Death-row attorney’s message of hope amid injustice

Attorney Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” which details his experiences representing inmates on death row.

At one point during Bryan Stevenson’s lecture on injustice and mass incarceration in America, the young man in his 20s seated next to me in the crowded auditorium quietly wiped tears from his face, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

I didn’t care who saw me doing the same.

Stevenson, attorney and author of “Just Mercy,” the best-selling book about his work representing death-row inmates, appeared in Syracuse, NY, last week to close out the 22nd annual Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series sponsored by the Friends of the Onondaga County Library.

At the start, Stevenson noted that he wanted to talk about solutions, not problems.

This, from an African-American man who has done the difficult work of trying — and sometimes failing — to convince judges to not execute men who may not be responsible for the crimes they’ve been imprisoned for, sometimes for decades. Stevenson has suffered indignities of his own, including getting strip-searched at a prison before he could meet with his client.

Yet, he remains positive and keeps on fighting for justice. In his talk, he outlined his four-point approach, solutions to at least some of the problems that abound in the justice system in America — the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Be proximate. “Incredible things happen when you’re proximate to those who suffer,” Stevenson said. In other words, don’t avoid those who are living in poverty and amid violence. “Fear and anger are the essential ingredients of oppression,” he said. Try to know people as individuals, and the context in which they live. “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth,” Stevenson said. “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

Change the narratives. “To be free, we have to commit ourselves to truth and reconciliation,” Stevenson said. So much of America follows false narratives about racism. A prevailing view of African-American history is a “three-day carnival,” he said. Day One, Rosa Parks doesn’t give up her seat on the bus. Day Two, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march from Selma to Montgomery. Day Three, racism is abolished. Not so.

We need to continue to talk about injustice and racism, past and present. Discrimination. Beatings. Lynchings. Not too long ago, there were “whites only” and “colored only” hotels, restaurants, water fountains. To his parents, Stevenson said, “Those weren’t directions. Those were assaults.”

Stay hopeful. “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice,” Stevenson said. “Hope is what you need to have to be proximate.” This is where his strip-search comes in. A prison guard who greeted Stevenson made it clear that he was the owner of the truck parked outside that bore 10 Confederate flags and racist stickers such as, “If I’d known it was going to be like this, I’d have picked my own damn cotton.” Believe it or not, that anecdote takes a hopeful turn. Read “Just Mercy” to find out.

Be willing to do uncomfortable things. Stevenson called this “the hard one,” noting that change only happens “when good people are willing to do uncomfortable things.” Stevenson knows this very well, and it doesn’t always succeed. He told of the time he had to call a mentally disabled client to tell him his appeal failed, and that he would be executed. The client sobbed and thanked Stevenson for trying.

Here, Stevenson asked, “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?”

He told of how he asked himself why he continues to do this incredibly difficult work. “My answer shocked me,” Stevenson said. “I realized I do what I do because I’m broken, too.”

Yes, if you devote yourself to this kind of work, Stevenson said, “It will break you. But it is in brokenness that we come to embrace others and feel connected.”

I urge you to visit Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative website and to read “Just Mercy.” It will change the way you look at the justice system in our country. It may even inspire you to do uncomfortable things.

Posted in poverty, racism, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The People’s Climate March, April 29, 2017

The People marched today, in cities everywhere, to bring attention to the reality of Climate Change and its ramifications for the planet.

Meanwhile at the White House, or perhaps Mar-a-Lago, the Plunder King sleeps.

 

 

Posted in Climate Change, environment, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

‘They never asked to be extorted, raped, threatened and beaten’

Banner in ... Translation: Migrants work all over the world and are human beings, not illegals under the xenophobic politics of Donald Trump. Photo by Theresa Barry.

Banner in Oaxaca City, Mexico, Jan. 20. Rough translation: Migrants are workers everywhere. No human being is illegal in the world. Stop the xenophobic policies of Donald Trump. Photo by Theresa Barry.

“She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.”

My brother recently returned from a 10-day volunteer stint representing women and children who have crossed the border from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. They are being held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, euphemistically called a “family residential center.”

My brother is an attorney and represents these families in “credible fear” interviews that ultimately lead to a judge’s ruling that decides their fate.

There’s more to the legal process than that, but I need to share the stories of three women my brother met this month. These women, and potentially their children, are at risk of deportation (to the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), under the administration’s ramped-up “security” plans.

Mr. President, do you want to send them back? Here is what awaits them.

My brother writes:

  1. One Salvadoran woman who sold simple clothing items as a street vendor (a very common means of survival for many women) saw four of her fellow vendors, two women and two men, shot to death in a period of 7 weeks by the “mareros” (gang members) for failure to meet extortion demands.  After the fourth killing, she decided that she could no longer protect her child and must flee, leaving behind her family, friends and everyone and everything that was part of her life.
  2. Another woman, from Guatemala, who walked six minutes in the dark to the nearest bus stop at 5 a.m. every day to go to her job in a factory, was beaten and raped on two occasions (and extorted numerous times), by a marero whose partner held a gun to her head the entire time.  She had been paying the gang’s increasing extortion demands for several weeks until she no longer could afford to pay her rent and food for her 4-year old son. After the second rape, the marero told her that this was a lesson to her and also for her son (a beautiful, high-functioning little boy) when the gang’s demands are not met.  She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.
  3. A third Salvadoran working woman refused to agree to MS’s demand that she make her 8-year old son available to them to deliver drugs and to be groomed for membership in MS in a couple of years.  They also demanded, on three separate occasions, that she pay extortion each week.  After she had refused three times, on both counts, the mareros then came to her home, entered by force and told her this was her last chance.  With her son cowering behind her, she again refused.  The mareros then grabbed her and set her clothes on fire.  Yes, the clothes she was wearing.  She suffered serious burns on her left arm, shoulder and hand, but she had saved her son for the time being.  They fled the country for the safety of the U.S. as soon as she was released from the hospital.

“These are just a few of the many accounts we hear, week in and week out, from women who never asked to be extorted, raped, threatened and beaten,” my brother wrote.  “They were unfortunate enough to have been born and raised in these places, where the gangs are the de facto government, the police are corrupt or terrified of the gangs and the official government is helpless to protect its own citizens.

“Violence and fear are a part of their everyday lives.  Gang members roam the hallways of schools looking for recruits (boys) and sex slaves (girls), starting at a very young age, with the administrators and teachers helpless to stop them.  These are good people who need our help.

“Please understand this is not a matter of politics. It’s about humanity.”

The Trump administration has ramped up its plans to round up and deport asylum seekers like these women, along with undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. less than two years. The feds are casting a wide net with the “expedited removal” policy, and it is causing widespread fear among millions of law-abiding, tax-paying people.

A plea: My brother — who has signed on for his fourth trip to Dilley this spring — is volunteering through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a collection of attorneys and others who provide free legal representation.

If you’re moved to help with these efforts, please use the link above to help the CARA Pro Bono Project and its four founding organizations — the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association).

Posted in Children, Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sincerely, The Future of Healthcare

Here’s the backstory behind the video letter to President Donald J. Trump, “Sincerely, The Future of Healthcare,” that went viral last week, and a look at the five Upstate medical students who made it happen – in five days’ time. →

via Meet the Upstate students behind the ‘Sincerely …’ viral video — With Distinction

Posted in Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A view from the Women’s March on Washington

The National Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Saturday was a truly transformative moment in our nation’s history.

The title notwithstanding, it was more than a just a march of and for women. So many among the estimated million marched in solidarity for many causes and groups that are now in jeopardy with the change in administration.

As we marched among ever-growing numbers along the National Mall, I overheard one woman ask, “How did we lose?”

The complex answer to that very good question has already been answered. But her disbelief reflected the beginning of a movement that won’t go away, and will not kowtow to the liars and thieves now in charge.

