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Reflections on the Death of Amos King

The protest at the prison was spirited. Last year when Amos had his first serious date under his current warrant, I had asked him what sort of behavior protest he would appreciate outside the prison. I offered him a choice–“Prayerful,” or “Loud.” He said “Make it loud.” And we did.

Bonnie Flassig of Gainesville Citizens for Alternatives to the DP, who was today’s vigil coordinator, led a short series of invocations and comments during which she several times asked for response by those present to make themselves heard. When that happened, we rang bells, beat makeshift drums, yelled, etc. Once the text was read and candles lit for Amos, the victim, the participants in the killing, and for all of us, we then launched into ongoing and somewhat rhythmic percussion that lasted at least 40 minutes. I banged a large metal mixing bowl with a stick for more than 20 minutes while blowing a whistle repeatedly. And it felt good to be making noise…..

Once I stopped banging and blowing, at about 6:15pm, I pulled out a roll of yellow crime scene tape and unfurled that along the rope separating us from the road, while declaring that “The state has killed a man for whom there is no proof of his guilt! This is a crime scene!” And from there others continued to rattle their shakers, bang their drums, ring their bells, etc… It was another 30 minutes or so before we saw the witness vans leaving the prison. As it turns out there was a delay while they waited for final determinations from the US and Florida Supreme Courts.

Also present at the protest was “Jeb Bush,” who was serving up slices of “Vengeance Pie.”

We stashed our signs by the cars and walked over to the media tent to await the media witnesses. The prison spokesman came to the podium and gave his usual time of death, “killed in a professional and humane manner….” bullshit rap, and answered a few questions. As he was speaking, Kobutsu was dropped off on the road adjacent to the media tent. Amy Jo Smith, who was driving him, had not been allowed to drop him in the media parking lot, so she did the next best thing. It made for a great entrance for Kobutsu, — who looks quite out of place, like a dock worker in the clerical robes of a Buddhist priest — as he walked into the tent from behind the prison spokesperson.

Once the prison guy stepped away, I stepped to the podium, introduced myself, pointed out Bill Pelke and SueZann Bosler — two murder victim family members who were there to protest, and then I introduced Kobutsu. And Kobutsu went to town–he was great, proclaiming that we were all murderers, that we all had blood on our hands, that he had been threatened by the prison authorities, and more. I am sure he will provide his perspective in due course. Then he took questions, and after a few minutes, the victims families van pulled into the media parking lot. Instead of waiting for them to come to the tent, the media all went and ambushed them in the media parking lot. We followed them, but I couldn’t hear very much of anything that was said. It was both unfortunate, and comical, however, that the prison media people allowed the victims families to be accosted in that way instead of insisting that the media use the podium that had been set up…..

After all of that was over, a group of us drove into Gainesville for dinner at a Thai restaurant run by Buddhists who Kobutsu knows. Apparently they prepared the last meal for Dan Houser, another Buddhist executed in Florida not too long ago. They made a special meal for Kobutsu. I had the buffet–it was delicious.

At dinner, Kobutsu told us that he could definitely hear our noise from within the prison, and that it had an impact on him and the prisoners, and also the witnesses and prison people. He encouraged more of the same at future extermination protests.

And from there, SueZann, Carolyn and I had another four hours to drive…..

Protests were also held in Clearwater (Tampa Bay), Orlando, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Jacksonville and Ft. Lauderdale. Here are some of those reports:

Clearwater:

At the vigil on Ulmerton Road, about twenty people held signs, read passages from an essay by Garry Wills and the Psalms, sang “Amazing Grace,” and chanted a Buddhist peace chant as thousands drove by. Four TV stations, a radio station and a newspaper were at our vigil as well. This vigil was quieter, but who knows how many we also touched? And how many lives all our actions for peace and justice touch?

FT. Lauderdale

There were 8 of us at the demonstration Wednesday in Ft. Lauderdale. We wore T-shirts supplied by Bernice that said “Stop the Death Penalty. Execution of Amos King Feb. 26, 2003.” We talked to several passerby and handed out literature. The first, someone named Jim, was first talking for the Death Penalty but without the usual anger. I replied to his statements. He didn’t seem to have firm convictions of his own. After I said that there were serious questions about Amos King’s innocence Jim said, “They are executing an innocent man!” Jim asked if he could join us. He picked up a sign, put on a T-shirt and joined the protest.

Jacksonville

There were ten JCFAM folks who participated in the Amos King vigil on the sidewalk in front of the Duval County Court House, 5 to 6:15 PM on Wednesday, Feb 26. We all carried posters to be read by the workers leaving the Court House and the vehicular traffic on Bay Street. At 6 PM, the group circled for a candle-light prayer and reflection time at which Amos King and all the victims of violent crimes were remembered. The tower bells of the Episcopal Cathedral, Immaculate Conception and Presbyterian churches in downtown Jacksonville were rung at 6 PM as part of the vigil. It turned cold and very windy during our time there. A number of greetings of affirmation were received from passers-by and two pedestrians joined the prayer/reflection circle. The press and TV stations were notified but no one showed for coverage.

ABE BONOWITZ is director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He can be reached at: abe@cuadp.org