The slow easy slide into brutality

I went on a political demonstration today. Well, it was called a vigil, and it was quiet, peaceful and non-confrontational, but it was a protest. It was expressing concern about Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers, specifically several hundred man on an island in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s northern neighbour.

Realistically, there is very little prospect, right now anyway, that our government will make a major change to its refugee policy, but we have to try. Down the track, change must surely come.

Because Australia has slipped ever so easily into a casual brutality in its treatment of desperate people, and one day we must surely be shamed into recognising how low we have sunk.

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The Death Penalty on Trial

Guest post by Shane Claiborne (taken from his Facebook page – see note below)

claiborne

Last month, I was arrested, along with 17 other people, as we held a banner on the steps of the Supreme Court that said: “STOP EXECUTIONS.”

We were not blocking doors or disturbing the peace. We were not unruly or disruptive. We were respectful, prayerful, nonviolent. We sang freedom songs. We carried roses in remembrance of those who have been murdered and those who have been executed. It was a solemn, holy procession. We tolled a bell 40 times signifying the forty years of executions in this modern era, and we held 40 posters with the names of the 1443 people killed by our government.

“Parading and Assemblage” – that’s the official charge, an obscure one that until now I didn’t even know existed. I remember hearing someone joke: “I guess The First Amendment ends on the steps of the Supreme Court.”

So that’s our crime: we held a banner outside the Supreme Court… at the very moment the state of Virginia was preparing to kill yet another person, Ricky Gray, execution #1444 since 1977.

We were shackled with chains on our hands, waist, and feet, and held in jail for over 30 hours. While we were in the DC jail, the same government that imprisoned us for holding a banner executed Ricky Gray. It does raise the question of what is right and what is wrong, doesn’t it?

When I got home from jail, I told some of our kids back in Philadelphia: “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. You can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right. And lots of folks throughout history have gone to jail for doing something right.”

Dr. King once said that initially he was troubled about going to jail, but then he looked at history and found that he was in good company.

This past week the 18 of us had our first appearance in court.

I am proud to stand next to the people I went to jail with, these holy troublemakers who are now my co-defendants. The group includes clergy and faith leaders, an exoneree who was wrongfully-convicted and sentenced to death, and families of both the murdered and of the executed.

Twelve of the 18 of us made a decision to take our case to trial, rather than accepting a plea bargain offered by the government. If found guilty, we could face jail time, fines, and community service… all of which pale in comparison to the twenty years my co-defendant Derrick Jamison spent on death row, staring down 6 execution dates, watching over 50 of his peers killed by the state… before he proved his innocence, and was released with no apology or compensation.

That’s why we went to jail — to expose the system of death. Our prayer is for an end to all killing, both legal and illegal. Our message is that violence is the disease, not the cure. It is time to stop trying to kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong.

We know that we are on the right side of history, and that our grandchildren will look back at the death penalty 50 years from now the same way we look back at slavery — with shame, bewilderment, and remorse.

Someone asked if I had any regrets. I said: “Only one… that I didn’t do this sooner.” I am proud of what we did. Not only would I do it again, but I will do it again. We will not stop protesting until the government stops killing.

We have a great attorney – one of the best — and we have every intention of defending the legality of what we did. But our hope is to take the focus off of us and put the death penalty on the stand. While I believe we are innocent of any crime… I am convinced that our country’s criminal justice system, and our Supreme Court’s validation of the death penalty, is a crime… and a moral failure.

As fate would have it, or as some of us might contend “by Divine appointment”– our trial is the week of June 28. That means our trial will coincide with one of the most important weeks in history when it comes to the death penalty. June 29 is the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, finding its application to be arbitrary and capricious, halting all executions. Four days later, July 2, is the anniversary of the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, which allowed executions to resume. These four days between these two historic anniversaries invite us all to question whether or not the death penalty has a future in America. During the week of our trial, the annual Fast and Vigil to end the death penalty will happen in front of the Supreme Court. I hope you will join us in DC– June 28-July 2, 2017… as we put the death penalty on trial.

Shane Claiborne is an American christian activist, writer and leader who I admire deeply. This text and photo were taken from Shane’s Facebook post, and he says the photo “is thanks to Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshals, who apparently took some of the best images”.

Are you an extremist?

Man carrying political sign

The dictionary defines an extremist as “a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action.”

Search for photos tagged as “extremist” (as I did for this post) and the majority of the photos are of Americans protesting against their government, especially their President. The one I used is one of the milder and least extreme!

But ask Americans what actions they think are “extremist” and you’ll get some interesting, and perhaps surprising, answers.

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Christmas, christians and a deep sense of foreboding

Flowers in Martin Place

This last week has been a disturbing one for many Australians. A hostage siege in Sydney, that left two hostages and the gunman dead, made a deep impression.

Of course other countries have experienced far worse senseless killing and atrocities. This week has also seen the shooting of about 140 people, mostly school children, in Pakistan and further killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as ongoing killing in the Middle East and North Africa.

But I want to think for a moment about how people, especially christians, react to such events when they touch us personally.

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Asylum seekers: a long journey for many of us

Love Makes a Way

Desperate people fleeing persecution in their home countries make long journeys, overland and by boat, to reach the safe haven of Australia, hoping to be granted refugee status and residency. They don’t receive a welcome.

I have travelled a long journey in my thinking about asylum seekers, and it seems our country is on a similar journey.

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Easter Saturday prayer vigil for refugees

Christians welcome refugees

9 of 12 members of our church who attended the vigil.

I have blogged before on the plight of refugees from war-torn or unstable countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran arriving in Australian waters by boat and Australia’s somewhat callous attitude to them – see links below this post.

Australia outsources some of its nastier policies to poor surrounding nations such as Papua New Guinea, which allows Australia to transfer detainees awaiting assessment of their claims (which will be very slow, quite possibly deliberately to discourage others) to a detention centre on Manus Island.

About 2 months ago Reza Barati, a 23 year old Iranian asylum seeker, was murdered in the Manus Island detention centre in circumstances which our Government either keeps secret, or doesn’t care to find out (so far at least).

More than anything else I think, this violent death of an apparently peaceful and innocent man in the prime of life, seems to have catalysed many Australians, including many christians, to protest that enough is enough and whatever the merits of the Government’s policy objectives on asylum seekers, the moral price of the present approach is too high.

On Easter Saturday, 125 people gathered in front of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office to pray and protest. I was there.

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