by Lauren Bailey
Pax Christi USA National Field Organizer
Over the MLK holiday weekend, Pax Christi USA joined dozens of other organizations in calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Along with January 17th being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it was also the anniversary of the first execution in the modern-day death penalty era.
Forty-five years ago, on January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore of Utah was killed by the state by firing squad. Since then, 1,539 other people have been executed in the United States. Each time the federal government and states allow this to happen, the cycle of violence and trauma is only further extended to an additional set of victims.
The program on January 16th highlighted reflections by organizational partners, members of Congress, and people who have seen the damage of this system most closely. Art Laffin, Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace, reflected on his brother’s life and legacy, which led him to his encounter with the death penalty. As Art shared about the pain he experienced following the murder of his brother, he also spoke to the prophetic need for forgiveness toward the person who inflicted the pain on his family. To listen to Art’s full reflection, click here.
Art shared, “Family members of the murdered, people who have lost loved ones to violence… I know something of their pain and I pray for their healing tonight.”
Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA Executive Director, was among the speakers on the 16th as well, stating, “The death penalty is, simply put, a legalized, modern-day version of lynching. MLK was unequivocal about the intersection between race and capital punishment – crying out that the death penalty goes against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
After a night of reflections and calls to action, a small delegation of Pax Christi USA members, joined about 50 others in gathering on Monday morning to protest outside the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, and the Senate Hart Building. The action called on all branches of government to abolish the death penalty and eliminate the federal death house in Terre Haute, IN. A group of twelve participated in nonviolent civil disobedience and were arrested outside the Hart building and later released.
Thanks to everyone who signed the petition initiated by Death Penalty Action, we were able to share our message with the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. To continue pressuring Congress to pass the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act, write to your representatives here.
- Click here to read the PSA resource we sent out prior to the action to pray, study and act to abolish the death penalty.
- Click here to see photos from the vigil and action.
- Click here to watch a short video clip of Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Art Laffin leading song at the vigil.
- Click here to watch a short video clip of Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA Executive Director, at the vigil.