Learning Can Change Lives

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

January is my least favorite month of the year. There are so many gray days and more darkness than daylight.  However, January is a month to turn on the lights and expose the evil of human trafficking with the designation as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month” and “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.”  This is an important time for all of us to educate ourselves about human trafficking and what we can do as individuals to end this world-wide epidemic.

We know the statistics are staggering, and never precise.  Polaris estimates that the total number of victims in the United States reaches into the hundreds of thousands; less than 4% of law enforcement agencies across the United States have dedicated human trafficking personnel, and 20 % of law enforcement officers have no form of human trafficking-specific training.  Looking at statistics alone is a discouraging exercise.  What is encouraging are the stories of those who escaped the slavery of human trafficking.

Human trafficking victim Flor Turcio (center) stands with the two Catholic Charities employees she calls family – employment specialist Karen Kanashiro and case manager Rosa Alamo. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

One sad, but encouraging story of survival is that of Flor Turcio, a woman in north Florida who works with survivors of human trafficking.  Flor lived in poverty and a verbally and physically abusive home in a small Central American mountain town.  She fled her home, lived with friends and later worked in a home that provided shelter.  At 17 she met a man who spoke to her of love and groomed her with gifts.  She was trapped by his words of love because she never experienced true affection and caring before.  Soon, Flor was his “sex worker” and was taken to bars and introduced to alcohol.  For years she worked as his slave and became pregnant four times.  Her children were taken away from her and went to the United States.

Flor’s life began to turn around when a man befriended her, contacted the police, and had her trafficker arrested.  She came to the United States, and with the help of the FBI, was reunited with her children.  Despite two attempts on her life, Flor has a new life with the support of Catholic Charities of North Florida.  She was provided with counseling, English classes, completion of her GED, and a job.  Now, this “wounded healer” is helping other survivors of human trafficking get their lives back.

Sr. Nadine Buchanan distributes cards with organizations where trafficked women can seek he;p.

Change can happen when concerned individuals and organizations make it happen.  What can we do to be part of the solution?  We can support legislation that addresses human trafficking with concrete actions to prevent or reduce the opportunities for trafficking.  Many become involved with local organizations that distribute information on trafficking to hotels before a major athletic event.  Others are active in human trafficking prayer vigils, or host panels and speakers on human trafficking. For some, it may be as simple as keeping your eyes open on the street and offering assistance when we see a need. The practical opportunities are many and the need is great.

 

We can brighten the many gray days for victims and survivors with actions that make a difference.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Recovering Democracy

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”

Catherine of Siena

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Now would not be a good time for anyone in the United States to take a stress test.  Having experienced the deadliest pandemic in 100 years, witnessed racist violence in cities across the country, and endured deep political divisions that have made movement on urgent social issues impossible to address in Congress, we face an unimaginable crisis.  The mind-numbing attack on the US Capitol on January 6 left most of us reeling and trying to comprehend what was happening.

As I attempt to process the reality of a coup, and insurrection of thousands of “proud boys,” neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists, I come to the realization that truth has been missing in action for the last four years.  Social media has provided a platform for lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories gone mad.  Finally, Facebook and Twitter have halted President Trump from using the platforms indefinitely, but this action comes much too late.  The power of anyone occupying the presidency and using social media or standing in front of a camera can sway millions, make it impossible to pass legislation, and bring fear to those who just want to be reelected.

Conspiracy theorists have written a script of lies that they dressed up as truth. “The election was rigged,” a mantra promoted by the president, continuously fed through social media, and promoted even before the election. The seeds for a violent coup attempt were planted early.  The consequences were obvious: the lives of governors and secretaries of state, the speaker of the house, and the vice president were threatened. Five people died… another Capitol officer committed suicide days after the attack.

By Tyler Merbler from USA – DSC09523-2, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98637510

Lies led to the storming of the Capitol by domestic terrorists armed with military-style assault weapons, explosives, tear gas, guns, knives, confederate battle flags, waving racist hand signals. They wore shirts that mocked the Holocaust and carried flags that said, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.”

This white mob was on a mission to take prisoners and demand the election be overturned.  They were fed Gospel-like lies of the deep state taking over lives and Trump was the savior of the country.

The property that was destroyed – windows broken, doors torn down, computers stolen, can be replaced.  Can the human spirit be revived?  Can trust in the government be restored?  Can political parties do the hard work of promoting the common good, and put partisanship aside?  The biggest challenge: can lies be addressed vigorously and immediately?

We have had a leadership vacuum in our political world for years.  Sins against truth continue to be found in all of our institutions, including our own Church.  Truth has taken a beating in social media and in many avenues of communication.  Our “better angels” need to demand that truth permeate all platforms, or simply wait for the next coup.  What is more important than resuscitating truth and restoring a democracy?  Maybe then someone will write volume 2 of PROFILES IN COURAGE.

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

A Wounded Healer

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

If you ever heard a voice that sounds like a gentle breeze, it may be that of Christopher 2X (formerly Christopher Anthony Bryant).  This peace activist is one known widely. A man who chooses never to have enemies, only people who need healing, who need a class on hatred and racism, and who is a cure for this toxic disease.

Christopher 2x’s childhood troubles began at 14, when he began dealing drugs.  He served months at a juvenile facility.  He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade, was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1984, and served three years in prison.  The final chapter of his criminal career was in 1990 when he violated parole and was charged with cocaine possession and went to prison for three years.

If Hollywood looked for a story of someone who decided to turn his life around, this would be it.  Christopher Anthony Bryant would become the “wounded healer.”  After converting to Islam, his life began to change, and he took the name Christopher 2X.  He wanted to become a voice of calm and reason in Louisville, a city plagued with police violence against African Americans.  He did not choose to use a megaphone.

Christopher 2X

He has counseled youth about nonviolence and staying away from drugs. He has led prayer vigils for families who have lost loved ones to violence.  If families ask, he speaks to the media on their behalf.

After the murder of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old woman murdered by police in her apartment whose death sparked months of protests across the country, he supported her family, met with Kentucky’s Attorney General, and facilitated grand jury members speaking out after the verdict.

As the New Year begins, we again pray for peace, and for peacemakers who can lead the way.  Christopher 2X is one who continues to model the peacemakers we need.

One political operative stated his giftedness clearly: “He has the ability to get people in the same room who would not think to speak to each other.  He can find common ground with anyone and bring people together.” What a gift in a period of tribes and deep political division!  His is the story of a high school dropout who received an honorary doctorate, a convicted felon that became a trusted partner with the FBI, a former drug dealer, now a community leader.

When addressing the issue of racism, he speaks from his personal experience from elementary school to the present.  This has been a “roller coaster ride,” as he describes it.  He treats racism as a disease, and chooses to take the high road, to be a voice of reason.  Christopher 2X often says he was born on this earth for a reason and this is his message to young people with whom he meets every week.  His mantra to them: “You were birthed into the world for a reason, regardless of conditions that beat you down.”

President Trump just granted Christopher 2X a pardon for his crimes in his early life.  Let the country say AMEN!  He did not ask for a pardon because he is too humble for that.

As we end 2020, we can celebrate the life of a peacemaker who never stops working, considers praying and recognizing all people as worthy, not as enemies, as essential work. In a world of chaos, we are blessed to hear a soft voice.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Starting Over

It is time to say goodbye to 2020.  Please applaud! Whenever we cross the threshold of a new year, there is an atmosphere of hope, and now more than ever, hope is the focus for millions.  We hope that a COVID 19 vaccine will be effective, that Republicans and Democrats will work together and get things done to improve the lives of millions, and hope for racial justice.  The list for real change is endless.

President-elect Biden and the 117th Congress will face a mountain of issues demanding action:  an economic recovery plan, expansion of the Affordable Care Act, concrete action on addressing climate change, and immigration reform.  As one in six people in the United States faces hunger and millions face eviction, non-partisan action is critical.  We have had twelve years of a partisan tug of war with the working class, immigrants, and people of color always on the losing end. Executive orders from the President will not adequately solve relentless social problems.

In a past issue of NETWORK CONNECTION, Network compared the FY 2017 federal budget of President Obama and the 2019 federal budget of President Trump.  The comparison is a display of the devaluing of the common good:

FY 2017                                 FY 2019

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity        $733 million                               $0

Department of Education                                            $69.4 billion                          $63.3 billion

Federal Work Study                                                     $983 million                           $200 million

Housing and Urban Development                             $48.9 billion                           $39.2 billion

Center for Medicare and Medicaid                            $2.9 billion                              $2.4 billion

Low Income Home Energy Assistance                       $3 billion                                     $0

SNAP  (formerly food stamps)                                    $82 billion                              $73 billion

“Show me your budget and I will tell you what your values are.” This quote from former Vice President, now President-Elect Joe Biden, is a simple truth.

Will the votes on bills to come in 2021 be in support of the common good?  I dream of the following: an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour; an immigration reform bill that unites families and leads to a path to citizenship, with “dreamers” (DACA) granted citizenship; climate change bills that reverse the weakening of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, green jobs and responsible, common-sense gun legislation.

In a season of hope, there is much to hope for and work for, with renewed confidence.  I believe the spirit of John Lewis is with us in the ongoing work of “righting the ship” of a country hitting rough waters.

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

The Rush to Kill

“No government is ever innocent enough or just enough to lay claim to such absolute power of death.”

                                                                                  Sr. Helen Prejean

 

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

As we patiently await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the backdrop in the United States provides a violent contrast for those in federal prisons.  Following the order of Attorney General William Barr, thirteen prisoners housed in federal prisons will be executed before January 20th.  Before this decision, the federal government had not killed a person incarcerated on death row in 17 years.  This unprecedented killing spree leaves many unanswered questions.  One raised by many Catholics is why William Barr received the Christifideles Laici Award at the National Prayer Breakfast in September.  This award goes to those who “exemplify selfless and steadfast service in the Lord’s vineyard.”  Still waiting for an answer!

Brandon Bernard (40) was executed at 9:27 pm on December 11 for a murder committed with four other teenagers in 1999.  In 2018 his legal team discovered that the trial prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense.  This was the basis for Bernard’s appeal.  This fact changed the minds of six of nine living jurors who sentenced him.  Kristin Corella, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, states:  “A case like Bernard’s shows how our criminal legal system chooses finality over fairness.”

Bernard was one of a disproportionate number of African Americans receiving the death penalty.  According to the ACLU, “The color of a defendant and victim’s skin plays a critical and unacceptable role in deciding who receives the death penalty in the United States. People of color have accounted for 43% of total executions since 1976 and 55% of those awaiting executions.”

According to his lawyers, Bernard expressed his hope that his death might move the country to a future when one would not pointlessly and maliciously kill its own citizens.

Photo by Pat Sullivan, AP

In another unfathomable move, William Barr and President Trump have called for additional methods of execution, including firing squads, hanging, poison gas (inhaling nitrogen gas), in addition to the current methods of lethal injection and the electric chair.  What is next, a coliseum with lions?

Unfortunately, our country has been focused on a horrific pandemic, an economy in shambles, and a deeply divided political scene.  It is unlikely that those being executed in federal prisons will make the headlines.

Let us take a moment to remember in prayer:  Alfred Bouglois, Brendan Bernard, Orlando Hall, Christopher Viola, William Lecroy, Keith Nelson, Leynord Mitchell, Dustin Lee Honken, Wesley Ira Purkey, Daniel Lee and Billy Joe Warkey.

May their executions lead us to a peaceful and just way of dealing with violent crimes in our country.

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog