Archive for October, 2006
Last weekend marked the end of the 2006 Journey of Hope in Virginia. The Journey which began in Indiana in 1993, and has been growing ever since, is a group of murder victims’ family members, now joined by family members of the executed, family members of death row inmates, and death row exonerees. These people carry the message that forgiveness and healing are better for victims than the hatred and vengeance embodied in the death penalty.
I had the honor to travel with the Journey for five days this year and all I can say is that it was an honor and an inspiration. The power of personal stories of people who have undergone the most painful experiences that I can imagine and still come out as loving, forgiving, and beautiful people has an incredible power. These are the stories with the capability to truly change the hearts and minds of America.
Please read about this year’s journey here.
While we in Tennessee celebrated the stay of execution for Donnie Johnson, scheduled to die on October 24th, Texas carried out an execution the next day. TCASK Board Member, Tim McDonald had developed a personal friendship with Greg Summers and shared the following reflection. My thoughts and prayers are with Tim, Greg, and all victims of violence:
“I Appreciate it and I Appreciate You”
Greg Summers – Friend, Artist, Father, Child of God
The state of Texas knew Greg Summers only as #999010; the state of Texas knew Greg Summers as an “offender” who was expendable in the political process that serves as a poor excuse for a justice system; the state of Texas knew Greg Summers as a conviction of circumstantial evidence. The state of Texas thus killed Greg Summers on October 25, 2006 because its poor and inadequate judgment allowed it to do so.
But I knew Greg Summers as a friend who does what all friends do – asked for help, offered help, shared fears and joys, asked for and offered prayers, laughed and cried. I knew Greg Summers as an artist whose work was shared with those who appreciated it. I knew Greg Summers as a man who longed to see the children who had long ago left him. I knew Greg Summers as a human being created in the Image of God and as a Child of God for whom Christ gave His Life.
Greg and I exchanged letters for over 4 years and shared visits for 3 years. He always ended his letters with the same closing – “I appreciate it and I appreciate you.” Greg’s appreciation was always given to his friends. He told his friends about his parents whom he loved and the ones for whose deaths Texas made him responsible, guilty or not. Greg was not a perfect human being, as none of us are, but I do not believe he was a killer.
So, from Maartje, Kees, Ivo, Caterina, Ria & Ton, Walter, Joy, Madelene, Connie, and myself, to Greg – We appreciate it and we appreciate you, our friend. Enjoy the peace you have found and until we meet again may God hold you in the Palm of His Hand.
The TCASK staff is finally in the office! I know, I know, this shouldn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but, as you know, Stacy Rector began her service as TCASK’s Executive Director two weeks ago on the 16th. However, I have been on the road (Virginia, Memphis, McKenzie, Memphis again, Jackson, Lexington, back to Virginia) for the past two weeks, and, therefore, haven’t been here at my desk. So today, with the heady experience of the NCADP Conference behind us, we’re back in the office, both of us, really for the first time. It’s very exciting.
But there’s also an awful lot to figure out. Like, “Hey, whose job is it to take out the garbage?”
“Which staff person should be making sure that our newsletter gets out on time?”
If the bills don’t get paid, who should be shamed and shunned in punishment?”
And all of those other serious questions. We need to figure out what, as a tiny staff, we can do, and who can best do it (as the underling, taking out the garbage is clearly my responsibility, by the way). And we need to plan out our work over the next weeks and months as we head for the legislative session in which we will pass the moratorium and study bill.
In fighting the death penalty, and in a great deal of other social justice work, there are always many many things that we could do and that we want to do. And there are always to few people and too little money to do it. So we need to be able to prioritize and figure out what we can reasonably expect to accomplish and then buckle down and git ‘er done, and that is what today is all about.
With a staggering fourth quarter comeback, Bethel College won their homecoming game on Saturday, defeating Shorter College 35-21. And I’m sure it was an exciting game! And while I’m positive that Bethel did unleash a devastating blitz attack, I was really talking about my trip to the college today and tomorrow morning.
Today, I’m in the process of a five-class day (with a meeting with a local minister and a school administrator squeezed in) and tomorrow morning I will be preaching at the all school chapel service. What does this mean? By the end of a day and a half of work, I will have spoken to roughly 500 students on a campus of 1000 or so students. And I get to talk about the death penalty from an array of perspectives, religious, sociological, legal, all depending on the audience.
So how does this happen? How do we git ‘er done on a college campus like this?
Well it all starts with a good student organizer, in this case, Allen McQueen (co-chair of the TCASK Student Caucus). Allen’s a senior a Bethel and has built up a lot of relationships with professors here. Which means that when he asks them if I can speak, they say yes. Then he’s also gotten to know the chaplain, who asked me, last year, if I would come back in the fall and preach. All that leaves us with dozens, maybe 100 Bethel students to contact, all after a one day swing. Last year, Bethel brought us six participants in Justice Day on the Hill, and hopefully this year, they can bring even more. Bethel is the core of our Carroll County organizing push, and all because one dedicated student organizer asked a few professors to take a day off and let me speak to their classes! If we can do it here, we can do it at your college too.
Also, a quick shout out to Kate Adcock, a student at Rhodes College. Kate, who interned in the TCASK office this summer, got me an invitation to speak to the Rhodes Catholic Student Association on Sunday night, and I had a great time. So thank you, to Allen and Kate. And start thinking about bringing a TCASK blitz to your campus as well!
Yesterday, Donnie Johnson received a stay of execution from the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue was the fact that Johnson had another issue pending before the Sixth Circuit and it would probably be better to resolve that before he was executed.
Today, TCASK has learned that the state has chosen not to appeal this decision by the court, and, therefore, Johnson will not be executed on Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning. This is a particular relief since Johnson’s conviction is so seriously flawed. There are questions about his guilt, issues of prosecutorial misconduct, perjured testimony, and inadequate representation by counsel. All in all, the case demonstrates once again just how broken Tennessee’s capital punishment system is. But, at least for now, the broken system will not claim another life.
Have a terrific weekend!
I am back (for about 18 hours anyway) and it’s been extremely gratifying to have had 3 whole people call or email me asking why there hasn’t been any new posting to this blog in the last couple days. It’s nice to know that at least a few folks are reading!
But I have been very truly on the road to abolition, and there is simply so much to say. I’ve spent this week traveling around Virginia with the Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing. For those who don’t know, the Journey is a group of murder victim’s family members, death row family members, family members of the executed, and exonerated former death row inmates, who spend 17 days each year traveling around a given state and spreading the message of forgiveness over revenge, justice and fairness over injustice, and peace over violence. As an activist, my job was to introduce the aprticipants and to put their stories into the broader context of the inherent flaws in the death penalty.
For instance, on thursday night, I spoke with Shujaa Graham, a death row exoneree. Shujaa’s story was incredible and moving for the hole audience, and there wasn’t much that I had to say to convince people about the injustice. I just needed to draw the larger picture, so I got to get up and say, “I want to tell you all that Shujaa’s story and situation are unique. I want to tell you that this was an aberration. But I can’t, because it happens all the time.”
We travelled from Fairfax, to Roanoke, then Abingdon, then Richmond in the few days that I was with the Journey, with side trips to several other cities along the way. I’m sure that it will take many more days for me to process all of the emotion that I felt on this Journey. I know that, driving away yesterday, I felt like crying. I didn’t want to leave, even though I knew that I had to return to Tennessee to get to Memphis for the weekend and then McKenzie, Memphis, Jackson, and Lexington Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The good news is that I will see most of the Journey folks again at the NCADP Conference at the end of next week. I can’t wait.
Read mroe about the Journey here.
The NCADP Blog has a beautiful story posted regarding the violence we’ve recently seen in our schools across the country and our responses to violence, particularly that of the Amish community recovering from its own horrific event. As I reflected on Bud Welch’s story and on our continued, frantic pace of execution dates, this piece seemed ever more relevant. We all do have a choice, will we repay evil with evil or with good.
Read about the Amish choice here.
That’s what Bud Welch said, speaking about his meeting with Timothy McVeigh’s father at the Cathedral of the Incarnation here in Nashville last night. Bud said that, in watching an interview with Bill McVeigh on tv, he, in a brief moment, recognized his own pain in Bill’s eyes, the pain of losing a child.
Bud’s entire story is a moving one. He’s a father who says that he is blessed in getting to tell millions of people about his daughter, Julie Marie, who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. He’s a father bragging on his daughter, who, by all accounts, was a wonderful young woman, a remarkably intelligent person who spoke 5 languages and won a scholarship to study abroad in Spain and attend Marquette University, a devoted Catholic, a loving daughter. And she was loved. You can see it in every word that Bud speaks when he talks about her.
But I was particularly moved, after hearing this father talk about his love for his daughter, to hear him talk about Bill McVeigh. Bud says that Bill will never be able to say any of the good things that he knows about Tim in public. He’ll never be able to tell the cute stories about his little child that Bud gets to tell the world. He can’t stop loving his son, but he can’t say that out loud, and that pain could be a consuming one.
So often, people tell me that if I lost I loved one, I’d feel differently about the death penalty. So often I hear that if I lost someone, I wouldn’t care about the murderer’s family. I don’t know if that’s true or not for me, but I know that it isn’t true for Bud. And that truth is an inspiration.
You can still hear Bud speak at MTSU this morning at the KUC theatre at 9:10 and 10:20.
At 7:00 pm Bud will speak at UT Chattanooga
Thursday at 12:30 he will speak to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in Sewanee.
Now I know, sitting somewhere in Tennessee, we all feel lonely – like we’re the only person out there who opposes the death penalty. But today is World Day Against the Death Penalty! And it’s a good time to remember that we are not alone. In fact, in the industrialized world, we are in the majority by far. Let’s remember, the U.S. is the only Western democracy that uses the death penalty. If we were a European country, we would not be allowed to join the European Union because of our country’s violations of human rights (aka our use of the death penalty).
When you check out Amnesty International’s World Day Against the Death Penalty page, you’ll see actions listed for five countries – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and us. Now, when talking about any subject regarding human rights, I’m not sure that is the exclusive list that we should want to be a part of.
Of course, a lot of people, my favorite Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia included, will say that other countries don’t get to write America’s laws. People will say that we should be leading internationally, not following a worldwide opinion poll. But I wonder how legitimate our calls for respect for human rights around the world sound to people in England or Germany where they consider the use of the death penalty a human rights violation.
And be sure to catch Bud Welch speaking in Tennessee this week. His schedule in the post below.
Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahome City bombing is 1995 and who later befriended Timothy McVeigh’s father and opposed McVeigh’s execution, will be arriving in Tennessee this afternoon. Bud’s story is an inspiration, a story of the power of forgiveness over revenge and love over hate. If anyone has the opportunity to hear him speak, take advantage of it. Bud’s Tennessee schedule includes:
Trinity United Methodist Church in Rutherford County at 7:00pm Monday, October 9th
The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville at 7:00 pm Tuesday, October 10th
KUC Theatre at MTSU at 9:10 and 10:20 am Wednesday, October 11th
Vanderbilt Divinity School at 12:30 pm Wednesday, October 11th
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at 7:00 pm Wednesday, October 11th
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship in Sewanee at 12:30 Thursday, October 12th
We hope to see you all at one of these events!