Archive for August, 2006
This morning’s post is a shout out to Harry Simpson! If folks have been involved with Nashville TCASK, they probably already know Harry and his wife Karan. They’ve been some of our most consistent volunteers over the past year. They’ve done speakers training and lobby training, they joined us for vigils and our memorial service for Sedley Alley, and they came to Justice Day on the Hill. Harry also volunteered to work on our Nashville Resolution Team, and gather those all important moratorium resolutions from small businesses in the area (We need resolutions, people, so start asking your mechanic).
But Harry recently had foot surgery and therefore hasn’t been able to hoof it around the streets of Nashville soliciting resolutions from business owners. Now, if he’d called me and just said that, I probably would have said something like, “Wow, Harry. I’m so sorry to hear that. Please get well soon and let me know if there is anything that I can do for you,” and left it at that. But not Harry!
Nope, instead Harry drafted a letter on his own company’s letter head basically laying out the moratorium pitch and is going to send it, along with a blank moratorium resolution, a TME fact sheet, and a return envelope, to businesses that he’s been in contact with. Then he’ll follow up with phone calls a week or so later. The man is down, but he certainly isn’t out!
So, a shout out to Harry Simpson, and to all the Harry Simpsons out there! It’s volunteers like you, taking initiative, that move us toward abolition! From your mouths, all across Tennessee, we hear our rallying cry:
GIT ‘ER DONE!
I know that a lot of people look forward to the Labor Day weekend, a nice extended weekend. I know some people like to take Friday off as well and go out to the lake with their families. Sounds like a nice day. Or you could work for the federal public defender.
Because Stephen Ferrell will certainly not be relaxing this weekend, because the state of Tennessee is trying to kill Daryl Holton. Holton, as you probably know, is a severely mentally ill man on Tennessee’s death row, who has refused to continue his appeals. But that’s not what I came here to talk about.
Instead I want to talk about a ruined labor day weekend.
You see, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips has ordered that an independent expert, Dr. Bruce Seidner, evaluate Holton. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Judge Phillips has ordered that Seidner present his findings at a hearing on Tuesday September 5th. Still not too bad right? Wrong! Because guess when Dr. Seidner will have completed his evaluation. Friday September 1st!
That’s right, the federal defenders (and the state counsel for that matter) will have only Labor Day weekend to examine Dr. Seidner’s evaluation, have it examined by their own experts to ensure that the conclusions are valid, and prepare arguments for a hearing on the 5th with a man’s life hanging in the balance.
With 4 in 5 death row inmates suffering from some form of mental illness, our legal system needs to take the issue of competency seriously. The competency standards in our current laws have barely changed in a century, while our understanding of mental illness has advanced considerably in the same time. When we add to this the fact that our legal system still refuses to take challenges, even under the ridiculous current threshold seriously (by, say, giving appellate attorneys only a holiday weekend to respond to an evaluation) we target the mentally ill for execution. Daryl Holton’s case is just the latest sad example of a tragic system at work.
As most of you now know, Randy Tatel has resigned from TCASK as of August 17th. The TCASK board has named Reverend Stacy Rector, long-time TCASK activist, organizer, and board member, to a one year term as TCASK’s interim Executive Director.
Here is what Stacy has to say to the TCASK community:
Author Frederick Buechner, in describing his understanding of “vocation,” says that “vocation is that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” As a Presbyterian pastor serving Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for the past nine years, I have known the deep gladness that comes from serving God and passionately sharing one’s gifts and convictions in ways that encourage, challenge and foster life in a community. In my tenure as a parish minister, I have felt a deep sense of calling to create opportunities for church members to engage with the world around them—sharing breakfast and worship with the homeless; developing a program for young people to serve the city of Nashville through a young adult volunteer program; providing teen-age youth with service experiences all over the country and within their own communities.
Another important aspect of my ministry has been my on-going participation in TCASK. For almost nine years now, I have been actively involved in the work of TCASK—serving as a board member for the past three years, speaking to church groups all over the state, planning worship services on the eve of executions, speaking to legislators concerning the death penalty, giving interviews to various media outlets, attending NCADP conferences, and visiting on death row. As our state continues to carry out and plan more executions, my sense of vocation has experienced a shift, leading me to embrace the opportunity to serve as the Interim Executive Director of TCASK. In this role, I believe that my gifts and passion can now best serve the deep need of our state to end the cruel and dehumanizing use of the death penalty.
I am deeply grateful to Randy Tatel, to the board, and to the many people who have worked tirelessly on this issue through the years, building and supporting this organization. My sincere hope is that together we can continue to grow and mature into an organization whose roots are deep and whose reach is wide. The death penalty is a failed public policy, which is antithetical to our faith traditions and our humanity, and with your help, I am dedicated and determined to work for its end.
As a minister, I hope to bring an understanding of Scripture, theology, as well as the concerns of many people in the pews when addressing the issue of the death penalty. Sadly, many Christians see no conflict between their support of the death penalty and the Christian faith. This painful reality is a sad reflection of the power of fear in our lives and the deep need of our communities to understand that the use of the death penalty does not make us safer. As members of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, our vocation is to offer an alternative to the use of violence in our society by witnessing with our words and our actions to the power of nonviolence and its ability to heal and reconcile.
As the Interim Executive Director of TCASK, I hope to be a unifying, healing force for the organization as we strengthen our connections to one another across the state; as we learn from those whose commitment and work in the past has brought us this far; as we support those who are on death row and their families; as we reach out to the legal community to work together on the same team; and as together, we empower each other to be the change that we want to see. I look forward to serving with you as I begin work on October 16th. Thank you for your commitment and your support.
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I will miss Randy (my muffin) and all that he brought to TCASK, but I am thrilled to be working with someone as committed, talented, and qualified as Stacy as we move towards abolition.
There’s a lot going on in the TCASK office today, but, rather than bore people with a lot details right now (I’ll do that later), I wanted to send y’all over to the NCADP blog to read an essay by Sean O’Brien, a capital defense attorney based in Missouri. It’s one of the kind of testimonials that reminds me why I do this work. So check it out and get your dose of inspiration for the week.
So, here I am, live from Knoxville, thanks to the kind hospitality of TCASK board member Katie Blackburn and her parents. I spent yesterday evening in Chattanooga and then drove to Knoxville where I have meeting with the bishop, Daryl Holton’s defense attorney, and the Knoxville chapter of TCASK as well as a talk to give at St. John Neumann church.
But that’s not what I came here to tell you about. I came to talk to folks that we’ve been working with about the elections and what we are going to do in regards to our new elected officials. You see, new legislators are crucial for us, and we’re going to have some new ones, particularly here in East Tennessee. It seems that almost the whole legislative contingent from Chattanooga is going to be new, with two of the three Senate seats open and no incumbent running. So how do we capitalize on these elections?
To answer that question, we have the TCASK legislative committee. This committee will be focused on our legislative efforts and so we need folks from all around the state to be involved.
Well, when a new legislator is elected, the first thing that they’ll want to hear from is their constituents. There are two months between their election and the first time that they show up in Nashville. Which makes that prime season for us to bring our very serious concerns regarding the death penalty to their attention. And that’s where you come in!
I’m here recruiting members from each of our East Tennessee chapters to serve on the legislative committee. No travel is required, because this is all work to do in your own community. All we’ll ask for is once every moth to six weeks, we’ll have a conference call to work out strategy and coordinate our efforts. Then members work in their own communities setting up legislative visits and getting the word out to our state representatives that the death penalty is a broken system and a failed public policy!
Now when I go and talk to those legislators, they may or may not listen. But they will absolutely listen to their constituents, since you are the ones that give them their jobs. So give us a call in the office and offer to serve on the legislative committee. We need legislators’ constituents making contact with them where they live, and the staff simply can’t do that; only you can.
What do you do if you’re a small non-profits organization with a tiny staff, fighting an uphill battle against an immoral and unjust public policy and you face a budget shortfall?
Well, the tiny and overworked staff could stretch itself even more thinly and focus its efforts on fundraising, making calls and holding events, sending out grant proposal after grant proposal, but then we aren’t able to do the actual work of the organization. Traveling around and meeting folks, starting conversations about the death penalty, and doing the organizing that is going to bring about an end to the death penalty.
So what does TCASK do? Well, TCASK is not just the staff. TCASK is the members, all of you out there that get our email alerts and our newsletter, contribute money, write to your state legislators, show up for vigils, lobby days, and NWFA events, and bring your friends and neighbors into the movement. And TCASK is the Board of Directors, the people responsible for TCASK’s mission.
On Saturday, the board stepped up big time into its role as fundraisers. The board met and each member committed to a number of vital tasks to place TCASK on sound financial footing. A lot of these tasks are things that any board can do, so I wanted to share some of them:
One thing a lot of donors ask is, what percent of your board contribute to the organization. On Saturday our board committed to making the answer, in TCASK’s case, 100%.
The board can be an extremely useful tool in building and maintaining relationships with large donors and the members of the organization. TCASK’s board, as a first step in this regard, will write personal thank you letters to donors to express our appreciation for their support.
And finally, boards raise money. Some organizations have a “give or get” policy for their boards – board members must giver or get x dollars a year. We don’t have such a policy at TCASK, especially because part of our work is reaching out to students and disadvantaged communities and we don’t want to make board leadership out of reach for those folks, but at the meeting, each board member did commit to organizing at least one (and sometimes as many as 3) fundraising events for TCASK is the coming three months. These events include house parties, poker nights, collections, yard sales, bake sales, popcorn and politics nights, poetry readings, and benefit concerts.
Now there are a couple of points I’d like to stress here.
- These events are fun – fundraising doesn’t have to be a big scary ordeal. Parties, concerts, and poker nights are a fun time for folks.
- These events are small and manageable – We don’t have to make $10,000 in a night. Small events bringing in $250, $500, or $1000 all start to add up. We expect that from our individual board events, we will raise around $7,000 in the next three months, and that aint chump change.
- These events do not involve the staff – So we can still work on some of our bigger events, including speaking events for Juan Melendez and Bud Welch as well as non-board member events and donor cultivation.
So think about getting your board involved (if they’re not already) because almost anyone can hold a yard sale or poker night. Lots of college students know local bands to approach for a benefit concert. Everyday folks have churches that might be able to take up a second collection. And as the board gets used to the idea of fundraising, their skills will grow and we may be able to move from events that raise $250 to events that raise $1000. But, when it comes to money, every little bit counts. To put it into perspective, the $7000 that these small events should raise will pay TCASK’s rent for a year and almost 3 months of my salary.
Yep, the board is ready to show me da money!
As we’ve already mentioned on this blog, there is a current push, sponsored by the NRA and other groups, in Wisconsin to pass a referendum calling for the return of the death penalty in a state which has not had it on the books since the 1850s. Obviously, this threatens to break the momentum of victory after victory (moratoria in Illinois and New Jersey, abolition in New York, and the exclusion of the mentally retarded and juveniles) which the abolition movement has enjoyed over the last five or six years.
No Death Penalty for Wisconsin now has its website up and running. Check it out: www.nodeathpenaltywi.org
We try to stay pretty sharp on current events here in the TCASK office. We read the news, talk to people across the state, make contacts, send emails, and basically just try to figure out as much as we can about decision-makers and influential citizens in Tennessee. So when we saw that the National Convention of State Legislators was being held here in Nashville, our ears perked up. When we saw that one panel at the conference was entitled “Capturing DNA’s Crime Potential,” we started to scent a lead, and when we learned that State Senator Ron Ramsey, the majority leader, was one of the featured speakers on that panel, we were dead on the track.
Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, is the current majority leader and might be the Lieutenant Governor by January, so clearly, getting a sense of his position and understanding of problems surrounding wrongful convictions could be extremely helpful for us. And I have to say that I’d like to commend Senator Ramsey on his clear understanding of the need for DNA testing. The Senator mentioned, several times, that “DNA also proves people’s innocence” and mentioned that discovering that evidence is a “step in the right direction.”
We entrust public officials with sometimes life and death decisions, so when they make decisions, we want them to have the best information available. Clearly Senator Ramsey is aware that DNA evidence, even of crimes long thought to have been solved, can prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted. In fact, Senator Ramsey’s district borders the district in which Paul house was convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey in 1985. We now have DNA evidence which points to House’s innocence, but he still sits on death row. Why? Maybe because enough legislators are not as informed on the issues as Senator Ramsey.
So if you reside in Senate district number two, write to Senator Ramsey and thank him for his concern for the wrongfully convicted, but also remind him that, while DNA evidence is a wonderful tool, it is not always available; of the 124 death row exonerations, only 13 have been due to DNA evidence. Which is why we need a full moratorium on executions to ensure that we eliminate any chance of executing an innocent person.
In Tennessee we spend a lot of time on offense. We fight and fight to end the death penalty, because we are on of 37 states in the U.S. that still employ capital punishment. But there’s a flip side to that coin. There are 13 states that don’t use the death penalty, and sometimes we need to play defense to stop the expansion on the death penalty.
We had to do that here in Tennessee during the last legislative section when we had to defeat a bill to expand the use of our own death penalty (click here and here to read about it). But between now and November, abolitionists and people of conscience in Wisconsin will be fighting back an effort to reinstate the death penalty all together.
Read NCADP’s call for help below:
As you know, NCADP campaigns against capital punishment in all 37 states that still retain death penalty statutes. We bring you monthly execution alerts and urge you to take action to oppose every execution.
Just as important, though, is opposing efforts to reinstate the death penalty wherever and whenever they occur. We therefore are asking you today to take action to help our friends in Wisconsin – a death penalty-free state – during their time of need.
Help Us Say “No” to Bringing Back the Death Penalty in Wisconsin
Pro-death penalty forces are on the move in Wisconsin, a state that hasn’t had the death penalty since 1853. They have succeeded in putting a referendum on the November ballot. Wisconsin’s voters will be asked this fall if the death penalty should be enacted for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence. The referendum question was obviously designed to get a large victory in favor of death. That result would be devastating for Wisconsin, neighboring states and the whole reform and abolitionist movement. Wisconsinites are stunned that this could be happening. We need your help now. The NO Death Penalty Wisconsin campaign is underway, but it is short on time, resources and money. Please helps us by doing all of the following:
1). Make a generous cash donation of $500, $250, $100 or even $50. If you’re ready to donate, click here.
2). Tell your friends, family and colleagues that they can help, by appropriately forwarding this message.
3). Let the NO Death Penalty Wisconsin team know who you know in Wisconsin. If you send us their emails, we will respect their privacy.
We’re working hard so that we will never have to send you an Execution Alert from Wisconsin. Help us today. For more information or to send details about your contacts in Wisconsin and elsewhere, e-mail us at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We need to end the death penalty everywhere. If we eliminate it in some states, while allowing it to return in others, we haven’t made much progress. So please help if you can.
Apparently, according to some people, graduating from college is important. I suppose that there is some merit to this point of view. I mean, in Tennessee, we’re 46th in the country in education, so I guess that we can’t oppose young people going to school. Still, in individual cases, it does seem to be a loss. For example, today is Kate Adcock’s last day in the TCASK office as she returns to finish her degree at Rhodes College. As some of our readers may know, Kate has been working in our office this summer, for neither pay nor course credit, and, honestly, I’m not sure what we would have done without her.
This summer, a major project for TCASK has been planning the Tennessee Student Conference Against the Death Penalty. As a student herself, Kate has taken on the lion’s share of the organizing for the conference. She’s been making phone calls, planning workshops, doing research, and supporting all kinds of work around our efforts. In addition to which she’s been a terrific addition to the atmosphere here in the office (what with two cranky men here all the time).
Last night, the working group of students who have been working on the conference, joined by TCASK Executive Director Randy Tatel and a number of Kate’s friends and family, joined her for a farewell dinner to express our thanks and appreciation for all that Kate has done.
So, while we are sure that Kate is going to do terrific things at Rhodes (she’ll still be working as a TCASK volunteer), and that she will go on to do unbelievable things after she graduates, we will certainly miss her in here in the office.
For us, it has been a learning summer. Primarily we’ve learned just how useful meaningful volunteers and interns can be. I’m suggesting that every group look hard into developing internship opportunities for college and high school students in their organizations. I know that we will, especially with all of the colleges in Nashville. So if you are in any college in Tennessee, particularly in the Nashville area, think about interning with TCASK in the coming year, perhaps in the Spring semester. In the meantime, all our best wishes and thanks go out to Kate Adcock, as she finishes up an incredibly productive summer here with TCASK.