Friday, June 30, 2006

Day Two update from the Fast & Vigil

As noted previously, many people from the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing are participating in the four-day Fast & Vigil Against the Death Penalty on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today’s blog entry comes from Jonathan Sheehan, intern for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. This fall, Jonathan will be a high school senior at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. He enjoys playing baseball and soccer and one of his career goals is “someday to run for public office.”

Which is a good thing – can you imagine what the climate will be like for abolish the death penalty if more abolitionists entered politics?

Here is Jonathan’s report from the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”

These words are carved in the marble over the pillars that support our nation’s Supreme Court building. Just below the steps of this American landmark stood 30 or so protestors, holding signs and demonstrating their support for the abolition movement. Quotes from Justice Byron White, Coretta Scott King, and others could be seen on signs and t-shirts alike. As a man walked by the vigil, I heard him remark, “Take them executed people to your house and let them live with you.”

I just wish he had stayed the rest of the morning.

As I stood in the heat, I recognized death row exoneree Shujaa Graham standing in the shade listening to his walkman. Mr. Graham and I met this past week at the Death Penalty Information Center’s Thurgood Marshall awards. He gave me a big hug, and we started to discuss his many reasons for being at the vigil. Mr. Graham spent three years on California’s San Quentin death row, before being released in 1979. His experiences have prompted him to travel the country and speak to high school and university students. His message is clear and concise: “Learn what you can [about the death penalty] and understand the reality.”

Information is power. Shujaa Graham knows that if people learn all there is to learn, someday we will outlaw “the lynching that is the death penalty.”

As the morning drew on, guests spoke adamantly in favor of abolition. Kurt Rosenberg, director of the “Witness to Innocence” program, stood up with an unusual group of men behind him. They were a small fraction of the astounding 123 death row exonerees, people freed from death row since the 1970s after evidence emerged of their innocence. This lineup included Ray Krone (Arizona), Ronald Keine (New Mexico), Gary Beeman (Ohio), Harold Wilson (Pennsylvania) and Shujaa Graham (California). Harold Wilson was the 122nd person exonerated from death row, having been released on Nov. 15, 2005. He is sure his wrongful conviction was influenced by the all-white jury that convicted him.

As I stood and listened to these men give gut-wrenching accounts of the horrible injustices they faced, I couldn’t help looking repeatedly at those big marble words above the Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”


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