Tag Archives: death penalty

Hero of the Week Award: September 28, French President François Hollande

28 Sep

Hero of the Week

What a delight to celebrate a world leader taking a strong international stand for basic human rights. French President François Hollande made an historic speech at the United Nations this week. Using his own nation as an example, he discussed the obligation of leaders to fight for universal human rights and freedoms.

France will continue to engage in all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s rights to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which should not be recognised as a crime but, on the contrary, recognized as a sexual orientation.

All member countries have the obligation to guarantee the security of their citizens, and if one nation adheres to this obligation, it is then imperative that we, the United Nations, facilitate the necessary means to make that guarantee. These are the issues that France will lead and defend in the United Nations. I say this with seriousness. When there is paralysis… and inaction, then injustice and intolerance can find their place.

Well said, Mr. President! How nice to see that France replaced Sarkozy with someone truly presidential. Let’s hope American voters are smart enough not to do the opposite this November.

Honorable mention this week goes to two women who shared their personal struggles to help improve the lives of thousands. Katie Couric revealed her youthful battle with bulimia in an interview. A few days later, Lady Gaga expanded on her Born This Way foundation to include victims of poor body image, discussing her battles with anorexia and bulimia because she “felt like a freak.” Let’s hope that the courage and leadership they have shown help remove stigma and move the dialog forward productively.

Celebrating Thurgood Marshall

30 Aug

On this date in 1967, civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall became the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court. In his 24 years on the Court, he was a stalwart defender of the oppressed, a strong voice for social justice, and a strong voice for the evolutionary model of Constitutional law clearly intended at the founding of our country. He wisely observed in a U.S. Bicentennial speech:

the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights we hold as fundamental today.

Born in 1908 in Baltimore, Marshall was the son of a railroad porter and a teacher and the grandson of slaves. His parents instilled in him a deep appreciation of American citizenship and the rule of law in a just society. He graduated from Lincoln University, where he was a member of the first black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. He intended to go to law school at his hometown University of Maryland, but was turned away because of their strict segregation policy. He instead went to Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class in 1933. Three years later, he represented Donald Gaines Murray in a case that forced Maryland to eliminate the policy that had kept him from its law school.

Marshall undertook that case as part of his work with the NAACP. He quickly rose to become their Chief Counsel. At the age of 32, he won his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, a due process case involving undue police pressure on four African American men. He went on to argue 32 cases before the Court, more than anyone else, winning a stunning 29 of those cases. The most famous of those, building on his success in Maryland, was Brown v. Board of Education. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, resorting to a recess appointment when a group of southern senators held up his confirmation. After four years on that bench, he was tapped by President Johnson to become the first African American U.S. Solicitor General. During his time in that role, he won an enviable 14 of the 19 cases he defended.

Strong-willed and successful, Marshall recognized that the American dream is not accomplished solely by personal determination.

None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.

He also knew how much minority oppression worked against too many Americans, saying

A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi… has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.

With the famous observation that it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place,” LBJ put Marshall forward for the Supreme Court when Justice Tom C. Clark retired. He served on the Court for the next twenty-four years, compiling a liberal record that included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, especially the rights of criminal suspects against the government. He was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, believing it a violation of the Constitution. He participated in every dissent of death penalty cases during his time on the Court.

Justice Marshall also understood that equal rights apply to all, extending his work for racial equality to other oppressed communities. He joined in a spirited dissent of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 decision that infamously upheld Georgia’s anti-gay application of its ludicrous sodomy laws. He also wrote influential opinions on labor rights, securities law, and taxation. He famously wrote a dissent in Personnel Administrator MA v. Feeney, saying that a law that gave hiring preference to veterans over non-veterans was unconstitutional because of its inequitable impact on women (Yes, standing up for equality for women was okay back then). A constant defender of individual freedom, he famously observed:

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Marshall also supported a women’s right to govern her own body and helped with the passage of Roe v. Wade. He was a stalwart defender of women’s rights and the right to choose.

In poor health, he retired from the bench in 1991, noting his dissatisfaction that his successor would be selected by George H.W. Bush. Those fears were sound. In a display of wanton tokenism, Bush appointed the integrity-impaired far right demagogue Clarence Thomas. That substitution heralded the beginning of the Court’s descent from defenders of individual rights and the rule of law to the Roberts’ Court’s flagrant obsequiousness to corporate power and individual greed. The Fecal Five on today’s Court would do well to listen to Marshall’s words:

Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.

