This past week, Connecticut became the 17th state in the Nation to abolish the death penalty. Of the 33 states that still have the death penalty as a possible punishment for capital murder, 23 never or rarely carry out an execution. Thus, in effect, the death penalty is only used as a punishment in 10 states, most of them being in the deep South where slavery once existed.
So, it appears that the death penalty is slowly disappearing in the USA. That is good news as it indicates an "evolving standard of decency" in the U.S. Our nation is the only western, industrialized nation to use this punishment. We are in the company of such countries as China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia when it comes to exacting an eye for an eye.
In Texas, both death sentences and executions continue to decrease. One reason for this is that more and more citizens are becoming aware that our criminal justice system is not perfect and innocent people have been sent to death row. In Texas, 12 people have been exonerated and released from death row in the past 30 years, the latest being Anthony Graves who was released in 2010. Nationwide, approximately 140 people have been exonerated and released from death row. It is also true that several people with strong claims of innocence have been executed in Texas, people like Cameron Todd Willingham, Claude Jones, Ruben Cantu and Carlos Deluna.
On February 9, 2012, my wife, Priscilla and I participated in a program sponsored by the Center for the Healing of Racism which focused on a new book by Michelle Alexander titled The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I thought I knew a lot about the criminal justice system having worked on the death penalty issue for many years. However, I was shocked by what I learned in this program.
If you want to understand why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, I recommend that you read Michelle Alexander’s book. After reading this book, you will come to understand why we have over 2 million people incarcerated and another 5 million under court-supervised probation or parole. You will also come to understand why our prison population is overwhelmingly people of color – it is because they have been targeted in the so-called “war on drugs” that started during the Reagan Administration. The purpose of the drug war was not so much to fight drugs, but to woo white voters in the south from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Unfortunately, when Bill Clinton became President, he strengthened the war on drugs in an effort to woo voters back to the Democratic Party. The “tough on crime” policies of the Clinton Administration resulted in the largest increase in incarceration of any U.S. President according to the Justice Policy Institute. It is an amazing statistic that more African American adults are under court supervision today than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
In a world that settles differences by armed violence or the threat of it, Pax Christi offers a nonviolent alternative. In a world that too often defines "revenge" as "justice", Pax Christi breaks the cycle of violence by fostering reconciliation. In a world where countries invest more money in weapons than in the well-being of their people, Pax Christi calls individuals to disarm their hearts and create
The Houston Peace and Justice Center endorses "Occupy Houston"
We support this action for the following reasons:
- No one on Wall Street or in Washington has been held accountable for the "Great Recession" that was caused by Wall Street greed and which has led to thousands of people losing their jobs and their homes.
- Millions of U.S. citizens, including millions of children, live in poverty. Millions of people who work are not paid a "living wage". The gap between the rich and the poor/middle class continues to grow.
- Many wealthy people and corporations pay little or no income taxes. Rather than correcting this inequity, budget cuts are made at the state and federal levels which adversely impact poor and middle class families and students.
- Millions of U.S. citizens, including millions of children, still lack quality health care.
- Billions of dollars are spent each year to support the military-industrial complex while human needs at home go unmet. The billions of dollars wasted on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya should have been used to create jobs and improve the nation's educational system, infrastructure and health and human services.
- Elections are controlled by money from wealthy people and corporations. The Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows corporations to make unlimited donations to political campaigns, has made this problem even worse. Public financing of political campaigns is needed.
- The right wing is trying to destroy our unions which have been instrumental in improving working conditions for millions of Americans and are greatly responsible for the creation of the Middle Class of our nation.
- Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have been unfairly attacked and demonized by the right wing in this country. This has led to racial profiling by law enforcement, thousands of people being deported, and the break up of thousands of families.
- Economic and racial injustices in our society and our criminal justice system have led to over two million people being incarcerated and hundreds of people being executed.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California who were on a hunger strike for several weeks. They have raised the issue of inhumane conditions in prisons across the nation, particularly the thousands of prisoners who are held in prolonged solitary confinement which we know can cause long-term psychological damage.
When I moved to Texas with my wife and three children 40 years ago, I knew that the Texas educational and health care system for the state's children was far from being the best in the nation. However, I had confidence that the situation would improve significantly as time passed and more people moved into the state.
If anyone is wondering why the youth of our nation are disillusioned, you need go no further than an examination of the actions of our politicians. It is very clear that most Republican politicians are only interested in satisfying the monetary needs of their rich supporters, whether they be on Wall Street or in the board rooms of major corporations. However, the Democrats are not much better. Many of them also have rich supporters. Even Barack Obama, on whom many youth pinned their hopes for a brighter future, has been a disappointment to many.
A wonderful time was had during Houston's Peace Festival 2011. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect day to be outside and share fellowship, information and music. View more information about the event's festivities.
By David Atwood
Recently there has been a lot of union bashing in the United States. It has been particularly bad in northern states such as Wisconsin and Ohio where the newly elected Republican governors have tried to strip collective bargaining rights from public service unions. I, too, have done my share of union bashing in the past. It was the thing to do if you were in management in a large corporation. It is easy for someone in that position to forget that unions were instrumental in achieving unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, occupational safety and health regulations, and unpaid leave to care for newborn children. Most families have benefited from these improvements in the workplace.