Monday, May 19, 2003

The NYTIMES has an article about a small group at a church on the Upper West Side that has held a vigil every time someone somewhere in the country has been executed. reg. req.

The highlights....

AT 6:05 p.m. Thursday, the bells of St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church tolled 33 times for two convicted murderers, Bruce Jacobs and Newton Slawson. They were scheduled to be put to death that day, one in Texas, the other in Florida.

As the bells rang, four parishioners stood on the sidewalk outside the rough-hewn stone church, at 87th Street and West End Avenue, bearing witness to the court-sanctioned killing of one human being by another. They thrust leaflets listing the names of the killers and their victims at passers-by.

....A small group at St. Ignatius has been keeping this vigil for the last four years, every time there has been an execution. They are part of a national movement, "For Whom the Bells Toll," of congregations opposed to the death penalty.

....Although the Upper West Side is probably one of the most liberal places in the world, even here this is not a popular cause. "It's often quite a lonely witness," said the Rev. H. Gaylord Hitchcock, the church rector, whose goatee makes his clerical collar look almost stylish. "I can tell you the popular reaction has been not altogether supportive. I've had messages on my voicemail, saying we were un-Christians."

....People ask, for instance, what is wrong with the punishment fitting the crime. "The moment I hear that, I hear it sung in Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado,' and I love it," says Mr. Kuemmerle, who is not without a sense of humor.

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
To let the punishment fit the crime
The punishment fit the crime
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

But if the object is to make the punishment fit the crime, he says, he would love to see some fitting punishments for what he calls crimes of state, like homelessness, poverty and ignorance. "I think the treatment of so many individuals in this society who have no resources and no expectation of any resources is criminal," he adds.

....The people at St. Ignatius not only preach, they listen. When their campaign began, they listed only the names of the convicts on their fliers. After passers-by complained, they added the names of their victims.

....The vigil lasts as long as it takes to repeatedly press the hospital call button, rigged by an ingenious member of the congregation, that causes the church's old iron bell to peal. The bell tolls once for every year in the life of the person being executed, or a symbolic 33 times, Christ's life span, if more than one person is going to die. Ringing the bells too many times has been known to annoy the neighbors.

After that, the protesters read from the Book of Common Prayer. Mr. Kuemmerle, the literary one among them, chose the verse. As other New Yorkers hurry by, they stand in a circle remembering two more lives abruptly ended.

Ed. Note: No matter what your view on the death penalty (and many folks are surprised to hear the editors of are against it, for reasons that are vast and varied) you would have to think these folks are loons. Quite honestly, I was looking for the Jayson Blair by-line. Gilbert and Sullivan?....Crimes of the state?...Ringing the bell 33 times because of Christ's lifespan? Wouldn't the Reverand and his flock's time be better spent battling these "crimes of the state?"

By the way, the NYTimes left out the crimes of the two men executed (or killed). No doubt an oversight. They were....

Newton Slawson: Slawson was executed for killing an entire family. Slawson killed a husband and wife, their two young kids, and their unborn baby. He sliced open the woman's body, taking her nearly full-term baby from her womb, shooting and killing it.

Bruce Jacobs: Jacobs was executed for stabbing a boy to death with a butcher knife on the youngster's 16th birthday. Jacobs forced his way into the teenager's Dallas home. The boy was stabbed at least 24 times and part of the knife blade was left imbedded in his body.

Christ-like, indeed.

The offices of DME.COM are moving to NYC for the summer. Could be a long one.