Fortunately, Marshall’s legacy lives on, with many of his opinions holding the force of law even today. His true successor on the bench was appointed by the first African American President when President Obama appointed former Marshall law clerk Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Marshall died of heart failure in 1993. His papers were given to the Library of Congress and — unusually but according to Marshall’s wishes — made open to scholars and researchers immediately. Many tributes and memorials to Marshall exist around the country but none are so strong as the legacy of the law he believed in, defended, and helped to shape for the betterment of all Americans.

Hero of the Week: November 25, Gov. John Kitzhaber

25 Nov

Hero of the Week

In the wake of some truly despicable people being elected governors recently (think Rick Scott and Scott Walker, just for starters), we Oregonians got a refreshing reminder this week of just what a great decision we made in returning John Kitzhaber to the Governor’s office.

In a bold move that underscores his ethics and his leadership, Kitzhaber announced Tuesday that he will halt all death penalty executions in Oregon during his term as Governor.

Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice – in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer. The hard truth is that in the 27 years since Oregonians reinstated the death penalty, it has only been carried out on two volunteers who waived their rights to appeal.  In the years since those executions, many judges, district attorneys, legislators, death penalty proponents and opponents, and victims and their families have agreed that Oregon’s system is broken.  But we have done nothing. We have avoided the question.

Recognizing that Oregon voters have implemented and repealed the death penalty multiple times in the state’s 150-year history, the Governor bravely rejected the tepid “will of the voters” argument that has been used to support this deeply flawed system of injustice. Speaking from painful personal experience, he recalled that the only two executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984 were during his first administration, calling those deaths “the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor.”

It takes a strong and courageous person to admit so publicly that he was wrong and a great leader to learn from such mistakes and ask his state to do better. Kitzhaber has called on the Oregon Legislature to investigate and implement an overhaul of the system during the 2013 legislative session. Let us hope that they listen to the Governor’s wise words and not the inevitable howling from the right as so-called “pro-life” lunatics insist on death for men and women sentenced in a deeply flawed and bigoted system.  I personally get tired of  the “pro-life” philosophy of “protect the fetus at all cost, so we can execute them as adults.”

Kitzhaber’s press release is required reading for understanding good government. Bravo, Mr. Governor! Thank you for giving Oregonians one more thing to be thankful for this week.

I Am The Truth: IN LOVING MEMORY OF TROY DAVIS

22 Sep

I Am Truth

This just in from TSM Contributor Angel Mason. IN LOVING MEMORY OF TROY DAVIS AND ALL THE INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN UNJUSTLY IMPRISONED AND KILLED BY LETHAL INJECTION, BULLIED AND MURDERED AT THE HANDS OF HOMOPHOBIC ABUSERS.

I AM TRUTH!  You know… the one you lock out of your heart and out of your mind when you prefer to walk in darkness.

I am the one that liberates men from fear, deception, false perceptions, dishonesty, and unethical practices so that they may truly see and experience wholeness and abundance.

You know me well, so don’t try to deny who I am and what I am by acting like you are unfamiliar with me when you are around your friends.

I was the one that you locked away for decades so that you could ease your guilty conscience when you enslaved innocent Africans for hundreds of years.

Now, Now, Now! Let’s keep it real! You know that as long as you could rape the women of Africa and exploit the Mother Land’s male children to work your farms, pick your cotton, and provide the physical labor to build your financial portfolios and institutions, that you would have imprisoned me forever if you could have gotten away with it.

I am the one you blindfolded and handcuffed so you could kill Emmett Till in Mississippi and those four innocent Black children in Birmingham, Alabama, by bombing Negro churches during the Civil Rights Movement because you wanted to feel superior to the disenfranchised and the poor and maybe even wipe out their existence from the Earth.

And if the truth be told, I was the one that you nailed to a cross over 2,000 years ago on Calvary’s hill because my cutting-edge message was so radical, it made you see that your man made rituals, ceremonies, and legalistic practices were not the way to eternal life and had absolutely no redeeming value!

Dismissing me from your mind made it easy for you to kill prophets, assassinate Presidents and Civil Rights leaders, persecute countless races and steal their land, assets, and women because of your endless need to fulfill your greed and fleshly desires.

I am the one that you shoved in the corner because your desire to hate and discriminate was so strong until if you had not eliminated and disempowered me, you could have never felt justified in murdering and raping gay youths like Jason Mattison Jr., George Lopez Mercado, Marcellus Andrews,  Matthew Shepard and Lawrence King or feel good about falsely proclaiming yourselves as emissaries from Heaven, breathing out endless hate-filled slogans during Gay Pride Parades as you pompously held up signs saying, “God Hates Fags!”

