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Sunday, February 03, 2002
      ( 2:40 PM ) Jackie  

State Murder in California


It rained off and on during the day on Monday, January 28th, and there were threatening clouds when I left home around 8pm. By the time I had parked the car and walked to the quaint Village of San Quentin, the sky had cleared. The full moon, which earlier in the day hung like a stage prop over the East Bay hills, was now high in the sky.

The Village is far from city lights so that the stars shone brightly enough that I could recognize the Big Dipper and Orion.On the way to the prison gates I stopped briefly at a small public access way to the beach. This is one place where the view of the Bay Bridge isn't dominated by the San Francisco skyline. The waves lapping gently against the shore belied the violent act planned for 12:01 on the next morning.

Some of the thousand or so people present to protest the murder had been at every execution since California began using the death penalty again in 1992. They had come three times for Jaturun Siripongs whose appeals had twice delayed his execution at the last minute.

This was my first time at a San Quentin vigil. I had opposed the death penalty, but was reluctant to make that a focus of my political action. The crimes involved were usually extraordinarily cruel and typically were committed against women and children. My friend Tory, an anti-death penalty activist, and I had discussed this many times. "Not in my name," she would say in response to my demurs.

Change sometimes happens strangely. I remember the feeling I had when my attitude towards activism on this issue changed. I was listening to an interview with a death row inmate on KPFA. This was one of those difficult cases in which the crime was horrible, the victim was a woman, and the inmate was undoubtedly guilty. I don't remember the details of the crime or of the injustice in the court. I do remember the feeling I had, a shifting almost physical in nature. I knew then what Tory meant when she said "Not in my name."

I worked security at the vigil, but in fact there were no pro-death penalty protestors near the prison gates. My friends tell me that this has been a major change since the days when there were confrontations. We kept watch on one man known to be a heckler and on two men who seemed suspicious but whom we thought to be undercover cops (which they later told me they were).

As midnight approached the crowd became quieter. The political speeches turned to more personal statements by families of victims. And then to religious statements, all by Christians. There was a large contingent of people carrying mass manufactured white crosses. I found their presence disturbing. Coalitions make strange bedfellows, as these folks also carried signs with an anti-abortion message.

Finally a Native American contingent began a heartbeat drumming and singing. This was an important part of the event not only for its moving effect on the crowd but because the drumming could be heard on death row, letting the people there know that we were outside opposing their murder by the State of Callifornia.

I stood by the bay listening to and feeling the drum. I've never understood why Christians bow their heads when they pray. I watched the lights of the Bay Bridge twinkle and lifted my fact to look up at the moon which seemed to be racing across the sky. The cold began to get into my bones and I noted a layer of ice on cars parked nearby.

Around 1am there came an announcement that Stephen Wayne Anderson was murdered by the State of California at 12:32 am on January 29,2002.

We gathered our things and walked with cold-stiffened joints back to our cars. I drove home and went to bed where I after a long time I finally fell asleep and dreamed bad dreams.




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Words and photos from Jackie in Oakland, CA. More I cannot tell you ... I won't know what it is until I do it.

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