Should death row inmates have access to one-on-one pastoral visits? This the question a Kentucky judge is being asked to decide in a class action suit filed by death row inmates against the state prison system. The prisoners claim that pastors have been “illegally and arbitrarily restricted from visiting them” since early summer 2010, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
A couple states down in Alabama, a judge overturned the life sentence imposed by a jury in the murder trial of 26-year-old African American Iraq war veteran Courtney Lockhart, and instead sentenced him to death, even though the defense argued that Lockhart, like 12 other members of his platoon who have been arrested for murder or attempted murder, had suffered psychological damage during his 16-month combat tour in Iraq, the Huffington Post reported yesterday.
In his decision, Judge Jacob Walker wrote that Lockhart deserved death based on evidence of other crimes not presented by prosecutors during his trial, the article said, noting a troubling trend in the state.
Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after a four-year ban, Alabama judges have held the power to overturn the sentencing recommendations of juries in capital cases. Since then, state judges have overturned 107 jury decisions in capital cases, and in 92 percent of those cases, jury recommendations of life imprisonment were rejected in favor of death sentences, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law firm based in Montgomery.
Meanwhile, Rais Bhuiyan, a victim of post 9/11 racism, is arguing for the life of his would-be killer. While working at a Dallas, Texas, gas station in 2001, Bhuiyan was shot in the face at close range by Mark Ströman. The assault left Bhuiyan blind in one eye and in need of extensive plastic surgery. Ströman had murdered a Pakistani immigrant five days earlier and would go on to kill an Indian immigrant a few weeks later. Each of Ströman’s victims worked at Dallas-area convenience stores. Ströman, who claims he was avenging the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is scheduled to be executed July 20.
According to the Death Penalty News website, Bhuiyan found peace during his long and painful recovery by relying on his Muslim faith, which also led him to forgive Ströman. “I decided that his is a human life, like anyone else’s,” Bhuiyan said. “I decided I wanted to do something about this.”
Zechariah 7:9 instructs us to “administer true justice” and “show mercy and compassion to one another.”
What do you think?
• Should death row inmates have access to one-on-one pastoral care?
• Should they have the right to sue for it?
• Is it just for a judge to overturn a jury verdict in favor of death, especially in light of evidence that the murderer was mentally damaged in service to his country?
• Does a murderer’s humanity require that society show him the mercy he failed to show his victims?
• Where do justice and mercy meet when it comes to the death penalty? What do you think?
Sonia Sotomayor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her first day of hearings on July 13, 2009. (Photo: U.S. Senate images.)
It’s funny when you have a democratic system that for the greater part of 200 years really wasn’t very inclusive and established an environment where all the folks with any real clout pretty much thought alike, or at least looked alike.
For example, there was a documentary done in 2004 on a black congresswoman from New York named Shirley Chisholm. The film was called Unbought and Unbossed. In it people commented on the surprising notion of Congresswoman Chisholm running for President of the United States in 1972. One person, a white mid-20s woman, thought Chisholm was pretty bold to be running for the White House and observed that she had a lot of nerve to do it. In other words, “Is she crazy? That would never happen in this country!”
My, how times have changed.
Now that many of our longstanding American institutions are being challenged to become as diverse as America itself, and now that more and more of how America really looks as a nation is being weighed and measured throughout our culture, it seems to me that the majority culture’s routine lack of experience with people of different ethnic backgrounds is now coming into play based simply on the census of what our country looks like. We saw it with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and we’re seeing it again with the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
The country has never experienced in its history this type of diversity being expressed in all areas of American life. So, the process that is currently taking place to confirm the first Hispanic woman as a Supreme Court Justice of the United States is fascinating to observe.
During the hearings this past week, some lawmakers didn’t know what to think. In their heart of hearts they just don’t know what to do because they’ve never been in this position of having to act on such a proposal of a Latina being a Supreme Court Justice. It is also true that a black president has nominated a Hispanic woman for the highest court in the land. And might I add this woman has opinions out of the courtroom, which are in question based on the Constitution, and that the law is blind, and that the scales of justice are equal.
However, one could cite case after case that proves, in reality, that this is not true and some laws in the past, Brown vs. Board of Education for instance, were not blind and not equal. So what makes up a strong United States? In my opinion it is when we recognize and embrace the great diversity of what America is, whom it represents, and what this amazing country embodies.
Sadly, based on the outbursts that took place on Day One of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, it’s clear that some people just don’t know what to do when someone that doesn’t look like them, who isn’t the “norm,” is nominated to the highest court in the land. What do we think of her statements? We’ve never heard statements like this. What do we think of her background when she’s clearly qualified but doesn’t hold some of the same views and experiences that we hold? That, in essence, is the fear. We can’t predict her.
Or, perhaps what we’re actually saying is that we’ve never before had anyone who was a slice of what America really is on this kind of prominent stage where we can really hear her opinion. I think it’s the latter, and that’s okay. This is new territory for our great country and I love it. I love the fact that the conversation will come up as the scales of justice are slowly being adjusted to be truly balanced.
It’s like that reality show The Biggest Loser. Both teams of overweight people are weighed and the goal is to lose more weight as a team than the other team. The players want to tip “the scale” to their favor. That’s how most people of color, if they spoke honestly, feel about the judicial system in this country. But oh, the times are a-changing.
That is not code for, “Boy, are we going to get you back.” Not in the least. It’s simply straight talk for, “It’s time that all of our bodies of government represented all the people of the United States of America. And by no means have we reached “the mountaintop” as a country because we have a black president. What it shows other non-whites in this country (about Sotomayor as well as the reason emotions were so high with the election of our first black president, who called himself a “mutt”) is that finally, finally, things seem fair and equal. Obama actually ran, people actually listened, people really participated, there wasn’t a 35 percent apathy rate where that percentage of voters didn’t participate, which we know decided elections in the past. People were engaged. It was awesome, and I felt more connected than ever in the history of my 50 years of life.
And now, a Latina is about to be confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice … Amazing!
I say to our lawmakers, Relax, she’s an American who has a set of opinions that probably aren’t like yours. Just listen, make comments, and vote as you will. We know that Sotomayor’s nomination is truly a measure of the possibilities of our country to act upon its best asset — our diversity, our differences, our varied backgrounds and experiences, and our creative power to hold together the United States of America.
If I were a senator, would I vote for her? Yes. Do I have reservations about some of her comments? I do. Would I be tough on her in questioning? I would. Am I happy that a Hispanic woman is even being considered? I am, and it does feel good. It’s a funny, tickled feeling that makes me smile and proud to be an American.