Rita Buscari, 25
Excerpt from Studs Terkel’s “Division Street America” (1967)
There were about forty of us went down there to protest James Dukes’ execution. We had a very orderly, and I think, dignified picket line. We marched in two’s up and down, very quiet. We rarely spoke to each other. But across the street there were about two hundred people in their cars with the doors open, the radios blarin’ out rock’n’roll music, with beer cans and with sandwiches. They were there all evening, and very often there would be jeers at us from across the street.
I was marching with a Northwestern student, who goes down to protest every time there’s an execution. He said these people are there at every execution. Every single one. He said no matter how cold it is–this was a warm night, this was August–no matter how cold it is, there are approximately the same number of people. He believes they’re there because the lights dim in the building, which isn’t true, because the chair is rigged up to a different electrical system.
They stay there until the body is brought out in an ambulance. You got the feeling, you know, that this was the instinct that sent people to the Colosseum in Rome. And it’s here, right here and now, present in our society. Warden Johnson said people call up and ask for tickets. Well, if tickets were sold, I’m sure it would be a sellout house every single time.
It was so brutish. I was marching with pacifists and ministers, and the quiet of these people compared to the crowd across the street gave it a nightmarish quality. At the time of the execution we all turned toward the jail and ceased conversation. And this was when the rhythm of the noise on the other side gained momentum. They had all the radios on, first of all because they wanted to hear the announcement. The sounds on the other side increased as our silence increased.
When the announcement came through on the radio, there was a big reaction across the street: Oh, that’s over with. Oh, that’s great. Especially toward us. It was a victory for them, you see? A great victory against the crackpots who were demonstrating across the street. You know: This is how much your demonstration has achieved, you’re no place at all.