Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Part One: The Execution of Samuel Flippen

Former NCADP intern Rachel Lawler attended the vigil outside Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina before and during the execution of Samuel Flippen. As has been the case with recent North Carolina executions, some protesters were arrested for acts of civil disobenience although, as it turns out, Rachel was not among them.

She provides this account, brought to you in two parts:


For several days after Sammy Flippen's death at the hands of the state of North Carolina, that was the only word I could use to describe my experience there. Since the 1,000th execution back in December, North Carolina has made local and national news because death penalty opponents there have taken a stand against executions by participating in direct action and risking arrest because of their convictions. They have risked their freedom and liberty because they so strongly believe that taking the life of another human being is wrong.

I've been involved with many anti-death penalty events, but prior to Sammy's execution, I had only been involved with one other execution event, that of Michael Ross in Connecticut – the event that had been the impetus for my immersion in and dedication to this cause. The events of Sammy's execution brought back many of the truly raw feelings that initially drew me in.

On the evening of Aug. 17th, a prayer service was held at a church in Raleigh, lead by the former Baptist minister and current Nazareth House resident, Scott Bass. The introductory paragraph on the program read "We gather to pray for Samuel Flippen, for members of his family and his friends. We also honor the memory of Britnie Hutton and we pray for healing for her loved ones." In attendance at the service were more than 30 of Sammy's friends and family members, all of whom spoke and introduced themselves. It was heartbreaking to hear them talk and see the absolute sadness in their eyes – a reminder that the death penalty punishes all, not just the person who is put to death. Being in the presence of these people who were grieving for the impending loss of their loved one immensely drove home the reality and humanness of the death penalty. Their sobs throughout the ceremony and especially during "Amazing Grace" left not a single dry eye in the room.

After the prayer service, we walked by candlelight (and by escort of several police motorcycles) to the prison a few miles away. Upon our arrival around 9pm, we were "caged in" and not allowed to step outside of our designated area for five hours - until after 2 a.m. Hourly liturgies had been prepared and were distributed by the organization People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP). They were very moving and appropriate. But all the while, I was occupied by an increasingly growing sense of uneasiness and nervousness; I was planning to participate in the direct action, (scheduled to take place when Governor Easley announced that he was denying clemency) a simple act of trespassing.

I desperately, in the very depths of my heart, wanted to risk arrest that night. However, I recognized that to do so would present a tremendous burden (financially and mentally) to my parents. I will undoubtedly be arrested at some point along my journey to abolish the death penalty (in fact, there's a definitive date set and plans in the works as I write this). But when that time comes, I want the burden of my actions to be mine and mine alone. I do not want others to have to be responsible for what I choose to do; that would simply not be fair of me.

A few hours after we had been there, a very official Government-looking van pulled up and a small group of people, including a young girl who couldn't have been more than 16 years of age, got out and were immediately escorted by the police to the opposite side of the driveway. They were family members and supporters of Britnie Hutton, the girl who's death Sammy Flippen was being executed for. It was sad to see that they had been placed on the other side of the driveway and were effectively there in opposition to us and to the family members of Sammy Flippen. Any chances of the two families uniting in their grief and providing support for one another had been seriously eroded that night. I wish someone could have been there to reach out to the family members of Britnie Hutton, to let them know that we too were there supporting her and remembering her, that we didn't oppose them, but only the broken death penalty system.

(For Part Two of "The Execution of Samuel Flippin," see below.)

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