Protesting the 1000th Execution in the U.S.

Arrested at the December 1 protest
By: Phyllis Prentice

“I seek to occupy the death house to halt the 1,000th execution, and with my body prevent the flow of poison to the prisoner’s veins. My intention is not to commit a crime, but to prevent one.”
Renny Cushing
Executive Director, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights

On the night of December 1, 2005, a group of 17 abolitionists took a stand to protest the execution of Kenneth Boyd by the state of North Carolina. His death marked the 1,000th execution in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The group, the “Rosa Parks Affinity Group”, represented the diversity of the abolitionist movement: an exonerated death row prisoner, family members of murder victims, a former state legislator, students, directors of several national anti-death penalty organizations, and members of various religious communities.

The group decided to take a physical stand against the death machine. They walked hand in hand to the door of the Death House, coming face to face with threatening police and correctional guards who demanded that the group depart from the gate. Despite a massive show of police and correctional forces, including snipers, the group refused to move. They were pushed to the ground, cuffed and forcibly carried and dragged from the prison gate. Charged with trespassing, resisting a public officer and refusing to walk, all 17 members of the group spent the night in the Raleigh County Jail. From behind bars, they continued to organize and agitate until their release on bond.

Shujaa Graham, a former California death row prisoner and dedicated abolitionist, commented on his experience:

“Sometimes you just have to do what is right, even though it seems hard. People have asked me how it felt to go back to jail, after so many years on death row. We stayed together, and everyone watched my back.”

The group expected hostility from the guards, yet, while locked up, organizers continued to explain why they chose civil disobedience and why they believed that the death penalty was always wrong. The guards were surprised by the group’s determination. They were visibly moved by the story of SueZann Bosler, who lost a loved one to violent crime. SueZann not only witnessed the murder of her father, she was herself stabbed and left for dead. SueZann successfully fought against the death penalty for the men convicted of the murder and continues to work for abolition.

As the Rosa Parks Affinity Group was making plans to defend their right to commit acts of civil disobedience to protest against an illegal, barbaric law, the state of North Carolina dropped all charges on December, 22, 2005. This action and its outcome represented a small victory in our struggle to end the death penalty. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said:

“A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of a partial victory by which new efforts are powered.”

For more information regarding the action in North Carolina, please see