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.
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.
Abolitionist Action Committee
Campaign for Nonviolence
Catholic Mobilizing Network
Center for Action and Contemplation
Consistent Life Network
Embrey Human Rights Program
Evangelicals for Social Action
Faith in Public Life
Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing
National Council of Churches
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
PICO Network LIVE FREE Campaign
Red Letter Christians
Repairers of the Breach
We Stand With Love
Witness to Innocence