.html?_r=0&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F Link to More Info, Photos and Video: https://sojo.net/articles/18-arrested-anti-death-penalty-protest
Twenty years ago I was among eighteen abolitionists arrested at the (un)Supreme court for doing the exact same action. Three of us from that protest two decades ago were arrested again at this action.
When I was invited to be part of that inspiring witness, I never thought I would be personally effected by the tragedy of murder. But two years later I became a murder victim family member. On September 20, 1999, when my when my younger brother, Paul, was leaving the shelter in Hartford, CT where he had worked and ministered for ten years, he was stabbed to death by Dennis Soutar, a mentally ill homeless man. Had Dennis been found competent to stand trial and was convicted, he could have faced the death penalty. He is now serving a 60 year sentence in a Connecticut prison hospital. During this action and my time in captivity, I remembered and prayed for Dennis Soutar, for all murder victims and their families, for all the executed and their families, for all those on death row and their families, and for an end to all killing. Please join me in continuing to pray for Dennis Soutar’s healing and that he can experience God’s forgiving love.
It has been an honor to participate in these two actions with murder victim family members, a death row exoneree, a family member of the executed, and other abolitionists. And it has been a great source of strength for me to become actively involved with the Journey of Hope, which has been a powerful healing community for me and many others who have been directly effected by murder and the death penalty.
Why do this action yet again, 20 years later? My faith in God, who commands us to love and not to kill, and the example of Jesus, who shows the world how to live and die as he is being executed on the cross, compels me to nonviolently resist all state-sanctioned killing. Thus, I believe that the best way to break the cycle of violence and killing in our culture is not through retribution and revenge, but rather through mercy, compassion and love. The best way I know to honor my brother is to work for the prevention of violence, not to replicate it.
On January 16th evening, the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., there was an inspiring program to prepare for the witness at the (un)Supreme Court. I was asked to give the Benediction, a portion of which follows:
As we conclude our program, where we have heard stories of amazing grace and moving testimony about why the death penalty must be abolished, and as we have witnessed the powerful transformation of a rifle into a garden tool, by our friends from Raw Tools, let us hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was murdered for trying to create the Beloved Community. We pray that our nation, who honors Dr. King today, can one day truly heed his words and example:
“Capital punishment is society’s final assertion that it will not forgive… Such is the persistent story of mortal life. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of revenge…In spite of the fact that the law of revenge solves no social problems, people continue to follow its disastrous leading. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path…
Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love…
Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world…Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, militarism.“
And so we go forth tonight, and act tomorrow at the Supreme Court, inspired by Jesus, Dr. King and all the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, filled with hope, believing that good overcomes evil and that the light of love and justice shines in the darkness and that the darkness will never ever overcome it!
The Journey of Hope continues!
With gratitude, Art
IMAGES FROM THE ACTION AVAILABLE HERE – Permission granted:https://goo.gl/fzfT0P
Activists Arrested at U.S. Supreme Court Calling for an End to the Death Penalty
By The Abolitionist Action Committee, January 17, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Forty years after the first execution of Gary Gilmore under contemporary laws, 18 anti-death penalty activists were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. The group unfurled a 30-foot-long banner that read “STOP EXECUTIONS!” on the steps of the Court. On the sidewalk, a crowd of over 80 supporters observed the action, carrying 40 posters (1 for each year) with the names of the other 1442 men and women executed since 1977. They also carried roses in two colors, a reminder that they are remembering both families of the murdered and families of the executed as they stand together saying, as one banner did, “We Remember the Victims, But Not With More Killing.”
The group included several murder victim family members, a death row exoneree, family members of the incarcerated, pastors and religious leaders, and national leaders in the death penalty abolition movement. It was the largest act of civil disobedience against the death penalty in modern history.
All 18 activists were held overnight in jail, and released by 6:00 pm the following day after more than 30 hours in police custody. A status hearing court date is set for February 24th.
One of the participants who was arrested was Randy Gardner, whose brother, like Gilmore, was executed in Utah by firing squad.
“My Brother Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed in 2010 by the same state and by the same method as Gilmore,” Gardner stated. “I believed then, and I still believe now, that the death penalty is morally wrong. I never condoned what my brother did, but when the state executes someone, they create yet another family that is damaged and grieving. We don’t have to kill to be safe from dangerous criminals and hold them accountable. It is time to abolish the death penalty.”
Shane Claiborne, influential Christian author and activist, speaking of the significance of religious leaders, said this: “Sadly, the death penalty has succeeded in America not in spite of Christians but because of us. Over 80% of executions in the past 40 years have been in the Bible Belt. As a Christian, that is especially troubling because one of the tenants of our faith is this: No one is beyond redemption. Much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance. Moses. David. Paul. The Bible would be much shorter without grace. So it was a beautiful thing to stand alongside my fellow clergy and faith leaders… And, if you go to jail, it’s good to have a nun and a priest next to you. As we look at history, we are reminded that we’ve got good company among the holy troublemakers who have gone to jail for justice. Abortion is not the only pro-life issue.”
Claiborne continues: “When we try to kill those who kill, we mirror, and legitimize, the cycle of violence. We can deal with violent crime without resorting to the violence we want to rid the world of. As faith leaders and clergy, we stand together, with families of the murdered and families of the executed, and say NO to all killing. Violence is the disease, not the cure.”
Scott Langley, a death penalty abolition organizer from New York, said “The national tide has turned against the death penalty with more and more states, counties, and juries refusing to continue this barbaric practice. We acted today to call on this Court to recognize that standards of decency and human rights have evolved to the point that this has to end now.”
Those arrested were Peter Armstrong (Washington, DC), Leroy Barber (Portland, OR), Abraham J. Bonowitz (Columbus, OH), SueZann Bosler (Miami, FL), Shawn Casselberry (Chicago, IL), Shane Claiborne (Philadelphia, PA), John Dear (Santa Fe, NM), Randy Gardner (Taylorsville, UT), Lisa Sharon Harper (Washington, DC), Derrick Jamison (Cincinnati, OH), Art Laffin (Washington, DC), Scott Langley (Ghent, NY), Michael McBride (Oakland, CA), Tom Muther (Topeka, KS), Doug Pagitt (Minneapolis, MN), Jack Payden-Travers (Lynchburg, VA), Sam R. Sheppard (Oakland, CA), and Kelton Tupper (Cheverly, MD).
Background: Forty years ago, on January 17, 1977, the State of Utah shot to death Gary Gilmore, who “volunteered” to be killed in revenge for his murder of Ben Bushnell and Max Jenson. This state-assisted suicide was the first execution under the Supreme Court’s upholding of the death penalty in 1976. Since then, there have been 1442 more executions, with another scheduled on January 18 in Virginia. Nearly 3,000 prisoners are currently on death rows in 31 states.
The protest is organized by the Abolitionist Action Committee (AAC), an ad-hoc group of individuals committed to highly visible and effective public education for alternatives to the death penalty through nonviolent direct action. The AAC also organizes a four day fast and vigil on the Supreme Court sidewalk every June 29 through July 2, and all are invited to participate.