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a tale of two florida prosecutors

a tale of two florida prosecutors

1) Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle declined to press charges in the case of Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic prison inmate who died in June 2012 after being locked in a hot shower for two hours, saying that “the evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.”

However,

witnesses [interviewed by the Miami Herald] including a nurse on duty that night, and several inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past two years, have said that two corrections officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clark, forced Rainey into an enclosed, locked shower stall and that the water had been cranked as high as 180 degrees from a neighboring room, where the heat controls were. … Rainey screamed in terror and begged to be let out for more than an hour until he collapsed and died.

And,

when his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession.

When a mentally-ill minor drug offender is imprisoned, does he forfeit all his rights, all his human rights, including the right to live? Who protects him? (If not us?) Who will ensure him justice? (If not us?)

2) Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last Thursday that she will not pursue death sentences for any capital cases during her time in office. That earned her a angry rebuke from Florida governor Rick Scott who removed from her jurisdiction the high profile case of a man charged with killing a police officer, saying she “has made it clear that she will not fight for justice.”

Because only a death satisfies justice? If blood revenge is the only means of “fighting for justice” (which is what the death penalty is, after all, blood revenge), what does that say about us?

Death sentences are notoriously inequitable in their application, do not provide any deterrence, cost taxpayers more, do not bring “resolution” to grieving families, rather, and as Ayala observed, “cases drag on for years, adding to victims’ anguish.” Could it be that refusing to pursue death sentences is in fact “fighting for justice?” Because the question remains, beyond any concerns about fairness and effectiveness, is killing by the state just? Or is it an overreach and abuse of power and a corrosive threat to our humanity?

Which of these prosecutors is fighting for justice? Which showed courage? Which represents the best of who we are as human beings?

no better the second time

no better the second time

The message I sent today to Senators Grassley and Ernst and Representative Blum:

A new travel ban is expected to be issued any day now.  Such a ban is not necessary, does not make us any safer, is ill-intentioned, hurts our international standing, and betrays the best of our national heritage.  I do hope you will not let party loyalty trump your good sense, your patriotism, and your defense of justice.

Send yours!

fire with fire?

fire with fire?

Trump on waterboarding: ‘We have to fight fire with fire’

When you fight fire with fire, that’s what you get: more fire. When you fight fire with fire, you are no different than your enemy. When you counter something immoral with something immoral, you are immoral. This is not a partisan issue. This is a moral issue. Torture is NEVER the right thing to do. Torture is a betrayal of everything we claim as a nation to stand for: justice, certain inalienable human rights, and the rule of law.

If you agree, add your name to the petition: Torture is not an American value.

Torture harms not only those who are tortured; it also damages the souls of those who torture and of those who turn aside and allow people to be tortured.

In 2015, a new law authored by Senators John McCain & Dianne Feinstein and passed by Congress permanently banned the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding and sexual humiliation, that were part of the CIA’s torture program.

We call upon President Trump and his Administration to follow U.S. law and common decency by respecting the dignity and worth of each human being and rejecting torture in every way.

killing bin laden

killing bin laden

Yes, Osama bin Laden did evil things. Yes, he despoiled the image of God that was put in him as well as in each of us. But if we allow his choices to change our choices, to make us people ready to kill — for the sake of “closure,” for the sake of “justice,” for the sake of “revenge” — then we have done the same. We have despoiled the image of God in us.

Strength, courage, and righteousness mean living the values we hold dear and not allowing ourselves to be transformed in reaction to the chaos and brokenness and evil around us.

When we are better than that, when we can uphold the value of life, all life, when we can love the humanity in any human being, even in a man consumed by evil, then we reveal something truly extraordinary, the likeness of the living God.

And so I did not find reason to celebrate this weekend over the news of bin Laden’s death. It was an occasion not for joy, but for sadness at the ongoing price all of humanity is paying for the hatred and suspicion and vengefulness that set us against each other.

sharing the wealth?

sharing the wealth?

A good editorial in the latest issue of The Christian Century: American Pie

In the course of discussing tax policy with an unlicensed Ohio plumber, Barack Obama suggested that “spreading the wealth around” a bit more would be good for the country. Obama was trying to explain why he wants to impose a modest tax increase on people who make more than $250,000 a year while reducing taxes on those making less than that amount. John McCain and his supporters immediately seized on Obama’s remark as a sign that Obama favors a socialist form of income redistribution.

The notion that a progressive income tax is a form of socialism is ludicrous. Since the time of Teddy Roosevelt, Americans have recognized that those who are flourishing most in society should pay a proportionately higher share of tax. After all, they are the ones benefiting most from the social stability and infrastructure that government provides.

Talk of socialism would be laughable except that it is part of a larger, disturbing reality in American politics: it has become almost impossible to talk about the disparities in wealth that have arisen over the past three decades and about how this stratification undermines democracy and fosters unequal outcomes in other areas of life, including educational opportunity and access to health care.

Since the late 1970s the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled and the share for the top 0.1 percent has tripled. More than 40 percent of total income goes to the wealthiest 10 percent—their biggest share of the nation’s pie in at least 65 years. The very wealthy have become enormously wealthy, while middle-class workers have seen their wages stagnate—barely keeping pace with inflation—and at the same time have had to deal with sharp increases in the costs of health care and education.

In light of this trend, the dispute between McCain and Obama on taxes is minor: Obama wants to return the top marginal tax rate to 39 percent, where it was under Clinton, while McCain wants to keep it at 35 percent. Both men, in other words, would maintain the mildly progressive tax system that currently exists. The current system is actually much less progressive than it was in earlier decades—under Eisenhower the top tax rate was 91 percent, and under Nixon it was 70 percent. Those were hardly socialist administrations.