I am the one Pastors had the ushers escort out of the church because he feared repercussions that would result in the losses of tithes and offerings had he dared tell the truth. Because had he stood up for me by telling his parishioners that no matter what we believe in the Bible or how we interpret the Bible, it does not ever give us the right to hate or follow the insane masses by condoning witch hunts and heinous hate crimes.

I tried to tell you how acquainted with love I am and how the two of us have known each other for millenniums, but you still try to discredit our relationship. Because to acknowledge it would mean that you would have to hear the voices of the children who are crying out and admitting today, “Yes, we are same-gender-loving people, but we just want a chance to love the person who is our true soul mate; a chance to possess the same rights that you enjoy. We just want a chance to experience the joy of celebration as our friends and families are gathered around us like they were at your weddings, as we celebrate our Covenant unions.”

Come, on now…don’t act like you don’t know me!

I know that it is painful to look at me with discerning eyes of clarity because you would rather see life through rose-colored glasses so you can continue to rob the unsuspecting masses in your corporate meetings, steal their stocks and bonds, avoid the payment of taxes that you owe, and initiate hostile business takeovers so you can continue to lavish yourselves with materials things that eventually the righteous shall possess in the end because of your unethical practices.

I am the one you hid away from your conscience and locked in a closet so your God-given attributes of kindness, compassion, equity, and love for all humanity could never express themselves in the dawn of any new day.

Isn’t it funny?! I was around before your mother ever conceived you, but you think that because you have a college education and a piece of paper in your hand that you call a degree and you can quote a few memorized scriptures, that you know more than me. How foolish! How arrogant! How unwise!

Even though I possess more power than you do and I have existed longer than you could ever imagine, I refuse to make you listen to me by overriding your will or God-given right to choose, even though your only intent is to deceive, humiliate, kill, steal, and destroy the innocent lives of others.

But know this! In the end, you shall not prevail because I am going to be present at your Eternal Hearing, and I am going to reveal every lie you told, every evil scheme you thought of, every life you stole, every career you ruined by character assignation, every fear you fertilized because it benefited your evil cause, every false doctrine, and Biblical principle and concept that you distorted to discriminate and marginalize so that you could keep people from possessing what is rightfully theirs.

And the very ones you robbed, exploited, stole from, told would never gain entrance into Heaven, hated, falsely accused and murdered by lethal injection, and authored bills to deny them of their Civil rights will be in that same courtroom as justice prevails.

So go on…do your thing because it won’t change who I am. It won’t change my complexion. It won’t change my mission. It won’t distort my vision.  It won’t lesson my power, and it won’t wipe out my existence because in the end, there is only one voice that will be heard above all other voices throughout eternity and that voice is mine. For I AM TRUTH!


Moment in Women’s History: Maggie Kuhn

3 Aug

Happy Birthday,Maggie Kuhn.  Celebrating Maggie Kuhn fits in perfectly to the mission of TSM, for she embodied the threads of social justice. Kuhn was an activist fighting ageism, and founded the Gray Panthers movement in 1970. Kuhn was forced into retirement by the Presbyterian Church at age 65.  Kuhn was my type of activist and I have to confess, I had such a thrill being able to write about her.

The Gray Panthers seeks to: reform nursing homes, advocate for reproductive rights, worker’s rights, marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty, and the legalization of medical marijuana. They fully embrace the idea of civil rights and social justice.  The Gray Panthers celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2010. Their slogan is “Age and Youth in Action.”  It is no surprise that this organization is also anti-war.

Early in her career, in the 1940s, Kuhn worked for the YWCA.  At the YWCA, Kuhn took on such controversial issues as birth control and sex education, including sexual pleasure.  She also educated people about the need for unionization and collective baraining–apparently both Scott Walker and Target missed this piece in their education.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Kuhn became a vocal opponent to McCarthyism, and advocate for desegregation.  She was a true progressive and today she would look like an outright radical.  Kuhn was also a great critic of the Cold War and of the nuclear arms race.

The irony is not lost on this writer that I am celebrating a woman who fought for economic justice the day after our government has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to all those who are not part of the wealthy elite. Her dedication to global peace and human rights casts an alarming shadow over those current elected officials who work to obstruct peace and human rights.  Forgive me for being quite harsh, but it is difficult to believe that Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, and the population of the Tea Party are of the same species as our Maggie Kuhn.

Thank you, Maggie Kuhn.  We are in debt to your for the legacy you have left and the inspiration you provide.

Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week. — Maggie Kuhn

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