Don’t Kill for Me

by marthastephens

MS at keyboard

FRIENDS, much of life is frightening to me today.  I’m afraid of our newly-elected president.  I’m afraid for all those caught in the horror of war and am ashamed of the brutal actions of my own country in the Middle East.  In my own state of Ohio, I’m afraid of the violence that is propagated here, and I feel a nightmarish dread of the new executions being scheduled.

        The image that haunts me more than any other is this: a person who has done no one any harm in many years, and has often been a prison counselor, or a medic, in the weeks before, is given a last meal in his cell, walked down a corridor, strapped to a table, and poisoned to death.

WE HUMANS can be killers, yes, but we are also creatures of reason, able to examine our own actions.  We can decide to do what makes us feel more intelligent and more human, rather than repeating the naked aggressions of the past.

        THE U. S. is the only western country where the death penalty still exists.  Finland had its last peacetime execution in 1825, for instance, Belgium in 1863, Sweden in 1910, Germany in 1949, the U. K. in 1964.

        Twenty-three states in the U. S. have also ceased putting people to death: Michigan, on our borders, had its last execution in 1846, West Virginia in 1965.  In recent years, four  governors of death-penalty states have taken it on themselves to put a stop to this practice.

       Should we ask Governor Kasich to consider such a legacy for himself?

        It was in the year of 1963 that a long pause in U. S. executions was brought about by a liberal Supreme Court.  Since the Ohio resumption in 1999, fifty-three individuals have been put to death, including twelve under John Kasich.  

        I once made a film on Ohio executions for public access t. v.  called Don’t Kill for Me.   I don’t have a copy of that film any more, but I remember its pictures of our shadow-filled, night-time vigils for those about to die, and the sad and beautiful song it ended with — from the final aria of the Verdi Requiem.


No more executions!

OHIO BECAME A STATE in 1803, and executions were by hanging.  In 1897 the instrument of death became the electric chair.  Our beat-up old chair was last used in 1963, but it had gotten us through 317 electrocutions, and then earned us a few dollars (perhaps) at a yard sale!

        What we like now are lethal injections.  We feel they are the most humane, you understand, even though guys on our death gurneys have often suffered tormented passings.  One fellow was in so much pain a few years ago that he tried to assist the executioners to find the vein they needed to finish him off!  They finally gave up on this man, a fellow named Romell Broom, and Governor Kasich said, in effect, “If he’s going to be that difficult, let him live — for now,” and Broom still occupies a cell on death row.  Like so many of those awaiting execution, Romell Broom is African-American.  (Please see a famous poem below about the lynchings of black men in the south.)  White offenders have a much better chance of evading the death penalty!

IN THE SIXTIES, an Ohio governor, Michael DiSalle, wrote a book called The Power of Life or Death about his opposition to the death penalty.  He felt that the only way to protect people was to eradicate the causes of violent crime in “poverty and destitution, racial abuse, and mental illness.”  –“I believe human life is a divine gift,” DiSalle wrote, “and deliberately to destroy it is as much a crime for the state as for the individual.”

IN 1999 A BESPECTACLED young man named Wilford Berry, not a killer but an accomplice to a murder, volunteered to be the first to die when the Ohio death penalty was re-instated, and many in Cincinnati joined a new crusade against executions.  I wanted to visit Berry in prison, but he declined.  I then sent him a photo of the youngsters in our family, and I’ll never forget the note I got back from him. “Cute kids!” he wrote — this man about to die.  At Berry’s death, I was present at a night-time vigil for him outside the prison in Lucasville, and went to work, eventually, on Don’t Kill for Me.  In those years Sister Alice Gerdeman at IJPC took a van of volunteers to every single execution that took place, often leaving long before dawn for a morning death-watch.

                        The Walk to Stop Ohio Executions

IN THE FALL of 2015 a Walk to Stop Ohio Executions marched for a week on the shoulders of highway U. S. 23.  It was a walk of eighty-six miles — from Lucasville, Ohio, to the seat of government in Columbus!  Some of us lasted only a few days, but a group of stalwarts made it the whole way, and hundreds joined the group in Columbus.  Over a dozen walkers from Cincinnati took part, sleeping at night on the floors of churches and schools, and speaking out at community events along the way, asking people not to return to the cruel and unnecessary ways of the past.

If you wish, btw, to ask Governor Kasich to disavow the Ohio death penalty, please do so at 614-466-3555.

                     Peace to All Who Read These Lines!


For those who may have time:

                            A Postscript  About Mr. Trump


What happened here?

        MY FRIENDS, this little blog has readers from time to time in India, Japan, Canada, Australia, and so on, and I want to say that you fellows around the world must be sorry for us today to be facing a leader like Mr. Trump — who’s stealing Christmas and just about everything else, like the Grinch he is.  Trump, as I see it, was a  gift to us from our two traditional parties.  Democrats no longer much care, any more than our Republicans ever have, about working people, and many voters went over, in desperation, to Trump.  We fear they will be miserably sorry, for we’re already a poor country and may now become even poorer.  In Cincinnati, a recent U.S. Census has shown that 44.3% of our children are  living below the poverty line.
        The minimum wage here is $8.10 an hour.  Affordable housing has almost disappeared.  Most schools are segregated and racially oppressed.  With so much trouble in their lives, mothers and fathers may not succeed in keeping families together.  Black fathers are taken away in droves, and often for years and just for drugs, in the new form of slavery we call “mass incarceration.”  In this chaotic economy, men may fight and be killed, or become killers themselves, and be prospects for lethal injections. 
        AS FOR the Trumpster, Black Lives Matter is girding for resistance, it seems, along with our brave Native Americans, our Iraq Vets Against War, and countless other groups.  
Immigrants are afraid, and churches in Cincinnati are preparing to become sanctuaries for those in danger. 
The vast U.S. military — will it now be an even greater imagesdanger to the world than it has been, or is that even possible?
“Killed in Action” by Kathe Kollwitz.


The saddest part of all may be the assault Mr. Trump  is threatening on our planetary home, and I’m sure all the world is grieving over this.
Mama Earth is crying — and she doesn’t have many tears left.  ##
Here’s the famous poem I mention above, one you may know, and  speaking of lynchings — what exactly are we doing today — if not more lynchings — in our mass incarcerations?

                                 Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

— by Abel Meeropol

Once more, my  friends — Peace to All Who Read These Lines!