Monday, March 5, 2012

Deathwatch: Report from an Execution Vigil

On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, the State of Arizona executed Robert Moorman for the crime of killing and dismembering his mother. Though most experts agree that Moorman’s mental capacity was below the legal requirement for execution, states have no problem finding psychologists willing to testify that the opposite is true so they can go ahead and take out their official revenge.

The trouble is, no matter how many times a criminal is executed, it doesn’t turn back the clock, it doesn’t bring the victim(s) back to life. The murderer is no longer around to accept the lesson and learn from his mistake(s), and the official act of state murder has done nothing to reduce the number of crimes committed by others.

For this and many other, more spiritual, reasons, my friends, Tony Fasline and Emily, drove to the prison in Florence, AZ, to stand with several others and send the message that state-sponsored murder is wrong. It took Tony a couple of days to compose his report on the experience, and I’m honored to be among those friends that he chose to share it with. I’ve reprinted his email here, exactly as he wrote it:

About 8:30 A.M., Emily and I drove over to the prison in Florence. Police officers at the one point directed us to the site for the vigil. Security was very high. A squad car blocked the entrance to the parking lot where we were to vigil. There were about five officers there. One was a woman officer. One officer had us sign our names on a clip board. They gave us all kinds of rules. the area we were allowed to occupy, or walk in. We were not allowed to stay in our vehicle for some unknown security reason. They did provide water and allowed us to use a rest room facility in a nearby building. When using it, an officer walked you to and from the restroom. We were not allowed to display protest signs on State property. We could do it across the road, on city property. One officer called the Florence police to come and give us the permission, according to their restrictions, no parking illegally, no standing on private property, standing only on a sidewalk. As it was, we did not stand by the road side with our signs LIFE YES/DEATH NO, KILLING IS WRONG, but we sat in chairs, provided by the officers. The officers were civil, polite, very cordial. Analyzing the reality of the cordial atmosphere, these were people doing their “job,”, “civil” people participating in the process of putting a man to death. Civil but not civilized.

There was only one other protester at the site. A Jeanmarie Simpson from Tucson. We spent time sharing our backgrounds and we found Jeamarie, intelligent and very interesting. A Quaker, she writes for a Quaker publication and interviewed Emily and I. We three have diverse backgrounds but share a commonality in our concerns about peace, the death penalty. The three of us have come fast friends. She was taken up to the site by George and Nancy Mairs. George and Nancy were invited by Robert Moorman to attend his execution . They did so.

The execution occurred about 10:00 A.M. The officers began departing. We three joined hands and I led in prayer. Having written to Robert Moorman (he responded), praying for Robert, for all prisoners, for an end to our modality of killing and punishing, for an end to the death penalty, I had to turn away from the circle, to deal with my stab of grief.

The five of us drove to a nearby Mexican Restaurant for a late breakfast, to talk about Robert, about each other's life, finding out that we hold many same concerns and beliefs in common. An intellectual group, people of faith. Not committed to institutional religion but very spiritual, given to social justice. As Nancy termed it, not merely adversed to dogmatism but being a “subversive theologian.” I liked that label! I like Bp. Spong's label of “Christians in exile,” but like Nancy's label better. More fitting than the label of heretic!

Jeanmarie was most gracious to buy the meal for all. Thankful for her kindness, I am most thankful for such people as these who are committed to peace and justice. Saddened by the morning event, I found relief by meeting with these good people. My going to the vigil may have been for Robert Moorman, but it was, also, for me.

Now that Arizona has ended the life of Robert Moorman, they plan to do the same to that of Robert Towery on Thursday, March 8. Since that event will also be at the Florence facility, which is about 25 miles from Casa Grande, I know Tony, Emily, and a few others will again be present to hold vigil and remind the executioners and the citizens of Arizona that life without parole is the only humane alternative to state-sponsored murder.

When governments take a human life they’ve gained nothing, and they’ve lost everything. As a certain Mr. Graham, Member of the Canadian Parliament, was reported to have said in 1914: “‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ leaves the whole world blind and toothless.”

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