Thursday, January 31, 2008
When I talk to people about what I do for TCASK, often time people inquire about my involvement with the Church or if I am part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps program. I do have involvement with a Church, but that wasn't the reason I was brought onto TCASK. I have been working now for TCASK for over 7 months and while I have done many talks in a variety of settings, I have never led a Biblical talk/discussion solo. So as you may guess, I was definitely nervous. Stacy assured me that we would have time to prepare and that if I was humble about my experience and spoke slowly, the talk would go swimmingly.
I left Nashville just after 2:00 p.m. and arrived at Northside Presbyterian at 6:00 (you lose an hour traveling to Cleveland). We had a scrumptious supper of hot dogs, chili, baked beans, chips, cole slaw, and pie. Following dinner, I was on. Any apprehension I had was quickly dissolved as I saw the smiling faces looking back at me. It was exciting to speak to these folks on the death penalty on a level that they placed the highest regard. I was elated. Afterwards, I asked those present to sign up for the TCASK mailing list and to write a letter to Senator Dewayne Bunch. The purpose behind the letters was to let Sen. Bunch know that there were folks amongst his constituency that were against the death penalty and were in support of the work that he is doing as a member of the study committee. Almost everyone there signed up for our mailing list and I left with four hand written letters to the Senator.
The story that epitomizes how we would like folks to think about the death penalty in the Biblical sense comes from John 8: 2-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. As a mob is preparing to stone this woman to death, which they had every right to do as law abiding citizens, Jesus intervenes. He addressed the crowd, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." The death penalty isn't about those that are on death row and the terrible sins they have committed. Instead, it is about who we are, as people of faith, and how we respond faithfully in very painful situations.
The talk was a success and I now feel confident to do this again. Working for TCASK has presented me with many challenges and put me into situations of maximum uncomfort--I couldn't ask for a more amazing experience right out of my undergraduate education.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Rev. Stacy Rector (TCASK Executive Director) kicked off the rally with a stirring rendition of the events that have transpired around Paul House's case. She reminded us that this case has already seen the halls of the 6th circuit court of appeals three times already. She then asked, kindly, to the Attorney General that we, as the state of Tennessee, admit that this time we were wrong. She wasn't implicating the Attorney General for actions that took place decades ago, she was instead asking him to do the right thing now. There's shouldn't be winners and losers declared in this arena, only the resounding voice of justice. On an unrelated note, Peter Irons wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Tennessean yesterday. He was a bit tougher on the AG, read it HERE.
Following Rev. Rector and Rev. Dixon was Rep. Mike Turner (Old Hickory). I have not been in Tennessee for long, nor have I had the chance to interact with a substantial amount of Tennessee's state legislators. However, Rep. Turner is someone I admire deeply. He might be a politician, but he isn't political. He does what he knows is right and does not cease until the mission is accomplished. These are rare traits amongst politicians, or anyone for that matter. Rep. Turner appeared solemn as he delivered his concise remarks. It was as if he was in disbelief that he had to speak about Paul's continued incarceration especially after receiving "the Christmas gift" that was Judge Mattice's ruling. I was waiting for Rep. Turner to lay one into General Cooper and to be critical of this action. Instead, Rep. Turner like Rev. Rector employed the grace and understanding that it takes in situations like this. He stated, "I know Bob Cooper and he is a good man. This wasn't a decision by him, but it was made by those behind him. If Bob wasn't the Attorney General, he'd be down here with us, out in this cold."
No rally is complete without music, and you know TCASK loves its music. We were so fortunate to have three excellent artists there, make that three excellent people. Julie Lee played with Bill Tennyson and they sung a beautiful hymn about Psalm 91.
Psalm 91: 5-10, "You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent."
Julie organized a "Free Paul House" concert in 2006 and continues to support the campaign with her beautiful music and energy. Michael Kelsh was the third artist and he sang a classic union song customized for Tennessee and Paul House. Stacy declared Michael to be the "official TCASK musician." We can always count on Michael to provide us with his soulful voice and skillful guitar playing.
As a grassroots organization it is vital that we have rallies like today's. It builds solidarity and bolsters the conviction of those present because there is no witness like a public one. I want to congratulate all those who came, but also to those who couldn't make it, but have kept Paul, his mother Joyce, and all those mired in injustice in their thoughts. We couldn't do this work without you. Paul won't be freed without you. We won't abolish the death penalty without you.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Free Paul House Rally Tomorrow (Friday)
An Innocent Man on Death Row
- When: Friday, January 25th, Be there by 11:15 a.m.
