Killing in Our Name

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.

A Call for Quaker Action – Super Maximum Security Prison in Tamms, IL

Author: Breeze Richardson (on behalf of the Peace Resources Committee)

There is now a petition circulating regarding the inhumane use of solitary confinement in a Super Maximum Security prison in Tamms, a small town in Southern Illinois. The petition supports proposed state legislation, HB 2633, which calls for guidelines for the use of solitary confinement and has been endorsed by AFSC-Chicago and AFSC -Michigan (Criminal Justice Program) along with 26+ other  organizations.  Blue River Quarterly Meeting has encouraged other individuals and Meetings to endorse this as well.

The petition reads as follows:

At Tamms supermax prison over 250 men are being held in permanent solitary confinement, year after year, with no communal activity or human contact of any kind. The Department of Corrections has refused to consider policies of due process safeguards. This form of extreme punishment is beyond the bounds of basic human decency.

We ask that you support HB 2633 to bring this prison back in line with its original intent. This legislation will prohibit seriously mentally ill prisoners from supermax incarceration, establish clear procedures for how men are transferred to one-year, unless doing so would pose a risk to guards or other inmates.

There will be a prayer vigil held today, April 10th, at the prison to call attention to the inhumane treatment of prisoners at Tamms.  Organizers will also be calling attention to the fact that Illinois still has a Death Penalty, and that currently there are individuals sitting on IL’s Death Row. New Mexico just abolished the Death Penalty, it is the hope of many to see Illinois be next to do so.

Reforming a Bankrupt System

Author: Patricia McMillen

When I received an email yesterday asking for people to testify on January 26 before what may be the last (ever) public hearing of Illinois’ Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee, I hesitated for a minute.  “I’m not a reformer, I’m an abolitionist,” I thought.  What could I possibly say?  And worse: What Would Other People Say?  I could hear those voices already:  What’s a nice abolitionist like you doing in a place like this?

In fact, as a confirmed death penalty abolitionist of a few years’ standing, it’s abundantly clear to me that there is no way to reform Illinois’ death penalty: no amount of additional oversight, right of appeal, or protection of ancillary rights (such as the right not to be tortured into a false confession)–what the late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, dissenting from the Court’s 1994 decision in the Texas death penalty case, Callins v. Collins, called “tinker[ing] with the machinery of death”–can, in my view, make a wrong punishment “better,” let alone right.

On the other hand, though I disagree fundamentally with the State’s presumed power to impose legal death on a prisoner, my attendance, as an observer, at much of the 2007 trial of Rodney Adkins, now on Illinois’ death row for the burglary and murder of Catherine McAvinchey in 2003, gave me insight into some of the specific wrongs which occur in Illinois’ enforcement of that unjust power.  To name only a few, these include the practice of employing “victim advocates” which report to the State’s Attorney (and therefore are unlikely to “advocate” in favor of victim family members who, as an unknown number of them do, disagree fundamentally with the State’s system of retributive justice);  the harassment I experienced as a court watcher in what should have been a public forum; the observable racial imbalance in the Maywood courtroom where Adkins was tried and convicted; and the equally observable inability of Adkins’ trial counsel to impress upon him the necessity of taking his own trial seriously, possibly an effect of this defendant’s lifetime of drug abuse and lack of education.  These factors were sufficient, at least in my mind, to make imposition of the sentence of death particularly egregious in the Adkins case, notwithstanding what I’d also characterize as a nearly flawless performance by the arresting officers, the State’s Attorney who took Adkins’ videotaped confession, and even the prosecuting trial attorneys, who seemed quite competent and professional in their presentation of the voluminous evidence of Adkins’ guilt.

After outlining these topics informally with one of the CPRSC members, I now find myself  persuaded to give my testimony to the Committee, and I’m even planning to meet next week with another Friend who (as she also attended part of the Adkins trial, as an observer) I hope will also testify, or at least file written testimony with the Committee.  (At this point I’m not sure how to do that, but if others are interested, I will post details.)  And I hope that other reformers/abolitionists will join us in offering testimony at this hearing, which will take place 9-5 in a conference room off the atrium (lower level) food court in the Thompson Center (Lake and LaSalle Sts., Chicago). NOTE that outright abolition statements will not be welcome (while some members of the CPRSC are abolitionists, the sole charge of the committee is to study “reform,” not abolition).

Declaration of Life

One of the campaigns that ILYM PRC is bringing to a wider audience is to encourage personal expression through use of the anti-death penalty “Declaration of Life” wallet card.wallet-card_declaration-of-life2

In part, we as Friends “are opposed to capital punishment because it is contrary to the Divine law of love. The application of the death penalty is brutalizing and degrading to the public mind. It leaves no room for the reformation of character, which should be the principal aim of criminal law, nor for the revision of the sentence in the event of a miscarriage of justice.”

On our website we outline the history and motivation of Quaker work around the issue of the dealth penalty in more detail, and share some specific educational resources, but wanted to share this specific action here, as well.

To download the “Declaration of Life” wallet card, click here.