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Posted in Irish Investigations, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Inauguration 2017, the fate of our scorpion-elect and our democracy: an updated fable

scorpionimageThe fate of President-elect Donald J. Trump and democracy, explained by the Greek storyteller, Aesop, with a 21st-century update:

1.

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?”

The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out. In midstream, the scorpion stings the frog.

The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp, “Why?”

The scorpion replies, “It’s my nature.”

2.

As Inauguration Day looms, we’re almost halfway across the stream. America has cut a risky deal with its Scorpion-elect.

Many individuals, groups and ideals have tried crossing the stream with him — political rivals, the media, common decency — and he has stung them all.

Somehow the scorpion proved Aesop wrong, surviving every time.

But there is hope. The fable has been revised.

3.

. . . In midstream, just as the scorpion is about to sting the frog (cue dramatic music!) a southern grasshopper mouse appears between them. The scorpion stings the mouse over and over.

But the mouse is immune to the venom and kills the scorpion. The frog and mouse make it to the other side.

Catching its breath, the grateful frog gasps, “Why did you kill the scorpion?”

The mouse replies, “It’s my nature.”

4.

Yes, the southern grasshopper mouse is a natural predator of scorpions. Not only is it immune to a scorpion’s sting, the venom actually acts as a painkiller, enabling the mouse to kill the scorpion.

Which brings us to our Scorpion-elect. His venom — the lies, the predatory behavior, the hateful words — will be his undoing. It may require some timely intervention, but it will happen.

When it does, there will be schadenfreude, elation. Perhaps there will be a trace of sympathy. But that will pass, as will the pain and memory of his sting.

Mostly there will be relief.

The frog and the grasshopper mouse, safely on the other side of the stream, will survive.

It’s their nature.

Sources:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6157/441

http://aesopfables.com/cgi/aesop1.cgi?srch&fabl/TheScorpionandtheFrog

http://www.spectacle.org/995/scorp.html

http://news.medicine.iu.edu/releases/iu/2013/11/mouse-pain.shtml

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/hledej.php?hleda=scorpion

Author:

http://jim-mckeever.com

Posted in Politics, stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Kicking Ass, Libtards and My Modest Proposal

Here’s an anecdote that sums up The Divided States of America, and a rather simplistic explanation of how we got there.

But because our attention spans have been Twitterized, here’s the explanation first: Bad parenting.

Now the anecdote, plus my modest proposal.

Over the weekend, I tweeted that — on top of Donald Trump’s many faults — he can’t spell. (It was after the “unpresidented” thing, if you’re keeping score).

I was taken to task by some Twitter newbie, who replied that Trump’s difficulty with his native language doesn’t matter. Trump “kicked ass” on that “crooked” Hillary and “won” the presidency.

I responded that if he thinks losing by almost 3 million American votes is “kicking ass,” he’s delusional. I also took him to task for using the offensive word “libtard,” a perverted shortening of “liberal retard.”

I then dared him to use that word face-to-face with a parent of a child with disabilities. And, please, send me the photos of what happened after he did so.

His snarky response? “Libtard” has nothing to do with disabilities. “Don’t be ignorant,” he wrote.

Common sense dictates that a rational, open-minded conversation with this hate-filled individual is impossible. I can say “hate-filled” because I looked at his tweets, and they’re very, very unkind to liberals, gays, Rachel Maddow, “frumpy” women, et al.

Based on what I saw on Twitter, I assume he’s a straight, white male of privilege. So, how did he end up so pathetically, dangerously angry?

Unless he had his lunch money stolen every day in grade school, the answer has to be . . . bad parenting.

It’s way too late to do anything about that, but here’s an idea. Call it my Modest Proposal.

Let’s sterilize him. Really. Before he has a chance to breed, unless that has already happened (thanks in no small measure to alcohol, of course). We must act swiftly.

While we’re at it, and with the help of concerned citizen tipsters, let’s round up as many of these bad-parents-in-waiting as we can, and snip their reproductive capabilities in the bud.