- Where: In front of the office of the Attorney General (John Sevier Building), 425 5th Ave. N., around 5th and Charlotte
- Who: TCASK with Joyce House (mother of Paul House), Rep. Mike Turner (Nashville) and other TN state legislators, local religious leaders, and musical guest Julie Lee of Old Black Kettle
For more information contact TCASK at (615) 256-3906 or our Field Organizer's mobile phone at (615) 521-9985, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
However, he then states, "just remember that among the strongest proponents of the one- drug protocol are people who are adamantly opposed to the death penalty." Huh? That's odd...I thought that people who are adamantly opposed to the death penalty are just that--opposed to the death penalty, regardless of the way the penalty is carried out. Frankly, there is no "good" way to kill another human being. The fact that the three drug cocktail utilizes a drug outlawed for use on animals and not only might, but has, inflicted horrific torture on those who are being executed is the issue with the three-drug protocol. The reason anyone, for or against the death penalty, wants it changed is so that the state is not torturing its own citizens to death.
I also find it interesting that the Tennessee Department of Corrections committee given the task of making recommendations to the Commissioner and the Governor back in May 2007 originally recommended that the state go to the one-drug protocol. Is the Governor implying that all the TDOC committee members are opposed to the death penalty? Also, the legislative study committee had a lengthy discussion of the lethal injections protocols during one of their session, and pro-death penalty legislators as well as at least one prosecutor spoke in favor of the one drug protocol. Hmmm...I'm confused.
I would hope that the Governor would stop blaming those of us who oppose executions for the current lethal injection issues. Sadly, folks who are supportive of the death penalty brought this issue upon themselves, and the rest of us for that matter. But, if the Governor is looking for good ideas as to how to solve the current lethal injection issue, I have one: abolish the death penalty.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
A member of the ACLU group created a youtube video in response to Natasha's request, allowing for those murder victims' families who testified and who oppose the death penalty to have their voices heard in the public as well. The video is very powerful, and I hope you will check it out.
Monday, January 14, 2008
James points out that the current lethal injection debate is just one detail as we consider the larger questions involved with the death penalty. He raises issues of wrongful convictions, cost, and the increasing numbers of victims' families, law enforcement, and district attorneys who believe that the death penalty is a diversion of tax dollars and an ineffective deterrent.
As I read the article and continue to reflect on the death penalty as a public policy, I wonder again and again why we hang on to it? If it is not a deterrent, costs too much, does not serve victims' families, and is not necessary to protect us, then why? Why?
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Read it HERE!
It begins with..."Sixty-six-year-old Joyce House is in a waiting game, and it's no fun. In fact, "it's hell,'' she says.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
About 10 minutes ago my sister made me aware of this fantastic article from Time Magazine titled "Death Penalty Walking" written by David Von Drehle. I am embarrassed to say that she found it before me, but, she writes for Time Inc. so she has a slight advantage. You can read the article HERE. The article, spurred by the US Supreme Court case, gives a comprehensive review of the problems plaguing this public policy as well as discussion into lethal injection and the importance of Baze v. Rees.
On the method of executions:
"In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn't wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether an execution method makes sense. But the world of capital punishment has never been that sort of place. This weighty moral issue, expressive of some of our society's deeply held values, involves a lot of winging it. In 1990, for instance, a sponge used in the headpiece of Florida's electric chair wore out. There's no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store. Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge, and when Jesse Tafero was strapped in, his head caught fire. Florida officials diagnosed the problem afterward by testing a similar sponge in a toaster."
Does this really surprise anyone? Well, let me rephrase, does this surprise anyone already familiar with how bungled up the death penalty is?
On lethal injection's inception:
"In comparison, lethal injection sounds more scientific--almost therapeutic--but its history is as improvised as that supermarket sponge. In 1977 an Oklahoma lawmaker sketched the protocol on a notepad with the help of a medical examiner. More research has gone into the proper way to brush your teeth."
From what I understand, one of the more compelling reasons that a 3 drug cocktail has been administered for so long is that officials felt it would be odd to use the same procedures on animals as on humans. Animals (sick ones) are fortunate enough to receive a one drug dose which kills them in a humane manner while humans (healthy ones) are given a concoction that was chosen because it was simply divergent than the animal practices.
