Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Live from the 12th Annual Fast and Vigil

Today is the first full day of the 12th Annual Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. We walked over to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to attend an annual rally that is part of the event and it was pleasing to see so many familiar faces – Kristin and Sue from Amnesty International, Jack from Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Abe from CUADP, Shari from the Quixote Center and Brenda from the Death Penalty Information Center, just to name a few.

Here are some excerpts from the speeches that were given:

Bill Pelke, chair of NCADP’s Board of Directors and leader of Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing, talked of his experience when his grandmother was killed. The murderer was a 15-year-old African American girl who was sentenced to death. (In the 1980s, the state of Indiana allowed 15-year-olds to be executed.) Pelke campaigned relentlessly against her death sentence; her sentence was subsequently commuted and she remains in prison.

“We’re supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner,” Pelke said. “And you cannot love the sinner if you want to put them in the death chamber and have their life taken away from them.”

Diann Rust-Tierney, NCADP’s executive director, reminded the audience of the power and ability of one activist to change the future. “Whether you are a person who considers yourself to be a religious person or not, this is a faith-based movement – faith in the fact that one person can make a difference.”

Matthew Fogg served as master of ceremonies. He was a great person to serve in this capacity – he is a U.S. Marshall, vice president of Blacks in Government and a member of Amnesty International’s board of directors.

“The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the evil people in it, but because of the people who don’t do anything about changing it,” Fogg said.

Quoting Coretta Scott King, Fogg added, “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.”

Martina Correia of Savanah, Georgia, has a brother on death row. His name is Troy Anthony Davis and he has one of the most exceptionally strong innocence claims I have ever seen. “I am on death row because that is where my brother is,” Martina said. “My family is on death row. The victim’s family is on death row because my brother is innocent.”

One of the most moving speeches was given by George White. George was convicted of murdering his spouse and sentenced to life in prison in Alabama before it was discovered that prosecutors withheld evidence that conclusively proved his innocence.

George talked about the night his wife, Char, was shot and killed. He was shot also. “Char died in my arms and I can’t remember if I said goodbye.”

He quoted the poet Oscar Wilde:

I know not whether laws be right
or whether laws be wrong
all that we know who lie in jail
is that the walls are strong
and that each day is like a year
a year whose days are long


Next up was Abe Bonowitz, who spoke of the importance of using public education to first change the minds of the general public, who will then change the minds of state legislators. “We have to change the direction of the wind,” Abe said. “Politicians stick their finger in the air and they check which way the wind is blowing. So we have to change the direction of the wind!”

The rally ended with the singing of a traditional hymn from the civil rights era

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

no more killing in my name,
we shall not be moved
no more killing in my name
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved

we’re standing for the victims
we shall not be moved
we’re standing for the victims
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved


no more executions,
we shall not be moved
no more executions
we shall not be moved

we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
just like a tree that’s planted by the water
we shall not be moved


972 people have been executed since 1976 in the United States, including 28 this year. Sixteen people currently have execution dates over the next few months.

The 12th Annual Fast and Vigil continues until midnight Saturday.