Monday, January 30, 2006
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!
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
Friday, January 27, 2006
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.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
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,
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
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.
Monday, January 23, 2006
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.
Friday, January 20, 2006
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
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.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
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...
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Actually, it was two pretty good times, the flip sides of the coin of organizing. It was the driving the length of the state in between the two that was a little less than scintillating.
On Monday evening I was in Chattanooga to facilitate the Chattanooga TCASK meeting, and yesterday I was in Memphis to speak at a wonderful church and begin the process of reactivating Memphis. It's been a busy couple of days, but all the long driving has certainly given me a chance to reflect on the different sides of the organizing work that we do.
Last night's talk certainly has more glamour. I was invited and fed and got to stand up in front of about 50 people and discourse on the problems in the capital punishment system, the inhumanity of executions, the Gospel's call to forgiveness, and the need for a moratorium. It was a great audience, ranging in age from about 13 to probably 60 or 70. I was asked a lot of really insightful questions, and just about everyone signed moratorium petitions. Plenty of people asked how they could become more involved. I got lots of hand shakes and thanks afterwards (not to mention offers to stay the night so I wouldn't have to drive all the way back to Nashville). We even got one spontaneous $100 donation to TCASK!
On Monday night, on the other hand, I sat in the Chattanooga TCASK meeting with 8 people in it. I didn't give any big speeches (actually maybe you should check with the others who attended on this, since I do tend to run on). There was nothing so "glamorous" in the setting. But, to tell you the truth, the 8 person meeting may have been even more productive. True, we didn't get 40 new moratorium resolutions or $100, but we did get a moratorium resolution team formed to go out and actually canvas small businesses to pass moratorium resolutions. We did make concrete plans for our annual write-a-thons on March 1st (International Abolition Day). We did set up a lobby training date, so we can build the skills of the membership in Chattanooga so we can actually move legislators toward support of abolition. We set up some meetings with clergy members to oppose the execution of the mentally ill.
They're little steps taken individually, but taken together, they form an action plan. It means that when I go and speak at a church in Chattanooga, we'll have a number of actions that people can immediately plug into and get involved. It means that we have a plan of action. And I think that it's all about those little actions. Because as we link them together we get a movement.
I love the bigger speaking engagements. they are terrific, and absolutely necessary to expand our base and get our message out. but without our smaller organizational meetings and action plans, they don't get us anywhere. So really (with my apologies to Dickens) it was the best of times, it was the other best of times. Enjoy it all!
Monday, January 09, 2006
In fact Tennessee is a very rural state. There is an awful lot of farm land out there. And we, as abolitionists, need to speak to all of it (the Lieutenant Governor's district is a number of rural counties out in West Tennessee) which brings me to. . . . gettin' folksy!
I was just on the phone to a farmer I've been speaking to in one rural area and found myself using euphemisms like "ya can't put tooth paste back in the tube" and "we won't throw into the deep end without swimming lessons." My silly sounding speech notwithstanding, it is the job of any good organizer to speak the language of the people we're trying to organize. This means that we need to master the language of the mental illness community when we talk to NAMI chapters, and we have to be able to quote the Bible when we talk to religious groups. So we need to be a little bit country sometimes. Hmmmm, maybe I should learn how to drive a tractor. . .
Friday, January 06, 2006
Stays of executions are great. This most recent one resulted in a spontaneous Alex dance party around the office (be careful if you ever have "I Will Survive" playing when I'm around). However, they do leave us with a little organizer's dilemma. We've been gearing up to deal with this execution all week. On Monday, I'm going to one of our chapters to talk about the case. We're trying to bring a lot of people into the meeting to reinvigorate the chapter. What to do now? Invitations and email have been sent out. Calls have been made. A car has even been rented. And we need to have the meeting, because we need to get that city activated. So where do we go from here?
That's the problem with organizing around executions. They either happen, and people feel like they are failures and drift away, or they don't and people feel successful and they drop away. Or all of a sudden you don't have anything to organize around. It's tough. But with execution dates approaching, no abolition organization can afford to avoid it.
So what do we do with this meeting? We're going to have it, because we've set it up and because we may be able to get people there. What do I talk about? How about the fact that a man so mentally ill came this close to execution and could still be executed? Greg Thompson's case still demonstrates the ridiculously narrow parameters by which our legal system defines competence. And then what we need to do to ensure that it never happens again. So on Monday I'll be on the road (to abolition) to talk about why we need to keep working, even though Greg Thompson's life isn't in imminent danger (imminent of course being a relative term). There are still 103 people on Tennessee's death row, and I certainly don't want to have to gear up for 103 executions.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
but i kept putting off this most important task ... didn't want to face it ... for seven weeks it went on the randy-to-do list at our monday morning staff meetings and while everything else got methodically checked off this one didn't ....
the greg thompson pre-execution action timeline .... these things suck ... no better way to say it ... (see yesterday's blog) - this one looked like it was going to happen, pretty much 4000 pages of documented severe mental illness and all...
so tuesday i faced the demon and put together, along with alex, a pretty darn good action plan, alex drafted a couple of letters to the editor, and we began the planning, action by action leading up to a clemency effort and ... 1:00 a.m. february 7th...
and today i spoke with another attorney assigned to his case, we shared the action plan with the legal team, and awaited a response...
and about 3 p.m. we got one ... it said, "Judge Edgar granted a stay of execution. We will get past February 7th..."
that's right - a STAY OF F___KING EXECUTION BABY!
the tennessee (legal team) magic continues ---
peace out, there's a bottle of knob creek with my name on it somewhere...
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Thompson is a severely mentally ill man who has been on Tennessee's death row for 21 years. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and bi-polar disorder. He experiences hallucinations, hears voices, and holds delusional beliefs such his being a Klingon or that he can survive electrocution because when he touches his TV he gets a shock. Yet the state has still deemed Thompson competent to be executed.
In the office, we've really been getting ourselves into gear to challenge the Thompson execution. Last night at the Nashville TCASK meeting we went over plans to oppose it here in Nashville. On Monday, I'll be traveling to Chattanooga to talk to as many people as possible about Greg's case and get them ready to fight. We're drafting sample letters to the editor and talking points for even more. We're making calls to partner organizations to see how they can be involved. We're planning actions and vigils and phone calls. We're asking people particularly to sign the online Greg Thompson clemency petition.
It's hard to imagine living in Texas, or another high-execution state) and dealing with this on a far more regular basis. The idea that our state is about to murder someone in our names is a revolting and shocking one. My hat is off to those incredible abolitionists who can have the strength to do this month after month.
Randy and I were discussing how to we face the execution. We both admit that the outlook is grim, although we hold out hope that we can stop this horrible thing from happening. But how do you deal with the methodical preparation to kill someone? One approach is to assume that it is going to happen. This allows people to steel themselves against it and be prepared. It probably helps prevent burnout and at least a little of the huge emotional crash that could follow an execution. But it can also lead to despondency and depression even before the execution. So we can remain optimistic and believe that something will change, that there will be a stay, a last minute appeal, that the Governor will find mercy and compassion in his heart. But that leaves us open to crashing if this does happen.
I find myself oscillating between the two, and I'm not sure which I like better. I know that we are doing everything that we can, but I fear that this won't be enough. And does that make us somehow personally culpable? Because if it happens, we will always wonder, could we have done more? Was there an argument that we could have made that would have swayed more people? If I'd made just a few more phone calls to speeches, would things have turned out differently?
Of course, on some level, we're all culpable, as residents of a state that executes people. It is our government and our representatives that allow the policy to continue, but individuals can only do so much. In the end, I suppose we'll brace for the worst but hope for the best. We'll do all that we can and hope that that is enough to let us sleep at night. I don't know that it will, but if we don't have hope, we have nothing.
Monday, January 02, 2006
The Supreme Court has not decided an innocence claim in a number of years, and next Wednesday's decision will offer a chance for the court to state whether or not the habeas process is open to those whoa re innocent or simply to correct procedural errors. The L.A. Times ran a great story on the House case that has more details and can be viewed at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-deathcase2jan02,1,1468579.story?coll=la-headlines-nation
It's worth a look.