Fix it or end it:
"The debate almost always comes down to the question of whether to fix it or end it. But these alternatives largely miss the reality. Every attempt to fix the death penalty bogs down in the same ambivalence. We add safeguards one day, then shortcut them the next. One government budget contains millions of dollars for prosecutions, while another department spends more millions to defend against them. Indeed, the very essence of ambiguity is our vain search for a bloodless, odorless, motionless, painless, foolproof mode of killing healthy people. No amount of patching changes the nature of a Rube Goldberg machine."
Reading that above made me think of sitting in on the committee meetings thus far here in Tennessee. Any attempt to fix it is of course a positive act and one that I would welcome, but, it would cost the state millions of dollars and (the article delves into this) open up new venues for death penalty attorneys to appeal their cases. I applaud Tennessee's efforts to study and fix the administration of the death penalty but as always, I will continue to advocate for abolition.
Uniqueness of Baze v. Rees
"There's nothing attractive about the specifics of the death chamber. In the arguments on Jan. 7, the Justices may hear descriptions of bloody surgeries, called cutdowns, performed by EMTs and less trained prison officials as they struggle to insert IV lines into the ruined veins of longtime drug abusers. Without a doctor present, it often falls to prison officials--sometimes watching from a separate room--to determine whether an inmate is unconscious or simply paralyzed as the searingly painful heart-stopping agent potassium chloride takes effect."
I'd like to think we live in a civilized society in the year 2008 but that paragraph conjures up thoughts up methods of torture from the Middle Ages. If we didn't have the death penalty we would not have to waste our time with this case, amending the methods, the appeals, etc. Also, family members of the victims would not receive false promises of retribution and closure that never comes. Instead, they could rest easy knowing from the very beginning that the murderer will be behind bars in terrible conditions for the rest of their natural life. If the death penalty were never an option in the first place, I believe victims would be better served.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Today, the US Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on whether or not the current protocols of lethal injection are in violation of the 8th amendment of the Constitution which bans cruel and unusual punishment. The Justices are not being asked to rule on the constitutionality of the death penalty which was determined constitutional three decades ago. A wave of cases revolving around lethal injection across the United States in lower courts has piqued the attention of the highest court in the land. One of the key rulings was here in Tennessee in which Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the current lethal injection protocols were unconstitutional. However, it was a case in Kentucky, Baez v. Rees, that made its way to Washington D.C. Supporters of the Kentucky petitioners stated that the current method poses an "unnecessary risk of pain and suffering."
The Knoxville Sentinel has an AP article covering the case and also includes a poll asking readers if they believe in capital punishment. Read the article HERE. If you could take one second and visit the above link and vote NO, you can make your voice heard. The article highlights one of the most confusing aspects of this case and the challenges being posed to capital punishment.
"But when the justices return from their holiday break and hear arguments today in a lethal injection case from Kentucky, their questions are unlikely to focus on whether capital punishment or even the method of lethal injection is right or wrong.
The two death row inmates whose challenge is before the court are not asking to be spared execution or death by injection. Their argument, at its most basic, is that there are ways to get the job done relatively pain-free."
The last blog post by Stacy highlighted the confusion that many have, including our own state's legislators. Lethal injection is still a viable method for execution--once the protocols are again deemed constitutional. I believe the hope of the US Supreme Court is to ensure that lethal injection is in fact lethal. I don't think that is much to ask for as a civilized Western nation in the year 2008.
Friday, January 04, 2008
However, according to my reading of the Tennessee code, the state cannot move forward with Reid's execution by another method because Reid would either have to choose electrocution, waiving his right to lethal injection, or the courts would have to rule that lethal injection, as a method of execution, is unconstitutional. What appears to be a point of confusion is that the U.S. Supreme Court is not considering the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution but is instead considering the constitutionality of the particular three-drug protocol currently utilized in the process of lethal injection. These are very different things.
Therefore, the state of Tennessee cannot move to execute Reid according to Tennessee code which asserts that the method of execution in Tennessee shall be lethal injection unless electrocution is chosen by an inmate who has been sentenced for crimes committed before Jan. 1, 1999.
Representative Mumpower, one of the three calling on Governor Bredesen to push for Reid's execution, even goes so far as to call the Governor "the champion" of Paul Dennis Reid and others on death row because the Governor is not pushing for the execution. Such a characterization is not only unfair but simply not based in fact. Sadly, it seems that these legislators, though perhaps believing that they are standing up for Reid's victims, are only encouraging a false notion that the law will allow for his execution by another means when I would argue that it doesn't. I fear that their actions set up these already traumatized families for more disappointment, another reason why the death penalty does no service to victims' families.
