“It’s the most attractive argument for repealing the death penalty I’ve heard, though I disagree with the way in which it was put forth…. I wish he (Bonowitz) would have put it into a budget amendment.”
–Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, an ardent supporter of the death penalty
© 2001 Tampa Tribune
Teaching A Lesson in Fiscal Responsibility!
(11/27/01 Special Session Action)
With the Florida Legislature meeting for a second special session to reduce the budget by more than $1 Billion, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty seized on the opportunity to highlight the fiscal angle of our arguments that the death penalty is a bad public policy. We developed a press release (see <https://fadp1.wpengine.com/https://fadp1.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=3774>) and, through various e-mail alert lists, we urged Floridians to contact their individual legislators on this issue.
Given the fact that the Florida Legislature is controlled by politicians who love to use the death penalty as the political tool which it is, we knew that they would pay little if any attention to phone calls, faxes and e-mails. We also knew from experience that precious little time is given to “the people” who attend legislative hearings to testify on various matters – particularly when those people oppose the viewpoint of the politicians in charge. If we wanted to be heard by the politicians, we had to get in their face.
Conceptualized over Thanksgiving weekend, it was difficult give any of our activists a lot of notice for this action. We knew we needed people who might consider stepping beyond the normally accepted bounds of behavior in the Florida Legislature, and there is not a general consensus among the various parts of the anti-death penalty movement on the efficacy of doing that. We approached only eight potential participants, and three were available.
At 9pm on November 26th, SueZann Bosler arrived in Jupiter at the home office of FADP. Switching cars, She and FADP director Abe Bonowitz drove to Gainesville, stopping at Kinkos to use their blueprint copier to enlarge our sign to banner size before arriving at the home of Amy Jo Smith at 2:20am. By 6:30 am we were on the road again towards Tallahassee, stopping for fuel, food, and to get cash to have on hand in case we needed to post bail. We were parked outside the capitol just before 9am, which was the scheduled time for the Florida House of Representatives to begin its general session.
We had no idea how tight security would be in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. We had no idea if the State Security Apparatus was aware that we were coming, because we don’t know who is the source of all those clicking sounds on the FADP telephone lines. (Must be the FBI – there they go, not sharing information again!!!) It seems safe to say that if they knew we were coming, they made no attempt to stop us. Because Abe had disrupted Governor Jeb! in the past, just to be safe Amy Jo and SueZann used a different doorway. Security was nothing more than going through security at an airport, and the guards did not take notice of the content of our papers. We carried press releases, and each of us had a 4×6 foot banner made of paper and folded to the size of standard copy paper. We each wore business attire, but with an abolitionist button on our lapels.
We made our way to the House Gallery and easily found front row seats along the side of the chamber, opposite from the press room and the area where the TV cameras were set up. Up until this point, SueZann was unsure if she was ready to risk arrest. She decided instead to act as our support, media and photography person. She handed back her cash and her banner, and waited for me to give her a list of people to call if we ended up needing legal assistance, as well as a list of media contacts, before taking a position in the gallery on the opposite side of the chamber. We were ready.
… And House Speaker Tom Feeney called a 20 minute recess. Perfect. We used the time to distribute press releases to the media, and Abe clued several reporters in that they should position themselves appropriately if they wanted to “see the news.” Feeney called the House back to order and invited several legislators to introduce guests in the Gallery. We decided it was time to introduce ourselves, and unfolded our banner just as Speaker Feeney was announcing another, longer recess.
“MR. SPEAKER,” Abe yelled out. “We are here to say that you can get 5% of your budget cut by abolishing the death penalty!”
Everyone looked up to see us standing there with our banner reading:
Florida Can’t Afford
the Death Penalty
© 2001 Tampa Tribune
Feeney banged his gavel and called for order. Abe ignored him, and the gallery guard who was tapping him on the shoulder and saying “You have to leave – you can’t say that here!” Abe carried on for a minute or so, calling out again “You can get 5% of your budget cut by abolishing the death penalty! Preserve Education! Preserve Health Care! Preserve Social Services! Preserve Juvenile Justice! Prevention, not punishment!” The speaker called a recess, all the politicians scampered off the floor, and the activists in the gallery stopped shouting and began to fold up their banner – surprised that they had not been tackled.
We had expected to be arrested, but instead, Earnie Sumner, the House Sergeant At Arms approached Abe, introduced himself, held out his hand for Abe to shake, and very politely told him that he would be ejected. Abe responded, “OK!” relieved at avoiding arrest. But the activists were not escorted out! Instead, as they exited the gallery they were set upon by the media, and held an impromptu press conference for about ten minutes. There were at least ten reporters, two still photographers, and two TV came
After all the interviews were completed, they made their way out of the building, stopping first in the rotunda to share extra press releases with business students who had set up display tables. Then they exited to the plaza between the old and the new Capitol building, where Abe called other reporters to come meet us. While waiting for them, we were approached by three police officers who very politely informed Abe, but not Amy Jo or SueZann, that the Speaker of the House had banned him from the legislature for the duration of the special session, and they read a little statement about that. They also took his drivers license information. We asked if we could remain there in the plaza and they said that was fine, as long as we did not try to re-enter the building.
We were met by the reporters, one of whom told us that the Speaker had commented that he admired our action and the fact that we did a creative and effective job of connecting our issue to the budget matters at hand. Of course, they *will not* be abolishing the death penalty any time soon.
But the legislators heard our message! And so did millions of Floridians who saw television reports, heard radio news reports, or read reports in some of Florida’s newspapers. We have confirmed television coverage in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee. We were covered on Florida Public Radio. The photograph at the top of this page appeared on the Tampa Tribune web page, and in some newspapers, including the Stewart News, which is photographed in the photos at right. CLICK HERE TO READ THE MEDIA COVERAGE that were able to collect. One article was posted to the national Rueters wire service and was read around the world.
After seeing the media responses,
FADP sent the following ACTION to Floridians via e-mail:
Please forward to FLORIDIANS Please excuse cross-posts
Look for a full report on Tuesday’s action at the legislature to be posted on FADP.org soon. As a result of the action, we have another opportunity.
House Speaker Tom Feeney was quoted by Rueters as follows:
“Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, an ardent supporter of the death penalty, said the group’s argument may be fiscally sound but had not changed his mind. “It’s the most attractive argument for repealing the death penalty I’ve heard, though I disagree with the way in which it was put forth,” Feeney said. “I wish he (Bonowitz) would have put it into a budget amendment.”
THAT sounds like an invitation if I ever heard one. Please CALL, E-MAIL, FAX, VISIT your Florida legislators and ask them to
“Propose or support an amendment to save more than $51 million (5% of the necessary budget cut) by abolishing the death penalty now!”
Don’t know who your legislator is? Visit <https://fadp1.wpengine.com/https://fadp1.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=4039>.
Please Act IMMEDIATELY!
Abraham J. Bonowitz Director
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP)
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty works for restorative justice in the form of effective alternatives to the death penalty. It does so by # supporting and coordinating the work of organizations and individuals # educating and energizing the general public and state legislators # supporting the many persons affected by capital crime and punishment # advocating specific legislative improvements
Further follow-up actions will be developed shortly.
While we did not know how this action would be viewed or if it would even be successful, FADP is pleased with the results. Speaker Feeney’s acknowledgement that “It’s the most attractive argument for repealing the death penalty I’ve heard…” gives us a clarity of future mission, and the knowledge that he would never have heard our argument had we not acted aggressively makes it all worth it.
Thanks very much to Carolyn Gray for able assistance in drafting the press release and banner text, Abe Bonowitz for leadership and coordination, and most of the driving, Amy Jo Smith, for bravely risking what could have been her first arrest, SueZann Bosler, for being our support person, smuggler, photographer and spokesperson, Wil Van Natta, Sheila O’Brien, Johnny Zokovitch and others for challenging questions and forcing clarity of concept, message and mission.
Costs involved include:
26 hours of “on the road” time
900 miles on the car
$10 for copies/banners
$75 for fuel
$45 for food
$5 for newspapers
$20 for photography
$21.40 for Florida’s Turnpike
Phone calls internet, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Click on a photo to enlarge and see captions!
To help cover these and other costs, and t
o make future actions possible, please click here.
If you are willing to risk arrest in future FADP actions, please e-mail <[email protected]>.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609