Archive for January, 2006
so on thursday evening past i left nashville at about 2:45 heading west on i-40 heading to jackson to meet with folks there who are mobilizing against the death penalty…
i should preface this by saying that an interdenominational group of clergy wrote a statement opposing what was tennessee’s first execution in 40 years and ran it as an ad in their local paper the jackson sun … they called a follow-up meeting for action but shortly thereafter an event known as 9/11 happened and they pulled back into other issues in their community…
now they’re coming back out to join the gathering storm of in-state and national concern over the unfair and arbitrary application of the death penalty against the working poor, people of color, and the mentally ill – god bless them…
so we met at a shoney’s on hwy 45 – in case you’re ever looking for a meeting room in a city you don’t know, shoney’s usually has a room you can reserve for meetings and most everyone from there knows where it is…
and a good meeting it was … we followed up from a 12/16 meeting and made some decisions – their first tcask supported training will be a strategic planning session for their community … now we offer a speakers training workshop but the initial movers and shakers are all seasoned homily/sermon writers, motivators, or speakers so that wasn’t a needed option … and we do lobby training but they won’t need that realistically until 2007 – they want to get right to work, set goals, prioritize actions, and move forward – awesome!
they will participate in our 5th annual write-a-thon on march 1st led by patsy who is a true pillar of justice in the form of action …
some new chapters or affiliates need a lot of guidance but the folks we’ve tapped in jackson are really skilled and experienced – it’s going to be a pleasure to continue getting to know them and establishing a fruitful working relationship …
as for me – i’m on the road again…
peace out – <3
Sadly, I cannot report a night of partying, clubbing, dancing, playing chess, etc. on Saturday night. And why? you might ask. I mean I’m socially inept, but not that socially inept, right?
Well, I’m going to reserve comment on that one, but, in this particular case, I can manage an excuse other than my lack of social graces (I don’t always play bridge with my grandmother on Friday nights!) You see, while most of y’all were sleeping peacefully on Sunday morning around say 7:00 AM, I was lucky enough to be a guest on “Christian Dissent,” a two-hour Sunday morning radio show that I really encourage everyone to check out. I was lucky enough to be given almost a whole hour and our conversation really ran the gamut, from mental illness to issues of innocence to biblical perspectives on capital punishment. You can all listen to the entire show by clicking on the link below:
It’s really inspiring to hear young Christian voices raised for the causes of social justice and truly seeking out the apostolic path. More than inspirational, these are voices that will, in my estimation, be essential to our winning the fight against capital punishment.
So listen to the link and the show regularly, either podcast or live if you’re awake. Hopefully I’ll sound witty and urbane and not socially inept. At least, hopefully, we got ‘er done!
the lil’ jesuit dude has blogged a couple of time about the issue of race as concerns the comments of district attorney al schmutzer, jr…
it is worth noting something that david kaczynski shared with the audience last tuesday when he spoke at the university of tennessee in knoxville…
david’s brother ted was (is) suffering from serious mental illness (schizophrenia i believe) and david’s belief that his brother would receive treatment as part of his being held accountable for his actions and protecting us from more potential harm (as opposed to say, the prosecutor seeking to execute ted)…
so when the prosecutor in fact did seek to have the federal government ultimately kill ted, david’s family was fortunate to have the resources to hire excellent attorneys who were able to defeat the prosecutor’s efforts to get a death sentence for ted kaczynski…
enter stage right, bill babbitt whose brother manny, a vietnam-era marine veteran, was also severely mentally ill when an elderly grandmother died of a heart attack during a robbery he was committing… the babbitt family was too poor to afford good counsel. manny’s first lawyer took their money and then dropped the case. the second, a court-appointed attorney, refused to allow blacks on the jury, drank heavily during the trial and was later disbarred and sued for racism.
white family, good resources, horrible crime by someone with schizophrenia = no death penalty
black family, few, scarce resources, tragic crime involving someone with schizophrenia = death penalty
race intersecting with class in the death penalty system = horrible disparity in the dispensing of “justice”
peace out – <3
“All four of the men that I’ve sent to death row have been Caucasian,” D.A. Al Schmutzer pronounced on Tuesday at UTK. Obviously, there is no racial problem with the death penalty’s application in Schmutzer’s district, and therefore there shouldn’t be one anywhere else, right? I mean the majority of people on Tennessee’s death row are white (as Schmutzer pointed out), how could there be a racial bias in the death penalty system?
Well, we all know that it isn’t quite that simple. While it is true that whites make up the majority of Tennessee’s death row population, they only make up about 60% of death row. African-Americans make up approximately 40%, while only accounting for 17% of the overall population. Blacks are over-represented on Tennessee’s death row (and in fact on death rows across the country).
“Well,” our D.A. or death penalty advocate will say, African-Americans commit more murders. The system isn’t biased. It captures people who commit crimes.”
OK. Let’s look at that for a minute. Let’s talk some more numbers. If we want to be fair, our system should value all life as equal. In other words, a person who murders a white person should be treated the same as someone whose victim in African-American right?
But wait! African-Americans represent nearly 50% of murder victims. How can we possibly reconcile the fact that only 14% of those on death row are there for the murder of black victims. And 81% for murdering whites!? Who are we kidding? Our system says that if you take a white life, you pay with your life, but taking the life of a person of color isn’t nearly as bad. In fact, studies have found that a black defendent who murders a white victim is 7 times as likely to get the death penalty as a white who murders a black victim. No one got the chance to ask D.A. Schmutzer what race the victims in his four cases were. Too bad.
Still, I think this takes us to a deeper point. I do not think that most D.A.s are racists. Al Schmutzer seemed to me to be a decent man. But institutions can still be racist even if individual people don’t make decisions overtly based on race. Despite the Supreme Courts shocking decision in McKlesky v. Kemp, which said that mere disproportionality was not evidence of racial bias in individual cases, it would be nearly impossible for us to say that today’s death penalty is applied fairly across racial lines. Our criminal justice system has consistently treated minorities differently from whites, and it is time that all district attorneys, judges, sheriffs, wardens, and everyday citizens face up to the fact even if it will necessitate an overhaul of the criminal justice system. The court, in the McKlesky decision, in effect, said that acknowledging that disparate treatment was evidence of a biased system would call for the scrapping of the entire system. On that point, they were absolutely right.
tcask occasionally gets correspondence from the old world to which we respond … it’s not state based organizing but it is relationship building that pushes the issue forward onto the world stage … here’s a simple example…
I don’t know anyone who condones murder … and I feel as you do. To critically oppose the death penalty as a public policy tool of the state is not in conflict with holding a high regard for public safety and holding perpetrators of violent crime accountable for their actions. The systems of adjudicating the death penalty all throughout the United States spend vast amounts of tax dollars that would be better spent on crime prevention, crime victims’ services, mental health care services, and excellent educational experiences for all children.
Thank you for sharing your feelings and concern. We have many members in the U.K. and would love to count you among them. To donate to and join our campaign visit our website at http://www.tcask.org/ and click on a donate button. To read our organizing blog, tcask:on the road to abolition, visit http://www.tcask.blogspot.com/.
peace out — <3
aka the tennessee dude
—– Original Message —– ——————————
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 3:28 PM
Subject: death penalty
i live in England, uk. i am writing in support of what you are trying to do.i have read some of the death row inmate profiles, & it astounds me how your court system doesn’t sometimes even consider the mental health of the offenders. i cannot condone murder, but some of these poor people are obviously mentally ill. they need help,not given a life of no hope. death must seem the easy option. i find this a poor way to appease the victims loved ones. god forbid, if it was me in their place i would feel very let down even patronised by the courts. it would make me feel better & more at peace if the courts tried to find out why it happened & looked for ways to stop it happening. “prevention is better than cure”. please dont think i am anti U.S.A laws, but i cant help the way i feel. thanks for reading.
best wishes & good luck,
“The death penalty, as it’s applied in Tennessee today- I’m against it.” said District Attorney Al Schmutzer of the Fourth Judicial Circuit (representing Sevier, Cocke, Grainger, and Jefferson counties) last night at a forum on capital punishment last night at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Having put 4 men on death row and with two more capital cases going to trial this year, D.A. Schmutzer was speaking as the pro-death penalty counter-balance to David Kaczynski of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty and Bill Babbitt (below) of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights.
Now Mr. Schmutzer wasn’t saying that he had any sort of moral opposition to the death penalty, quite the contrary, in fact. But his statement does point to an important fact, Tennessee’s death penalty system is simply broken. With a death row of over 100 people, Tennessee ranks 10th in the nation in number of people awaiting execution, yet we are basically unique in the South in that we have executed only 1 person since 1967, an astounding record! Earlier in his remarks, Schmutzer had made the comment that the death penalty really is about victim’s families, but, as he tacitly admitted later in the evening, our current death penalty system is the last thing any person truly interested in the families of murder victims would create.
All four of the men, D.A. Schmutzer proudly reported placing on death row have had their sentences of death overturned and are now serving lesser sentences. In fact, over half of all death sentences handed down in Tennessee are later overturned on appeal due to serious error during the trial. And with each appeal, the family of the victim is left waiting and forced to relive the worst event of their lives over and over again. Instead of beginning to move toward healing, families are left in limbo as to whether or not this execution will take place- many people on Tennessee’s death row have been there over 20 years. So, the D.A. is right- this system does not work! Even as a pro-death penalty speaker, it is hard to argue that our current system is anything other than a failure.
“You’re really good at what you do, Alex. You’ve got people volunteered for stuff before they even realize it!”
Ahh, music to any organizer’s ears. I was having lunch with a wonderful couple in Giles County yesterday after I’d traveled down that way to attend mass and facilitate the planning meeting of the church subcommittee on capital punishment. It was a great meeting in that we’ve scheduled a TCASK write-a-thon in Pulaski, an educational film screening, and planned a lobby training- which is a lot for a small town in one meeting- but it should keep people busy.
Even better, though, is who is doing it. Picking apart tasks into manageable little chunks for new volunteers is a great way of getting people involved, oh yes, and let them do it in twos, both to check on eachother and to make things less overwhelming. So I brought two folders on how to plan a write-a-thon, and refused (gently) to give them to the usual suspects and got two other people to plan the write-a-thon for March 1st (International Death Penalty Abolition Day)- which is a pretty manageable task. Two other people will plan the film screening- which we scheduled at the meeting. So that basically consists of getting the films from me and putting announcements in the bulletin and maybe some local papers. But the key is that people are doing something other than attending a meeting and they can see that their work is important and doable. And so, instead of having 2 people working like crazy to get all kinds of stuff in hand, you have 6 people doing a little bit of productive work each.
And that (as we say in Tennessee) is gettin’ ‘er done.
so one of the outer-tcask incarnations i have is that of an ncadp board member… i’m in the second year of my second year as an affiliate representative on the board (having been elected the same year as jane bohman with the illinois coalition to abolish the death penalty) and participate in meetings 4x/year (quarterly if you will)…
so as i peck (and make no mistake, i peck i do not type) i sit in the ncadp offices at 1717 k street right amidst the stench that is the k street project lobby scandal that currently is the talk of the town) and tomorrow i will be in a board retreat helping to determine the future relationship between the ncadp staff and the board of directors…
now like a lot of single issue progressive non-profits the ncadp board has many more activists and organizers on it than a “traditional” board, while hosting too few donors and too few persons capable of facilitating “entre” to groups that the anti-death penalty movement (including tcask) needs to have relationships with in order to succeed at the earliest possible date (i mean, why abolish the death penalty in 2015 when you can do it in, say, 2009)…
and the tcask board is like this too – many strong willed individuals who understand that the practice is just plain wrong from a civilized society, moral, human rights perspective but that’s not, as they say, gonna “git er’ done”…
no, we need to be talking with moderate conservatives who do not oppose the death penalty outright on moral or any other grounds BUT they do have a problem with a policy, any policy, that is proven to be applied unfairly, arbitrarily, and too often unconstitutionally — and THAT my friends describes the death penalty without exception…
so, in order to make tcask stronger, i try to attend the ncadp board meetings and understand what it must be like for our board members to relate to staff, to understand how they appear to view what and how alex and i do the organization’s work (it’s not our work but that of the organization), what it is they they will need added to their skillsets in order to be stronger, more productive, and empowered activists in their roles as board members, and as strategic organizers in their local community roles — and bring something back to tennessee that demonstrates that i understand their needs, their concerns, and their responsibilities…
so, as i participate tomorrow in the ncadp board retreat, i will be quietly wearing my tcask executive director’s hat, in effect pulling double duty, trying to understand better the dynamic between board and staff thus strengthening our organization as a whole and building on our already visible growth and progress…
who says multi-tasking is a dying art!!!
peace out – <3
It’s probably been noticed by our numerous daily readers that there has been a dearth of entires on the good old TCASK blog this week, so I suppose that an explanation is called for.
I haven’t been in the office this week.
No, it isn’t because I have been on the road constantly speaking and facilitating.
No, it isn’t because I was at a conference learning new information and skills to increase our office’s productivity.
And, no, I haven’t returned with handfuls of moratorium resolutions. I was actually on retreat. As a JV, we have three retreats scheduled throughout the year, and this retreat was a actually focused on social justice. Now my initial thought, was, “Social justice? And you’re pulling me away from work!? Where’s the justice there?” and to tell you the truth, I did miss a lot of work, but one thing that we spent a lot of time thinking about was burnout.
Now burnout is a word that I hear a lot- one of my favorite abolitionists from EJUSA is always warning me that I need a raise to prevent burnout (I’m not sure about the logic there, but I love her just the same), and my mother certainly worries that I’m working too hard. As organizers, we spend a lot of time recruiting people and we want to make sure that they don’t overdo it and get discouraged, so I’m constantly telling people to just come up with one or two small and concrete actions to take on. What that means is that I want to do everything else to ensure that it all gets done. And don’t get me wrong, I love doing it. I think that I have the best job in the world. But that doesn’t change the fact that when our presenter this week started talking about the danger of burning out, and when I realized that I has worked over 40 hours in just the first three days of last week, I could understand what he said. Having a couple days on a beautiful camp away from all phones and emails was a great time to reflect. Now, I’m not saying that I want to stop working weekends or anything crazy like that, and I don’t mind 60-70 hour weeks, but we should keep in mind that we can get tired, so if you:
*are feeling tired
*find yourself snapping at co-workers
*have forgotten your parents/siblings/best friends phone number
*are feeling like nothing will ever change
then you should
*take a day off
*go for a run
*call your friend/sibling/parent
*watch a football game
*rent a movie
*if you have the time- go away for a weekend, and DON’T TAKE WORK WITH YOU (if you’re like me that probably made you gasp)
*Go to church/synagogue/meeting/service, if you are a spiritual person
*and definitely, the next time it’s nice out, even if you are at work, take 20 minutes and go for a walk and just clear your head.
It might just be worth it.
Talk to y’all soon, on our next break.
so kacy forwards an article to tcask this morning (thanks k!) about the execution of clarence ray allen in california … he’s the 76 year old deaf, legally blind, and wheelchair bound elderly man whom it took the state 2 shots of potassium chloride to kill …
i read the article and nearly spit papaya juice out my eyeballs (through my nose in think) when i read the following…
“Having suffered a heart attack back in September, Allen had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.”
now in the comedy business you would refer to the above quote as the setup – the prequel to the punchline…and so it is…it’s not funny, it lacks zazz, nothin’ to call mom about on yer cell phone and chat about if you will…
but this is the next quote in the article…
“At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life,” said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon. “We would resuscitate him,” then execute him.”
now check it out … i bolded, italicized, and underlined the statement just so YOU CAN’T MISS IT …
now if this is not emblematic of the absolute vacuity of pro-death penalty apologists i’m nothin’ but a kenny rogers roaster in a big red dress…