Just imagine if Reid had gotten life without parole instead of death. He would be serving his sentence, locked up in his cell more than 20 hours a day, without the constant attention of the media and politicians invoking his name. These families wouldn't have to be continually confronted with the worst tragedy of their lives while they wait for some supposed closure that may never even come. Instead, perhaps they could begin to find some peace.
My heart goes out to those who have suffered such horrific loss at the hands of Paul Reid. However, playing politics with such painful circumstances only compounds the tragedy.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
On December 27th the Tennessean published another great article on the case of Paul House written by Dwight Lewis. It can be found HERE. I did not get the article up sooner because I was visiting my family in Seattle over break. I actually just received a phone call from Paul's mother, Joyce House, asking if I had read it. I then proceeded to complain to her about how sick I was and that I had a nagging cough. I made an appointment today to see a doctor this afternoon. Paul House has advanced multiple sclerosis and is receiving meager prison health care, what a world we live in. Below is a small sample of the article:
"How long of a road must a person travel to freedom when he's innocent of the crime for which he has been condemned to die? Is it 10 years? Is it 20 years? Until he dies in a prison cell under the watchful eyes of the state?"
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
First off, I hope all of you had a wonderful holidays and are excited about 2008--it's going to be a great year! Also, if I had one New Year's wish I would ask that anyone that finds this blog interesting/informative share it with friends and also contribute with comments.
I was shuffling through my emails this morning (about 20 of them relevant and 600 junk) and I came across this fascinating article at salon.com (READ IT HERE) about torture, the 8th amendment, and the upcoming Baez v. Rees case. The blog title "Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?" is a statement made by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as he "stood up for the TV torturer extraordinaire and hero of Fox Broadcasting's "24." Scalia insisted that the fictional spy had "saved hundreds of thousands of lives" using tough interrogation tactics to stop a terrorist from nuking Los Angeles." Jack Bauer is tough as nails and fun to watch but Jack Bauer = fiction.
"The clear implication was that Justice Scalia does not believe in an absolute ban on torture -- at least when it comes to suspected terrorists. That's a popular view these days, particularly among members of the Bush administration, although the hard questions of whether there are any limits on the use of torture have yet to be fully tested in the courts. We may get a somewhat better idea of just how far Scalia and his colleagues would go in tolerating abusive treatment of prisoners -- or what some would call torture -- next week when the Supreme Court considers a case challenging the use of lethal injections in execution."
Personally, I don't believe any form of torture is ever necessary and I believe that the barbarism that is torture is only being justified by acts elicited by our actions as a nation. The article begins with a discussion of torture and terrorism, but the meat of it is focused on lethal injection and its usage for capital punishment. Is lethal injection torture? Does it violate the 8th amendment? These are important questions as the US Supreme Court prepares to rule on Baez v. Reese which is likely to have major implications on how this country doles out capital punishment for years to come.
"Dr. Dennis Geiser, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee, told me that the use of potassium chloride and pancuronium bromide without proper anesthesia would result in an "agonal type of death. "It would be like tying you up to a wall and torturing you. You're wide awake but you can't respond."The three drug cocktail that is currently being used and is now up for question should render death painlessly scientists say. However, this is only if everything goes exactly as planned. "If error rates are that high among trained anesthesiologists and medical professionals whose job is to alleviate suffering, then it's extremely unlikely that the hodgepodge of doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians -- some with little or no training -- employed to kill people will be getting it right often enough to ensure that an execution is not a form of "cruel and unusual" punishment."
"If Justice Scalia and his colleagues have any doubt that inmates may remain conscious during execution, they can also examine a brief from the Anesthesia Awareness Campaign that presents painful-to-read testimony of patients who have undergone surgery in which neuromuscular blocking agents were administered without sufficient anesthesia. Kathleen LaBrie described waking up to "grinding and pushing in my nose" during sinus surgery. "I really thought I was slowly dying and not one person in that room cared. If anyone wants to know what HELL is like this is it." Kelly Haapala, who was conscious during surgery for a hip-socket joint replacement, said, "I felt like they were killing me and I needed to do anything I could to move and let them know I was awake! I still have nightmares that this has happened to me." Diana Todd, who was conscious during a hysterectomy, described it as "the most traumatizing experience of my life. It takes away your basic humanity. That kind of terror is cruel beyond description."
Jack Bauer was saving lives and doing what he felt was the right action with very little time to deliberate. Although I don't agree with his actions or torture in general, it makes for great television. But I think even Jack and probably the majority of CTU can agree that with as calculated as an act as capital punishment it would be logical to ensure that executions are done properly. It is my hope that Baez v. Rees will do that.