Though tax rates are not the only factor shaping economic conditions, they are an important measure of how the burdens of common life are being distributed. The warnings about socialism should be seen for what they are: a blunt effort to block any discussion of the ominous fact that the U.S. has become a nation of increasing inequality and, for many, of declining opportunity.

“Socialism” is meant to conjure visions of our adversaries, of systems of government that undermine the freedoms and personal opportunities democracies are supposed to guarantee. Its use, as the editorial suggests, serves to stifle, not encourage, debate. The focus of the debate should be fairness. Any enacted tax policy redistributes wealth; the Bush administration tax cuts redistributed wealth to the wealthiest of Americans. Is tax relief for the wealthy “capitalism” as opposed to tax relief for the middle class which is “socialism?” So the foundation of our democracy is subsidies for the upper class? I don’t think that was the vision of our nation’s founders. Fairness and justice are closer to that vision, I think, and closer to the vision of the world God calls us to bring into being.

at our worst … and best

at our worst … and best

Three Iraqis and a Jordanian filed federal lawsuits Monday alleging they were tortured by U.S. defense contractors while detained at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

The lawsuits allege that those arrested and taken to the prison were subjected to forced nudity, electrical shocks, mock executions and other inhumane treatment. They seek unspecified payments high enough to compensate the detainees for their injuries, and to deter contractors from such conduct in the future.

“These innocent men were senselessly tortured by U.S. companies that profited from their misery,” said lead attorney Susan L. Burke, of the Philadelphia law firm Burke O’Neil. “These men came to U.S. courts because our laws, as they have for generations, allow their claims to be heard here.”

From an Associated Press article by David Dishneau, Abu Ghraib Inmates Sue Contractors, Claim Torture

Terrible things — truly terrible things — have been done in our name, “to protect the interests of the nation.” Terrible things have been done, with precious little accountability. Only media reports and opinion pieces — not really the courts and not really the congress — have held the practice of “enhanced interrogation” up to the light of day, but, even so, such reporting has sparked little outrage. Some of us deny it. Some of make excuses for it. And some of us just chalk it up to the cost of ensuring our security.

Personal and national security, whatever the cost, without regard for law or principle or love of neighbor: this shows us at our worst.

But now four individuals subjected to “enhanced interrogation” are suing. I applaud this opportunity to “try” the case, to bring the facts to light, to put the minds and hearts of the American people and the American justice system to the test. And as the lawyer for the plaintiffs suggests, this shows us at our best, capable of facing and redressing our own sins. The American system of governance is supposed to work that way, giving all access to justice, and allowing for self-correction as we learn from our mistakes.

May it be so in this case …

shame on burger king!

shame on burger king!

From a UCC Justice and Peace Action Network newsletter:

You probably also know that after much work and a successful boycott, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) won an agreement with Taco Bell for improved pay, better working conditions, and greater dignity for tomato pickers. CIW also signed similar agreements with McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John Silver’s, and A & W Restaurants.

There is great momentum within the fast food industry to improve conditions for farm workers but Burger King is refusing to join this movement.

Burger King’s actions are threatening to undo a hard-fought victory on behalf of exploited farm workers. I have just received this call to action from the Sojourner’s community:

Dear Timothy,

For Christmas, Burger King is trying to make the country’s poorest workers even poorer.

A few months ago, we asked you to send messages to Burger King, asking them to join McDonald’s and Taco Bell in increasing the sub-poverty wages of Florida tomato pickers.

Almost 20,000 of you responded, but Burger King’s behavior has only gotten worse. Not only have they failed to heed the faith community’s call to improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers – they’re working to undermine the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ existing agreements with other fast-food chains!

As Eric Schlosser, author of Fast-Food Nation, explained in the New York Times:

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs. For 10 to 12 hours a day, they pick tomatoes by hand, earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket. During a typical day each migrant picks, carries, and unloads two tons of tomatoes.

Yum! Brands (owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC) and McDonald’s had agreed to pay a penny more per pound to increase wages by 70 percent per bucket, but this holiday season workers aren’t receiving the increase. Why? Because Burger King has refused to pay the extra penny and its refusal has encouraged tomato growers to cancel the deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald’s. This month the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, representing 90 percent of the state’s growers, announced that it will not allow any of its members to collect the extra penny for farm workers.

A Burger King spokesman responded, “Florida growers have a right to run their businesses how they see fit” – apparently, even if that means putting profits ahead of justice and dignity for their workers.

Meanwhile, on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs – a major shareholder in Burger King, with two representatives on the board of directors – is preparing to pay holiday bonuses. Last year, Goldman Sach’s top 12 executives received more than $200 million in bonuses – more than twice the annual earnings of 10,000 Florida tomato pickers.

As we read of such injustices in this time of Advent, we reflect upon God’s justice and mercy, as described in the words of Mary:

[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53).

Advent reminds us that God intends well-being for all, not just some. We hope you’ll join us in taking action.

Blessings,

I encourage you to join me in responding to Sojourner’s call and send a message to Burger King.

the president we want … in a word

the president we want … in a word

We hosted a pre-caucus house party this evening at our home during which I asked our guests to express what it is they are looking for in a presidential candidate in one word. Their answers make quite a list!

  • integrity
  • compassion
  • inspiration
  • honesty
  • justice
  • humility
  • diplomacy
  • reconciler
  • character
  • change
  • moral

I do hope and pray that our next president will be marked by attributes like these!