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

Remembering Ukraine

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Once again, our Dominican family focuses on December as “a Dominican Month for Peace.” From Columbia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, and now Ukraine, we direct our attention to a country struggling with the effects of violence and war.

UNICEF, a worldwide nonprofit organization providing relief to Ukraine, describes the situation as an ongoing challenge, especially for children: “After seven years of conflict, women and children in Eastern Ukraine remain extremely vulnerable. The conflict is taking a heavy toll on civilians: regular ceasefire violations, damage to homes, and social infrastructures lead to mine contaminations and limited access to services.”

Dominicans have long been a presence in Ukraine, first in the 13th century, and survived through the reign of the Austrian emperor, Joseph II, who closed many monasteries.  With the arrival of Soviet authorities, services in churches were stopped, and many Dominicans were expelled or killed.  In 2020, Dominicans are focusing on peace as it applies to the youth of Ukraine.

International Dominican Justice Promoters tell us that Dominicans are working with youth through the St. Martin de Porres Center in Fastiv, caring for socially disadvantaged children: orphans, street children, sick children, and children from disadvantaged families.  Since the beginning of fighting in Eastern Ukraine, the center has accepted 220 children from the combat zone, offering the opportunity to recover in a safe environment.

The situation is dire for children.  According to HOPE NOW there are between 70,000 – 110,000 orphans in Ukraine, housed in 650 institutions across the country.    Most are considered “social orphans” because of abuse, abandonment, or extreme poverty.  Many with disabilities die because they do not get the medical treatment needed.

Ukraine arrived in this situation after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  With independence came instability and an economic downturn.  Factories closed. Soviet daycare programs ended. Poor medical care meant the early death of parents. Because of abuse and neglect, many children depended on orphanages to survive.  At age 16 the children must leave the orphanage and are not able to provide for themselves due to a lack of basic skills.  It is estimated that 60% of those leaving orphanages turn to crime or prostitution to support themselves.

Thanks to the work of Dominicans in Ukraine, this bleak scene has received some light.  We are surrounded by the need for justice and peace in our world, and Ukraine stands out as a troubling and dangerous place for youth.  We stand in solidarity with Dominicans there in prayer and moral support.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Peace with Justice

Blog by Sr. Roberta Miller

“Patience, people” is the Advent call. Yet we ended the liturgical year with the call to embrace the stranger, the needy and all those at the bottom of the totem pole (Mt. 25:34ff.). Does patience mean wait, just count on prayer and trust in God to bring change? What happens to the dictum from Matthew for action? Fear not is another constant Biblical urging.

We have a both/and call for this Advent season—a time of COVID, inequalities and injustices with people lacking shelter, food, health access, immigrant/minority fears of ICE and police violence, and disasters from climate warming.

Yes, we need patience together with action from holding onto Love: when violence seeks to destroy us, when prejudice poses as freedom, hold onto love (Jesse Manibusan). We find our healing through kindness, acts of compassion; our way through the darkness of denials in speaking the truth, modeling Gospel wisdom through inclusion and reaching out to our vulnerable such as the immigrant, the feared, the different.  We encourage friends to learn and understand the realities of this day, badger our legislators and all in power to cast off their blinders for the sake of the well-being of everyone.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

An Empty Seat at the Table

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Thanksgiving Day often has been gray, with the leaves gone from the trees and winter beginning to blow in.  But this 2020 Thanksgiving is especially gray, with a somber tone of loss.  I find myself visualizing Thanksgiving tables around the country with an empty chair – a chair once occupied by a grandparent, mother, or favorite uncle. These were not numbers in the country’s 258,000 + people lost to COVID-19 but lives well lived.

As much as the loss of these too-many lives, I am saddened by the divisions that the reactions to this virus has produced, turning a deadly health care issue into a political issue. I recently called a donor to thank her for her contribution and wished her a “safe” day.  She responded with a blast of angry comments about evil – the evil of a hoax she called COVID. There was little time to catch my breath, and no point in saying I believe in science …the Earth is not flat …astronauts did land on the moon… and, yes, Elvis is dead.

Evil is alive and well, and conspiracy theories are one such toxic evil. They have separated families who may otherwise join each other at the table. They threaten the lives of many who are being careful but are often put at risk by those who refuse to wear a mask, and a government that has not discovered responsibility.

This pandemic was called a hoax by the president, even though he knew in January that it was very dangerous. And people died. Many governors refused to require masks and encouraged large gatherings. And people died. Health care professionals were pushed aside at a time they were needed most.  And people died. Yes, I believe evil exists.

Despite all the losses and the lost opportunities to save lives, there is much for which I am grateful.

I am grateful this Thanksgiving for all the sacrifices made by health care workers, the doctors and nurses who have worked 15- and 18-hour days, sacrificing sleep and risking their lives.  I am grateful for the grocery workers, farmers and truckers who have fed our country.  I am grateful for the essential workers who have kept our nation moving at personal risk to themselves. I am grateful for those in the communication industry who bring the light of truth through disinformation and conspiracy theories.

I find the words of Kristen Clark Taylor, author and former Director of Media Communications for the Bush administration, inspiring:

“Let’s be bold in our thinking as this disease is in its deadliness.  Let’s let the numbers – the lives lost, the resulting grief, the unimaginable pain— order our steps as we move towards Thanksgiving. 

Mindset matters. 

Let’s train our brains to not just seek, but find gratitude, even in these dark days.  Let’s get audacious with our gratitude.”

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Transforming A System

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

“America Has the Best Politicians Money Can Buy”

Will Rogers

It appears that billionaire Charles Koch has had a “come to Jesus” moment.  Koch, age 85, wants to undo the damage his many millions of dollars in campaign contributions have cost the country in polluting our air, water and land.  According to Rolling Stone, Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined.  Across its business, Koch generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.  Charles and his late brother, David paid a $35 million penalty in 2000 for its 300 oil spills in Texas and other states.  This was only one of many lawsuits.

As far as funding political campaigns go Koch recently remarked to the Huffington Post, “Boy did we screw up.”  He now wants to work across party lines for solutions to poverty, gang violence, homelessness, and other social problems.

For all who consider the urgency of passing real campaign finance reform, this is a classic tale of billionaires and millionaires setting the agenda for the country.  Oil companies influence elections just like the 44 billion of the Koch brothers.  They provide astronomical funds for candidates who will protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  The pharmaceutical industry pours in millions to make certain they can continue to increase prescription drug prices and block generic drugs whenever possible.  The NRA has been successful in electing senators and representatives who refuse to support responsible, common-sense gun legislation.  Their name is legion. It is called “dark money.”

For many decades citizens have bemoaned the reality of “dark money” and hoped that the next election would produce a congress and president willing to provide solutions, not promises.  There was a start in 2002 when the McCain-Feingold bill passed, regulating “soft money.”  This was undermined by the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision.  The decision basically said the corporations were people.  Really?  I believe corporations are corporations and look for ways to maximize profit and make shareholders happy.  This does not help the senior who must cut her pills in half in order to have enough money to pay the utility bill and buy food.  She sees prescription drug prices go through the roof.

What can we do in 2021, with a divided government (waiting for Georgia) to determine addressing ongoing problems like campaign finance reform.?  Both parties have been reluctant to take on campaign finance reform because it takes big money to be successful in a campaign. That, however, should not prevent the people who elected leaders to call them to do the hard work of reform.  We need a bill to set a maximum for donations from citizens and corporations and not a sky-high maximum.  Ideally, neither candidate donations will exceed a certain amount.

Righting the ship of the country is worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog