Category Archives: Human Rights

DEATH PENALTY: The zeal of pro-death penalty advocates

dave-atwoodby David Atwood
Pax Christi Texas

I am continually amazed how far death penalty advocates will go to perpetuate the machinery of death in Texas. This time pro-death penalty legislators in Austin are pushing a bill  that would shield the identity of the suppliers of the lethal drugs used to execute prisoners in Huntsville. The rationale of these legislators is that the suppliers of these drugs will no longer provide them for executions if their identity is revealed and that executions might come to a grinding halt as a result.  Now wouldn’t that be terrible.

No death penaltyOver the years, the proponents of capital punishment have used many arguments to continue to kill prisoners. Here are some examples and my reply to their arguments:

  1. Rationale: If we don’t execute these people, they will kill again.  My Reply: Texas now has “life without parole” as an optional punishment for capital murder.  This sentence allows us to keep society safe without becoming killers ourselves.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty deters others from committing murder. My Reply: There is no firm evidence that the death penalty deters others from committing murder.  In fact, several studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter others from committing murder.  Most murderers are not thinking about consequences or do not think that they will be caught. Many are high on alcohol or drugs and are not thinking clearly. Criminal justice experts have said that murder rates are primarily affected by demographics, economics, the drug trade and community policing efforts.
  1. Rationale: If we speed up executions, they would be a greater deterrent to violent crime. My Reply: Speeding up executions would also mean that the chances of executing an innocent person would increase.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty gives the family of the victim “closure”. My Reply: While an execution may give some families of victims the satisfacion of “payback”, there is little evidence that an execution actually provides “closure” or any semblance of “healing”. What does bring healing is a loving community that helps the family through the ordeal they are experiencing and move on with their lives in a positive fashion.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty saves the state money. My Reply: The high legal expenses associated with the death penalty make it significantly more expensive than life in prison. This wasted money could be better spent on effective crime prevention programs and victims’ services.
  1. Rationale: The only people who get the death penalty are the “worst of the worst”. My Reply: Whether someone ends up on death row or not has more to do with the quality of the accused’s legal defense, the race of the victim, politics and geography.
  1. Rationale: People who commit murder are monsters who deserve to die. My Reply: It is true that a person who commits murder has done a monstrous thing and caused great suffering. However, if one looks into the background of people on death row, what you often find is a history of horrible child abuse and neglect, mental disabilities and drug/alcohol abuse. Furthermore, once confined in prison, many people become rehabilitated and are no longer a threat to society.
  1. Rationale: Our criminal justice system is fair to all people and ensures that we always get the right person. My Reply: We are aware of 12 exonerated death row prisoners in Texas alone and over 150 nationwide. There is also good evidence that Texas has executed several innocent people. The death penalty system is a human system that is imperfect and will always remain so.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty is needed to “restore order” to society. My Reply: This is not the experience of many states and nations. Eighteen U.S. states have abolished the death penalty and seem to be doing fine. However, murders still occur on a regular basis in Texas although we have had more than 520 executions. Many people believe that we would have more “order ” in our society and less crime if we would spend more of our scarce financial resources on effective crime prevention measures such as improved child protective services, youth and family services, mental health services and prisoner rehabilitation programs.
  1. Rationale: The Bible demands an “eye for an eye” approach to justice. My Reply: The “eye for an eye” concept comes for the Old Testament. This concept continues a cycle of violence and vengeance in society. In the New Testament, Jesus rejects the “eye for an eye” concept and replaces it with compassion, forgiveness and mercy. “Restorative justice” is a smarter approach to crime than “retributive justice”.

In summary, the zeal of the pro-death penalty advocates is misplaced. If they want to make society safer, they should advocate for crime prevention programs that are truly effective.

David Atwood is the Founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

TAKE ACTION: Invest in our cities

from NETWORK

photoOver the past few months our hearts have been broken as we watch our nation grapple with the death of innocent black men and women at the hands of the police. These moments have caused us not just to reflect as sisters and brothers in Christ but also as “We the People” in a democracy. Once again, we are voicing our frustration with injustice in our cities. These frustrations are larger than law enforcement. From Selma to Ferguson to Baltimore, we’ve witnessed the damaging effects of failing to invest in our cities.

Structural racism and injustice has perpetuated the polarization of communities of color in cities across America and influences public policies that disproportionately disadvantage people of color. We as a nation must do better. Cities have been experiencing a decline in revenue, which is magnified by the federal government’s steady decline in community investment, like cutting the Community Development Block Grant program. This has led to poor educational outcomes for children, massive foreclosures, and high rates of unemployment.

We can do better—we must fund programs that strengthen our communities, not militarize them.

Click here to tell Congress to invest in our cities.

TAKE ACTION: Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, May 17-18

from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia Planning Team

Pax Christi USA is a supporter of “Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia” (DOPA).

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“Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia” (DOPA) is a campaign to focus education and advocacy efforts for Colombia and the many challenges to peace and justice faced by our partners there. This year’s DOPA dates are May 17-18th and will be marked by actions of solidarity and prayer under the theme Tomorrow’s Peace Starts Today – La Paz de Mañana Empieza Hoy.” 

Talks between the government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC, continue to move forward, but peace accords have not been signed yet. With threats to human rights defenders and advocates for just resolution of land conflict increasing, there is still much work to be done. Join us in praying and advocating for those who are working for peace today and the peace accords of tomorrow. There are several ways to join the DOPA campaign:

RESOURCE: “Selma” DVD and sermon guide released today

Pax Christi USA received the following letter from Joshua DuBois today celebrating the release of Selma on DVD and accompanying resources. We hope you’ll consider purchasing the DVD, hosting a private screening of the film, sharing the sermon guide with your pastor, and more. 

Dear friends,

It is such an honor to share this SELMA Sermon Guide with you.

Today, May 5th, the SELMA DVD is available for sale around the country. To mark this important moment – and this historic film – we collaborated with Paramount Pictures to produce the enclosed SELMA Sermon Guide.

Selma_posterAs many of you know, SELMA is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.

To celebrate the release of the SELMA DVD, pastors from around the country – including Civil Rights legend Dr. C.T. Vivian and Rev. Susan Smith, Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Rev. Otis Moss, III, Dr. Cynthia Hale, Dr. Serene Jones, and Rev. David Hanke – came together to produce sermon outlines and notes to assist clergy in preaching and teaching on the SELMA. We are deeply honored that these amazing leaders, including Dr. Vivian – who was featured prominently in the film SELMA – joined us to produce this guide.

Download the guide and support the film SELMA by purchasing the SELMA DVD today.

Two important additional announcements:

  • For congregations that desire to purchase the SELMA DVD in bulk – in quantities over 50 – we are able to mail every purchaser a commemorative letter from Ava DuVernay, the director of SELMA, and David Oyelowo, who played Dr. King. If you are interested in a bulk purchase of the Selma DVD and commemorative letters for your congregation, please contact amy@valuespartnerships.com.
  • Purchase 1 DVD for yourself and donate one to a school! Visit selmaforstudents.com to learn more.

This is the first installment of the SELMA Sermon Guide. Future editions will include messages tailored for Jewish and Muslim communities as well as other minority faith traditions. We encourage you to share your thoughts on the Selma Sermon Guide, and continue to remain engaged in this movement.

Thank you for all the ways you stand up for justice and healing in communities across the country. I hope the SELMA Sermon Guide is a helpful and enjoyable resource for you and your community. We’re so grateful to be connected through Dr. King’s legacy and this remarkable film.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi USA official statement offering alternatives to the violence in Baltimore

The following is the official statement from Pax Christi USA addressing alternatives to violence in the wake of what we are witnessing in Baltimore, Maryland this week.

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We are once again witnessing violence and outrage, this time it is within the city of Baltimore, MD.  Years and years of disregard for the dignity of communities made poor by unjust systems, a blatant disregard for the quarter of the city’s population living below the poverty level, inferior schools and polarized relations with police, all of these have contributed to the tension, destruction, violence, looting and arson we are witnessing in Baltimore.

While violence is a way of calling attention to the injustices that exist, Pax Christi USA, the National Catholic Peace Movement, does not condone the violence and calls for an active nonviolent approach to deal with systemic injustices that lead to violence:

  • We invite all people of faith to hold in prayer the citizens of Baltimore during this time of struggle.
  • We invite Catholics along with all faith-based organizations to collaborate with grassroots organizations in Baltimore and elsewhere who are calling for nonviolent systemic change. We encourage your participation in rallies, demonstrations and vigils that are happening in U.S. cities.
  • We invite all people of good will to continue looking at the relationship between poverty, racism and militarism and make connections as to how these systems play into the inherent injustices that communities of color are living under in Baltimore and beyond.
  • We invite religious and secular organizations along with diocesan Catholic organizations, religious communities, parishes, civil servants and elected officials to dialogue with those suffering the impact of violence so as to understand the root causes of violence, and to begin to develop action plans pertaining to community policing, job training and employment opportunities, to name a few. An excellent resource for these dialogues is the recent Pastoral Letter by Bishop Edward K. Braxton entitled “A Racial Divide in the United States”.  Both the Text and Study Guide can be found at diobelle.org

Peace begins with taking a long and hard look at what we have ignored for years, i.e. systems that have been created specifically to exclude whole populations of people, systems that have misused power to act without accountability, transparency or care for the common good of all.  Peace requires an honest look at the lack of justice inherent in these systems and the will to listen to the voices of those crying out, a desire to be transformed by that listening and the revolutionary courage to act on behalf of justice.

While our hearts ache for the suffering people of Baltimore, Pax Christi USA profoundly desires peace with justice for the people of Baltimore and in all of our major U.S. cities.  The process of achieving this just peace is a long, difficult and arduous process but it offers concrete hope to a people who have lived with false and empty promises for far too long.

REFLECTION: As riots follow Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, calls for calm ring hollow

by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

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Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made…

Click here to read this entire article.

TAKE ACTION: Faith leaders’ letter supporting the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act

from the International Justice Mission

Ed. Note: Pax Christi USA has signed onto this letter.

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With the introduction of the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act in Congress, the United States is poised to launch a massive, unprecedented global initiative to end slavery.

To bring this bold, bipartisan vision to successful passage and execution in 2015 and beyond, our elected officials need to know the movement of support behind this landmark legislation.

People of faith have historically been at the forefront of abolition movements, and that is certainly true in the 21st century.

We are inviting any and all faith leaders who want to see modern-day slavery come to an end to join their names together. 

Click here to read more and sign onto the letter.