14 Activists Arrested at U.S. Supreme Court to Commemorate 35th Anniversary of First Execution
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirty-five years after the first execution under contemporary laws of Gary Gilmore, fourteen members of the Abolitionist Action Committee were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. Just after 10:00 am, at the exact time that Gilmore was executed, the group unfurled a 30-foot banner that read “STOP EXECUTIONS!” on the stairs of the Court. On the sidewalk, a crowd of well-over 100 supporters, activists and tourists supported and observed the action.
All fourteen were arrested and appeared the following day before a judge for arraignment. They were released on personal recognizance with a charge of violating the federal law (40 U.S.C. 6135) that forbids "processions or assemblages" and the displaying of banners on Supreme Court grounds. A status hearing will take place on February 8th, at which time a trial date will be scheduled.
The group included several murder victim family members, family of the incarcerated, and national leaders in the death penalty abolition movement. 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 June 18, 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'm here to help abolish the death penalty by protesting in any shape or form.” And, using Gilmore’s last words, he added, “Let’s do it."
Upon arrest, five of the 14 participants did not carry any identification with them, and when asked their names by the police, they simply stated, "I am Troy Davis."
Scott Langley, one of those who refused to reveal his true identity said, "In the wake of Troy Davis's wrongful execution in Georgia this past September, I felt it was necessary to bring the name of Troy Davis back to the U.S. Supreme Court so that Troy's name would once again haunt the court that failed to stop the execution of an innocent man. I also wanted the name Troy Davis to be a permanent alias on my criminal record as a reminder to myself of what our justice system is capable of."
Three of the five men who identified themselves as Troy Davis were released the same day along with the six women who were arrested in the protest. Two of the men were held overnight in DC's Central Cell Block because fingerprinting did not reveal their true identities. The two men, Daniel Flynn and Jon Dunn, were brought before a judge more than 30 hours after their arrest in leg and arm shackles.
When asked by the judge for their names, they replied, "I was arrested as Troy Davis," and then proceeded to reveal their true identities. Flynn and Dunn were released by 5:00 pm on Wednesday to join with the other 12 who had been released the night before.
Another one of those arrested was Charity Lee, from San Antonio, Texas. Lee's father was murdered when she was only six. Then, as a young parent herself, her daughter was sexually abused and murdered in 2007 by her son, who is now in prison. In an interview with the San Antonio Current just before the arrests, Lee said, "In contemporary America we have forgotten the fact that we were revolutionaries at one point and the First Amendment gives us the right to speak up for what we believe in. We need to show people in America it’s still okay to take a stand for what you believe in — and that if you truly passionately believe in something enough, you need to put yourself out there."
Those arrested were Anna Shockley (South Carolina), Ron Kaz (South Carolina), Rachel Lawler (Vermont), Tom Muther (Kansas), Amber Mason (Washington, DC), Kevin Mason (Washington, DC), Jon Dunn (New Mexico), Jack Payden-Travers (Virginia), Scott Langley (New York), Randy Gardner (Utah), Daniel Flynn (Washington, DC), Anne Feczko (Washington, DC), Charity Lee (Texas) and Eve Tetaz (Washington, DC).
Since 1997, a total of 48 arrests have been made of people unfurling banners that read "STOP EXECUTIONS!" on the stairs leading to the front doors of the U.S. Supreme Court. The protest takes place every five years, on the January 17 first execution anniversary.
Thirty-five 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 1277 more executions, with more than 3200 currently on death rows in 34 states.
The protest is organized by the Abolitionist Action Committee, 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 Committee also organizes a four day fast and vigil on the Supreme Court sidewalk, where it is perfectly legal to demonstrate. The vigil event takes place every June 29 through July 2, and all are invited to participate.
See www.abolition.org for more information on the group's programs and activities or to make a donation to support the work for abolition. All funds will be used to help support the trial of the "Supreme Court 14" and the fast and vigil this summer.