Author: David Finke (upon request by PRC)
One of the agonizing aspects of capital punishment (a/k/a the State killing its own citizens) is that — in its official-sounding pomposity — a convict is executed (in our case) “in the name of the People of the State of Missouri.”
That’s what happened in the early hours of May 20th, after a 4-year hiatus in which there were no death sentences carried out here. In a dozen locations across Missouri people gathered in witness against this act, saying in effect, “Not in OUR name!”
The man who was systematically poisoned to death (though supposedly unconscious) was Dennis Skillicorn, involved in at least 3 murders — never as the direct perpetrator but yet legally liable as an accomplice.
Whether or not one is moved by the case (easy to make) that he was repentant and rehabilitated and had given his last 15 years to efforts at restorative justice, the opposition to killing him was a religious and philosophical one for most of us, not dependent on the specifics of his case.
I was gratified to see that — on the vigil line in front of the county courthouse in Columbia, MO, the night of Dennis’ execution — we had a dozen folks who in some way or another were part of our Friends Meeting. The mentor/exemplar for us all in these efforts has been Friend John Schuder, aged 87, who decades ago founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation in central Missouri. He has made and maintained the collection of incisive and dignified signs for people to hold on these vigils, and is unswervingly our most eloquent spokesperson.
Three of our local Quakers are featured in this picture of quiet outrage and grief. The image of people standing in silence rather than ranting is one that gets through to many, and bit by bit may help turn the tide of public opinion.
There were about 40 people present, including Catholic Worker folks who have a huge quilt on which they keep adding pictures of yet one more person put to death in our name since the ghastly practice resumed perhaps 20 years ago. We’ve killed over 50 human beings, and I think rank just behind Texas and Georgia (or Florida) in our blood-lust. [Editorial note: Skillicorn was the 67th Missouri inmate to be put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in the state in 1989; source: Kansas City Star – May 20, 2009.]
I’m grateful that we have the support of our Yearly Meeting, and help of Peace Resources Committee, for caring about this and being at the forefront of public witness against this barbarism. And that’s what it is, regardless of how Officialdom keeps trying to sanitize it.