Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am Troy Davis // I killed Troy Davis

I got this email from this morning, but can't find it on their website to link it. Pay special attention, please, to the middle section. It is damn difficult (especially as white folks) to think about the truth in those words. But really deconstructing racism can't happen fully until we acknowledge the depth of the disease. We have to actively put ourselves on the path. So if you're ashamed - I am, too. If we get stuck there, though, we not much use. Let's go together; let's stand rather than folding up our bags.

Dear Korla,

At 11:08 pm Wednesday, the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. Just before he was executed, Troy maintained his innocence, urged people to dig deeper into the case to find the truth, and said "For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls." It's a tragic day for Troy, for his family, and for equality, fairness, and justice.

It's hard to know what to say at a time like this. In this moment, and in the days and weeks before Troy's execution, we've felt all kinds of things — anger, sadness, inspiration, hope and hopelessness. This is a time to mourn and remember Troy, to contemplate the profound loss we're facing, to send love and support to Troy's family and friends. It's incredibly important to take the time to spiritually and emotionally care for Troy's family and the amazing community that has arisen to support Troy — and it feels hard to muster the energy to do much more than that.

But before he died, Troy told us that this was about more than him — and he called on those of us who have fought against his execution to continue fighting for justice, even if we weren't successful in saving his life. Now is also an important moment to take stock of what's brought us to this point — the criminal justice system that allowed this to happen, and the movement we've built to fight for Troy and others facing injustice and oppression at the hands of that system.

Race, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty

At every stage of the criminal justice system, Black people and other minorities face inequality and discrimination. We all know about people who've been treated unfairly by police or by the courts. When the entire system treats Black people unequally, it means that the death penalty is applied unequally too. Troy Davis' case underscores the way in which this systemic inequality can lead to a tragic miscarriage of justice.

In most cases, people who've been treated unfairly or wrongly convicted have some chance to correct the injustice. People who have been mistreated by the police can sue them. People who are wrongly serving time can be granted new trials, can be released from prison, and are sometimes entitled to compensation. As we all know, the safeguards that can correct abuse by the criminal justice system often fail, and rampant inequality persists. Usually, people can at least keep trying.

But there's no way to correct a death sentence. If Troy Davis were serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, he could continue to press the legal system to grant him a fair trial — but because the death penalty exists, he will not have that opportunity.

Troy Davis' case has sparked a national conversation about the death penalty. In the past, much of the debate around the death penalty has focused on the morality of killing people as a legal punishment — a very important question that brings out a lot of strong opinions. But even if we completely leave aside the question whether or not it can ever be right for the government to punish a murderer by killing them, there's an entirely different debate to be had — whether or not we can have the death penalty and actually avoid the possibility of killing innocent people. In a criminal justice system that routinely misidentifies Black suspects and disproportionately punishes Black people, Black folks are more likely to be wrongfully executed.

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that the death penalty has been used to kill innocent people many times. Since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were wrongly convicted. Troy Davis is one of many people who were executed despite serious questions about their guilt, and he's called on his supporters to continue working to end the death penalty.

A group of NAACP organizers went to visit Troy in prison yesterday, and NAACP's Robert Rooks said this about the visit:

For someone that was facing death the very next day, he was just full of life and wanted to spend time talking to the younger staff, the interns, giving them direction and hope and asking them to hold onto God. And he challenged them. He challenged them by saying, "You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." He said it doesn’t—it didn’t begin with Troy Davis, and this won’t end if he is executed today. He just asked us all just to continue to fight to end the death penalty, if in fact he’s executed.

A powerful movement

For years, ColorOfChange members have been an important part of a growing movement to stop Troy Davis' execution. Hundreds of phone calls from ColorOfChange members to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole helped delay Davis' execution twice. Over the past year, there's been a huge outpouring of support for Davis from ColorOfChange members — more than 100,000 of us have signed petitions, and we raised more than $30,000 to run radio ads in Georgia calling for justice for Troy.

And we've been part of an even bigger movement — NAACP, Amnesty International, National Action Network,, and others have all been a major part of the fight for Troy Davis, and there are now over close to a million petition signatures overall. Prominent people from all across the political spectrum have spoken out: members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia Republican congressman Bob Barr, and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher.

This movement couldn't stop Davis' execution — but it's a movement that won't die with Troy Davis. There's no better way to honor Troy's memory than to keep fighting for justice.

Thanks and Peace,

-- Rashad, James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Matt, Natasha and the rest of the team

September 21st, 2011

Last night as I watched Amy Goodman reporting from Jackson, GA, one question that kept rising in my thoughts was, "But we're better than this, aren't we?" And I think we are - or at least we can be. Mr. Davis himself has been so clear throughout this process that, whatever happened to him, a couple of things would be true. First, on a person note, that execution could not kill his spirit (he said something to the effect of "they can take my life, but they cannot take my spirit, I gave it to God a long time ago"); and second, that the struggle abolition would not and could not die with him.

