Pa. Youth Rally against Death Penalty

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Pa. Youth Rally against Death Penalty


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


Seven hundred children and parents convened Aug. 20 for a rally in opposition to the death penalty at the Greene State Correctional Institute in Waynesburg, Pa., home to a burgeoning death-row population. The event culminated the three-day "Children's Crusade to Death Row," a march sponsored by the Bruderhof community.

The Bruderhof - German for brothers' house - is an offshoot of the Anabaptist movement. Members practice a simple lifestyle similar to the Amish and Mennonites.

The rally had been resisted by prison officials. Initially, Superintendent Ben Varner had directed the marchers to stage their rally at the start of Progress Drive, a three-quarter mile drive leading to the prison from Pennsylvania's Route 21. The prison is over a hill and cannot be seen from the spot. After the Bruderhof Foundation sought an injunction, Varner relented and gave permission for the rally to occur in front of the prison's gates.

The day of the rally, however, Pennsylvania state police and corrections officials issued an order restricting the airspace surrounding the prison for, three-quarters of a mile. A public relations officer for the prison said the decision was requested by state police to ensure the safety of a police helicopter, which would be monitoring the progress of the march up Progress Drive.

The effect of the decision, however, was to prevent, media from covering the event from the air. "I was planning to have footage from our plane," said Deidra Dukes, a reporter for WXPI in Pittsburgh, who said she found the decision to close off the airspace "questionable. …

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