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Reflections on the Martyrdom of Paul Hill

by ABE BONOWITZ

First, thanks to everyone who has helped Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) be a leading voice against the death penalty these past few weeks, including the few who have sent checks, the few who have turned out to events, the many who have written letters to the editor and the Governor and others, those who have helped monitor the press, and to those who have helped keep the web page up-to-date. Its amazing what can be accomplished with the help of a few…. More on that later.

I woke up today (Thursday) feeling good about the work that was done these past few days, but physically beat! Carolyn and I arrived home about 2:20am after making the five hour drive from Starke, but I couldn’t get to sleep until about 3:30am. As I usually do the day after a killing, I took it easy and took care of only vital business….

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the past few days, but here are some observations.

***

FADP’s strategy of raising concern about the martyrdom issue was right on target. Jeb Bush really played into Paul Hill’s hands, and to see the coverage in the newspapers throughout the state, the “Army of God” was given the front page most major newspapers to trumpet its threat of renewed violence against abortion clinics. Maybe its all bluster, but I fear not. In any case, in its coverage of our press conference on Tuesday, the Miami Herald noted this:

http://www.fadp.org/news/MiamiHerald-20030903.htm

ACTIVISTS’ CALLS

Anti-death penalty activists renewed their call Tuesday for a halt to the execution. Britton’s stepdaughter, Catherine Britton Fairbanks, called the execution “murder.”

”I’ve been against the death penalty for a long time,” Fairbanks said. “I can’t make an exception for Paul Hill.”

”We’re very concerned that Paul Hill’s call for violence may be picked up by any person to whom God speaks,” said ABE BONOWITZ, whose group, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, first sounded the alarm about creating a martyr.

***

The press conference with Catherine Britton Fairbanks came off without a hitch, and the strategy of being available at the same time as Paul Hill’s press conference, with our formal press conference taking place shortly afterward, worked brilliantly. Once again, thanks to those who made that happen, most notably the good folks at St. Edward Catholic Church in Starke, which welcomed us as family.

***

During the press conference, I introduced FADP’s growing concern about the growing trend of prisoners volunteering for execution. This also seems to have hit a nerve, with the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, and Time Magazine all following up on it today for stories in the near future. More on this soon. The AP quoted me thusly:

“I think it’s a shame that Gov. Bush gave a terrorist a platform to promote more violence,” said ABE BONOWITZ, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “The trend of allowing prisoners to dictate their own punishment is dangerous.”

***

The atmosphere at the prison this time was unreal. We had to get out of the car while they searched it thoroughly and had a bomb sniffing dog check it out. They also ran a check on our drivers licences. There were severe restrictions on what we could take with us to the demonstration area from the parking lot–no cameras, and I was not allowed to bring our bell. The corrals that they usually set up for the various demonstrators were much larger than normal, and set up with space between them. Normally they have one for “opponents” and one for “proponents” and one for the media in between. In this case the breakdown was one for the “anti-abortion/anti-execution of Paul Hill/pro-death penalty for everyone else crowd,” one for the “anti-death penalty in all cases” crowd, which we actually shared with the usual “pro-death penalty” people, because they didn’t want to be in the pen set aside for the pro-deathies, which in this case was occupied by Christians who said Paul Hill should be executed. These were the noisiest and most obnoxious of everyone present, and the funny thing is that they ignored us and berated the anti-abortion group for being “bad Christians.”

All of this went on in the midst of a severe lightning storm, although the rain was brief but never heavy while I was there….

I’ll let Hannah Floyd’s account fill you in further. Hannah posted this to the Abolish list earlier today:

It is now 7.30 florida time, on this thursday morning- i can’ temember ever feeling this tired after a rally, emotionally more than anything.

Never in the years I have spend in USA has the craziness of it all been so obvious. The prison ground was heavily guarded, with state troopers, sheriffs cars police cars, and helicopters flying over our heads- each and every car was searched, we had to show our ID, and we were not allowed to the media area after the killing.

And what did I see?

Little kids, toddlers practically, walking around with big posters tied around their neck, with cut up dead babies, babies dismembered and bleeding. And these kids with no life on their face just aimlessly walked around, not knowing what was going on, except for what poison their parents have been feeding them sinse they had ears to hear… being there , there are no time for emotions, you do your thing, you talk to the media, you try not to remember paul hill as the nice human being who always smiled in this quiet polite way. You try to distance yourself from the idea that these kids with the posters are growing up to be new paul hills, –you try not to be very angry when you watch the fanantic parents who thinks they are doing something good, –and in the name of all that is goodness– you try not to hear the disturbed person who every few minutes in a loud angry voice is spitting out the time and the minutes until, according to him ” the Lord’s justice is being carried out”.

To my left I have the pro death penalty people–who for the first time is more than two in numbers, and who are there in the name of God. To my right this pretty big crowd of people with their children–their very offensive and untruthful signs, with their ballons nad trumphets and prayers an hymns…at 6 o’clock I know they are killing paul Hill. and Abe starts his speach as he has to, that is why he is there, and in the back of my head a voice stars to whisper, -around my heart the walls starts to crumble,–I want to whisper to Abe, who I love dearly- Shut up Abe, please,- say a prayer, a human being has just been killed–a human being has just been killed- three kids just lost their daddy- a mummy just lost her son- Then I shut the voice up- I have to- and I rebuild the walls around my heart- we finish what we came fro, we go to have something to eat, we have our meeting- and then i finally arrive home–allow my self to be human -and I weep. for the human race and the evil in it, and I feel so utterly ashamed for being a part of this group of people who call themselves follower of christ–those people who are carrying out all this evil in the name of God, and I know that even God left religion long time ago, he left his churches and the doctrines. He found new ground to build on, In all the people who are not religious, who just do things because of a sense of right and wrong, good and evil, Justice, love, understanding and compassion… that group that was not to my left or my right- but right there is the middle with me- because that is who he is and always was, this God who’s name is being used to kill and spread hate and evil.. I have no more tears. I am just tired…..

Hannah

Thanks Hannah.

***

Here’s the Broward County report:

there were 4 of us at the demonstration yesterday, Pat Woeppel, Bea Hubert, Sue Zann and me. Some beeps of reinforcement, and only a very few negative, angry comments.

Building a community where peace is its core,

Steve

***

Here’s the Gainesville report

Today’s Gainesville Sun has two articles about the execution. I won’t repeat information that you can read in the paper. About 40 anti-death penalty activists stood in the field across from the prison. The security was very tight. The guards checked our ID’s and also inspected the car. We were not allowed to take cameras with us to the field. ABE BONOWITZ, Director of FADP, brought a large bell to toll but had to leave it in the car. Rev. Glenn Dickson prepared, with our help, a service but his car broke down on the way to FSP. Led by Abe a few of us expressed our thoughts as we gathered in a circle. The sky was truly frightening with flashes of lightning. We were lucky that the rain did not come down in buckets.

Thanks to those who were able to join us and to those who were with us in spirit. We are always mindful that for every abolitionist who is present there are many who are supporting us with their good wishes.

Amy Jo for GCADP

***

More from the Abolish list:

Harry, you are so correct. It is insane and absurd.

All evening I kept thinking of the quote (paraphrased) from someone, I don’t recall whom, from the time of McVeigh’s execution: Something to the effect of: How are we giving him what he desires, while saying that we are giving him what he deserves. Alice again has crossed through the looking glass.

And I’m thinking about Hill saying goodbye to his children, and that he justifies doing that too.. and so does Florida, leaving them fatherless. Well, it’s difficult to make sense of insanity, even for those of us in the profession working around it daily.

Phyllis Pautrat AI-PA

From: Harry Coverston
EDU Subject: DISC: Hill killing by state of Florida

Sometimes the insanity of this whole thing just comes to a head. This is one of those days. Paul Hill sees abortion doctors as murderers. So what does he do? In the name of G-d he murders them. The state of Florida sees Hill as a murderer. So what does it do in the name of 16 million people? It murders him. Hill’s supporters see the state’s officials as murderers. So, in the name of G-d, what do they do? They send the governor and other state officials bullets threatening to murder them.

If ever there was a night on which the maxim that violence simply begets violence, this was that night. If ever there was a night of vindication for Gandhi’s observation that an eye for an eye simply leaves the world blind was observably true, it’s this night in Florida.

The stupidity of it all…and the destructiveness.

Harry Coverston, Orlando

 

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

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