There are so many somber moments in which we have to rededicate ourselves to walking the path of justice-making and kingdom-building. And there are some big. damn. obstacles in the road. But I just got another email, this one from the NAACP, and the subject line is "Stand tall, Korla." Hope is hard to come by all alone. I want to commit myself not only to that vague idea of working for justice, but to being a hopeful presence for others when they don't have that energy, and to welcoming that word of hope from other people when I don't have it.

For those reading this from afar, know that I love you and I'm finding many, many rays of hope within my days here. (Many of those take the form of either poultry or the sweet, rambunctious children that come to preschool in the church where I work.) Peace until we talk again, hopefully on the path of freedom.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nine elevens past - and the future

This morning I woke up to the sound of President Obama's voice reading Psalm 46 at the 9/11 memorial in New York. I must admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of lead-up coverage in the last several weeks, especially since my memories are so vague surrounding the actual day. I've not quite known what to do with the impending anniversary. This is in part because I know that, before September 11th was 9/11/01, it was 9/11/73 in Chile, the date on which the US overthrew Salvador Allende, who was properly elected by Chileans. Their September 11 and its bloody aftermath were every bit as horrifying as ours was.

Knowing this, and having lived through the not-altogether-becoming US response to 9/11/01, Psalmd 46 still seemed right, comforting. "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God" - that is an easy idea for a Minneapolitan to identify with. I wanted to look over the whole psalm again this evening, and out of my bible fell a note card that I picked up some years ago at St. Martin's Table. It is a prayer card from Pax Christi that holds a prayer by Sister Diana Ortiz, an Ursuline nun who was held and tortured by US and Guatemalan agents in Guatemala during the civil war there. Today is election day in Guatemala and it looks rather likely that the winner will be an ex-general intricately involved in the tortures and massacres that went on throughout the 1980s and beyond. ("Guatemala's 'iron fist' party leads the polls") In light of this coincidence of three 11 de Septiembre, I want to share the prayer:

Jesus, Our Tortured Brother Today

Jesus, our Tortured Brother,
In this world, so many are
forced to walk your path today --
the suffering and pain, the
humiliation, sense of betrayal and
for those with power, the
Romans of today, continue to
condemn others to modern crosses.

You said that what was done to the least of these was done to you and so each day,
You are tortured anew.

Jesus, our Guardian of the Wounded and Tortured,
Bid us to look into the secret prisons -- the unmarked
graves -- the hearts and minds of the torture survivors,
Bid us to wipe the tears of the families of those whose
decapitated bodies were cast into the open sea,
Bid us to embrace the open wounds of the tortured.

Jesus, Guiding Spirit,
Teach us to be in solidarity with those who hand from
these crosses,
Call out to those who torture, "Know the evil you have
done and repent."
Call out to the rest of us, "What meaning does love have
if you allow torture to continue unopposed?"

In the name of the tortured of the world, give us the
strength, give use the courage, give use the will to bring this
horror to an end, in the name of love, justice, and the God of
us all. Amen.

Nineteen years before 9/11/73 (in July, not September), the US did the same thing in Guatemala that we later did in Chile - we toppled a democratically-elected president because his policies were not convenient for US companies. We created the first banana republic at the behest of the United Fruit Company. And almost 60 years later, Guatemala is still suffering the consequences, as is all of Latin America, to an extent, since Guate and Chile were far from the only places this happened. It is easy, clear to see the ways in which Guatemala is still reaping the deadly harvest sown there, but it isn't always as obvious how our own souls are impacted in the States. We continue to topple and to torture, believing it to be a method of extracting information, when in reality, torture is a means of control of a given population.

"God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns." A lot of the coops that you can visit in Guatemala use the words amanecer or esperanza in their names. If we want those two thoughts - "dawn" and "hope" - to be so compatible and correlated, we must - we must - learn to call to ourselves toward change as easily as we call on others. We must ask ourselves, What meaning does love have?

This isn't a "9/11 post", or at least I don't want it to be. But it seems like if there is anything we can learn from ANY of these 9/11s, much less the three of them put together, it is that peace - in all its forms - is indeed the most important goal to strive for. For me today, that peace took the form of making sauerkraut and jalapeƱo hot sauce with some cabbage and peppers we were generously given this past week. Then Melissa (a housemate) and I went to a queer-themed open mic at Spirit of Hope over which, at the very end of the evening, a rainbow formed from the last rays of sun above the horizon.

It seems fairly simple, and not very revolutionary, to posit that there will continue to be 9/11s of varying scales as long as _______ something. The problem is, that something is hard to identify. So while we try to figure out what it might be, let's not spend nearly as much time on that as we do on creating love. The more we do that, the less important (perhaps) it will be that we identify specifically what it is we used to spend all our time trying to hate.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From drowned rat to high and dry

I am sincerely hopeful that I've cashed in my bad bus karma for a good long while to come, all in a day's commute. This morning it rained steadily, not a downpour, but strong enough to soak. My bus stop has no shelter or trees nearby, so it was pretty much me and my coffee mug standing there waiting on the bus to come, which it did - 5 minutes late. Those five minutes made the difference between catching and missing my intended transfer at Rosa Parks Transit Center.

Missing the 21 bus was no big deal, because the 29 also runs by my work from the station. Fine - I hopped that but and arrived on time, soggy, but on time and in decent spirits.

Fast forward to the end of the day. I had calculated yesterday that if I leave work at 4:57, I can be home by 5:30, whereas leaving at 5:10 has me home after 6pm and waiting quite some time for my transfer in between. So I headed out at 5 'til 5, caught my bus (again, a few minutes later than scheduled, but in Minneapolis I frequent the 2, so I'm no stranger to wonky bus punctuality), and got to the station at 5:10 for my 5:15 bus home. 5:20 rolls around and still no bus. 5:40 comes (the departure time for the next bus) and still nothing. 6pm (the next departure time) and nothing - and all the while every other bus is rolling in and out like nothing has happened. By this time there are about 40 of us waiting for the #31.

At 6:20 (70 minutes later and 40 pages further in the book I'm reading), I hopped a bus that runs down a parallel street about a mile and a half south of our house. I took that bus to our cross street and walked up to the house.

The walk was good for me in several ways. I was able to settle my frustration a bit, just being in the cool air, seeing the few fallen leaves and the handful of people who were outside along the way. At the same time, I stayed frustrated at the fact that there were still 40 Eastsiders still waiting for their bus. I have no idea what happened to cause the (at least) triple no-show, but the other folks I was waiting with didn't seem too surprised. And there are any number of reasons why someone would have chosen to keep waiting rather than take the bus I took - having small kids, lots to carry, not being comfortable walking through the area between Jefferson and home, mobility issues.

So I'm frustrated, puzzled, unsurprised by this. A small part of me is glad that I was able to re-craft my plan on the spot, but that's a tiny victory (and mostly proves I can read the marquee on the front of the bus). And as goofy as it sounds, when I got home I was exhausted, just from that experience of waiting and not knowing when the bus would come. I had left work with grand plans of cooking up some of the beautiful produce we were given yesterday. But by the time I arrived at the house, I was beat. I warmed up leftover soup and sat down to President Obama's speech.

Like I said in reference to the 2 bus in Minneapolis - I am no stranger to waiting for buses, even in the bitter cold. But this has me thinking. What are the justice implications of 40 people from the poorest parts of Detroit just getting left at the bus station during afternoon rush hour? If any had to pick up kids from day care, they're looking at extra fees. If any had to meet with a parole officer, they could be looking at jail time. And shoot, if there were any others simply looking forward to cooking and relaxing for the evening, they lost that chance.

It's late and I'm tired, so I'll leave it there, except to say, on an entirely unrelated note: I have decided that the Rosa Parks Transit Center is probably the most aptly-named tribute to any person that I'm aware of. It's the polar opposite of naming an airport after Ronald Reagan. A transit station named after Rosa Parks. Hmm... I want to be the person who thought of that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

The Spirit of God is so often likened to the wind and on this, the coolest day that I've felt in almost 18 months, with a lively breeze that invited me out to the back porch for an hour or so, I do indeed feel as though I've been kissed by the Spirit. It is Labor Day in the US and a day of rest at Spirit of Hope. So it has been a morning of slow, paced cleaning, reading, music, and coffee drinking. Like I said, the wind called me outside and spent the last hour reading under a blanket out back. I'm closing in on 100 pages left in Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk and I very much recommend it. It is simple and beautiful, full of poetry and the wisdom of people who lived ages ago but still rings so true I can almost feel the reverb in my feet.

It's Labor Day, and in an hour or so, President Obama will be speaking in here in Detroit about jobs, I would imagine. And workers. I have such difficulty knowing how to feel about his time as president. I can pretty easily convince myself from one way to the other in a matter of moments, which gets exhausting sometimes! Maybe I ought to let myself live in the frustration - or better described, the discomfort - of not being sure. Leave the door open. Leaving the door open does not preclude living with expectations, however.

It's Labor Day, meaning that this weekend is the Detroit International Jazz Festival. And international though it may be, I still get to see some hometown talent, since the Steeles are in town performing this afternoon as part of the festival. I'm excited to go downtown to see them - and equally excited that the outing will require a scarf!

Things continue well on the work front. My supervisor is great. We have a new turkey - a ladyfriend for Uncle Bob, whom we are calling Auntie Roberta. (Yes, those are my dad's name and my mom's middle name. No further comment, except to say I had nothing to do with the names. :) Casa Yusef Shakur continues to cook good food, listen to excellent music, see interesting speakers and fun movies, and get to know the D. Tomorrow my supervisor is giving me a walking tour of the neighborhood surrounding the church, after which I can start going out and having conversations with folks about what they need in the way of HIV services and how Spirit of Hope and play a part in meeting those needs. I'm really looking forward to that.