Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

OLD NEWS

So, I'm a little behind the times, because the NCADP conference happened over a week ago now, but I wanted to share a little more about it, particularly some fun pictures of the 10 PEOPLE from the Tennessee abolition community (one of the highest state contingents at the conference! So here we go:

One of the nice parts of the conference for me was getting to meet other Jesuit Volunteers, to my right is Martin Caver ( a JV working with People of Faith against the Death Penalty based in North Carolina) Justin (to my left) is an Episcopal volunteer, but we won't hold it against him : ). He's with PFADP as well. We met a guy who gives ghost tours and explored a "haunted hotel" in our down time before the conference got started. We didn't find any ghosts, but we did get some mints and squishy baseballs. Virginia also has a brethren volunteer. I think the abolition movement is starting to get with the program and get us religious volunteers. You get a full time staffer for about a third or a quarter of what one would regularly cost.

One of the highlights of the conference was a march to the Texas Governor's mansion to demand an end to capital punishment in a state that is basically the capital of our system of death (Texas has executed 351 people since 1982, more than a third of all executions in America). I'm proud to say that TCASK members played a part in the March, and I'm even prouder to see that TCASK members were out in front on the issue of mental illness. The facts surrounding executing the mentally ill are pretty disturbing. 25% of inmates on America's death rows suffer from severe mental illness. In Tennessee, we are facing a hard execution date for Gregory Thompson, a severely mentally ill man, who has been awaiting death for twenty years for a crime that he committed during a schizophrenic hallucination. More and more people are coming to realize that our society, instead of treating the mentally ill, is increasing turning to incarceration. Above you can see TCASK members Ginger Eades, Stacy Rector, and Amy Staples on the steps of the Governor's mansion.

Of course it wasn't all fun and protesting! There were plenty of serious workshops, plenary sessions and informational literature. Maybe just as important were the opportunities to meet, network, and learn from other people doing this work around the country. Below you see a serious work of my building strategic relationships with Equal Justice USA.


It was a great conference. It resulted in this blog, 10 Tennesseans coming away inspired, and one happy Jesuit Volunteer. Onward to Abolition!
Comments :
Thanks for the helpful link to the Gregory Thompson petition. Believe it or not, I hadn't yet signed it! I can't believe that Tennessee really intends to end its five year no-execution streak by killing a man who thinks he's a Klingon! Let's hope (and work so) that rationality will prevail and prevent this execution.
 
I couldn't agree more. The fact that the state feels it necessary to kill at all is fairly abhorrent to me, but the fact that we've seen fit to kill a man so clearly ill is beyond disturbing. It also brings to the fore the extreme problems with th legal definitions of competency. To be competent one must only (1) know that they are going to be executed, and (2) know why. Greg Thompson knows that he's going to be executed but simultaneously believes that he can survive electrocution because when he touches his tv he gets shocked. He knows that he murdered Brenda Lane, but he simultaneously believes that she is alive and working at Riverbend Correctional Facility where he is held. If this doesn't call us to re-examine our definition of "competency" I don't know what will. Thanks for signing the petition! I hope more people do so.
 
I'm a bit late in adding a comment for this blog post, but I still remember the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty annual Conference as though it happened yesterday; it was such a powerful experience that memories of it are not as evanescent as ripples in water but fresh in the crevices of my mind and has had a lasting effect.

As I marched with over a hundred people to the Governor's mansion downtown to protest the death penalty, I noticed the irony of us being escorted by the Austin police. I held up my sign, "I oppose the Death Penalty" as high as my arms would reach, in the faces of the motorcycle police, in the direction of on-coming traffic and towards the rubber-neckers standing on the street corners.

I held my sign with an unfledging hope that the death penalty will one day be abolished, while hundereds of fellow abolitionists did the same, in front of and behind me. I was brought to tears at one point, overcome with emotion of the fact that one day, my friend on Death Row in Tennessee may be executed, not to mention the hundreds of others whose lives will one day come to an end by the hands of the State in which they live.

The march turned an otherwise insipid Saturday, where I would normally be back in the 'boro eating cornflakes, to one where I was deep in the heart of Texas, a.k.a. 'the capital of capital punishment' doing the single most important thing I think I have ever done in my life: taking a public stand against such a terrible abberation along side many other supporters of ending the Death Penalty. The last thing I shouted before I left the outside of the Governor's mansion, which we had wrapped in yellow Crime Scene tape, was "Governor Perry, you can't hide, we charge you with homicide!"

I want to thank the Jesuit Volunteer for doing such an outstanding job during the march by belting out chants of protest while the rest of us chimed in contemporaneously with his passionate shouts for justice. Each TCASK affiliate who attended the protest was instrumental in making the collective cry against the execution of mentally ill death row inmates heard loud and clear.
 
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