It’s not as if this practice is unprecedented.

America has sterilized certain populations during its ugly chapters, but . . . this is different. People such as my Twitter troll, and the “Cook my fucking burrito, bitch!” Trump supporter at an Arizona rally shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce.

We need to do this for no other reason to make America . . . less ignorant again.

Posted in American History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Post-election mandate: Let’s get into some good trouble

I can’t start my days like this anymore — checking the news and seeing the latest assault on truth, decency and the Constitution from the president-elect.

Along with the lies and ignorance, each morning brings the “body count” reflecting the popular vote from the Nov. 8 election. It’s at negative-2.8 million for this guy now. Not that it matters.

Every morning, I put the coffee on, settle in front of the laptop and my mood darkens, my blood pressure rises.

I’ll share a post or two on Facebook, fire off a snarky tweet (sound familiar?) and after a fleeting moment of righteousness and catharsis … depression and helplessness set in. This morning it’s 30 degrees and snowing, and the house is chilly — and I started sweating as I read yet another lie, saw yet another photo of the arrogant man who would be king.

It can set the tone for the day if I’m not careful.

I need to stop. It’s not healthy.

Here’s my plan — read a little less, do a lot more. I’m offering my services to human rights organizations, not-for-profits and agencies that help the oppressed, disenfranchised and bullied. The awful evening of Nov. 8 put a bigger target on their backs.

So if there’s an organization out there that needs help fighting the good fight, I’m available. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to my profession as a writer and editor. I need to join the ranks of those already working to stop what this man and his followers are planning.

As U.S. Rep. and Civil Rights leader John Lewis said, let’s get into some good trouble. Contact me here or via http://jim-mckeever.com.

Posted in Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Hail to the Chief

Donald Trump

NBC News photo.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the President-elect of the United States of America.

God help us all.

Posted in Irish Investigations, Politics | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Donald Trump and I threw snowballs at a car when we were 13

When we were eighth-grade classmates, Donald Trump and I used to pal around and do mischievous things.

One winter day when we were walking to school, Donald and I conspired to have snowballs handy and wing them as hard as we could at the next car that came by.

Sure enough, a car came toward us and we fired the snowballs (it was a “good packing day,” as I recall), nailing that sonofabitch right on the windshield. And then we took off running, which is a good thing because the driver stopped, turned his car around and came gunning for us.

Donald and I took off in separate directions, cutting through the yards of people we didn’t know. I found a place to hide, among some pine trees, crouching down and trying not to breathe. Soon, I heard someone running through a nearby yard.

It wasn’t Donald.

It was the driver, who, to my good fortune, didn’t see me. I waited several minutes, more scared than I had ever been in my life. If the guy had seen me, he justifiably would have beaten the crap out of me and/or hauled me in to the authorities.

It may be hard to believe, but I’ve thought about that snowball toss many, many times over the past decades. I still feel horrible about what we did. We could have caused a serious, perhaps fatal, accident. And I never want to feel that frightened, that remorseful, ever again.

But here’s the thing. Donald actually got off on what we did; his glee of getting away with it was evident when we found each other that morning at school. He couldn’t wait to do it again.

The feeling of power he got with that snowball fed his insatiable desire to do more harmful things. To women. To employees. To business partners. Basically, to anyone who tries to spoil his fun.

Donald is still 13. He can’t tell the truth, and nothing is ever his fault. He turns on the charm, and his smile belies what he is actually thinking. He gets off on power, and will say and do anything to get it and maintain it. He is incapable of empathy, of remorse, of responsibility.

Classic sociopathic behavior.

Donald Trump should not, and cannot, be elected president of the United States.

(I was with someone other than Trump that day, of course, but you’ve read so many lies that bolster his candidacy, you can read one that opposes it. The friend I was with that day felt just as remorseful as I did afterward.)

Posted in Irish Investigations, Politics, role models | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments