Ramon Romero’s back yard party left me feeling warm and hopeful.
Putting Jesus back on trial
On Maundy Thursday, Mark Osler and Jeanne Bishop will be staging their 12th re-enactment of the trial of Jesus, this time using Texas law and legal procedure.
If Jesus was tried in a Texas court would he have been sentenced to life in prison, death, or would he have been acquitted? Holy Week is the perfect time to reflect on this question and this article from the Austin American-Statesman gives Osler and Bishop an opportunity to explain why they are putting Jesus on trial all over again.
Some might take offense at the very idea of placing Jesus on trial, in Texas or anywhere else; after all, he is the Son of God and all.
But there were good reasons for hauling Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate in the first century. As Jeanne Bishop puts it: “When you tell people to give to the poor and sell everything you own and follow me, or you’re saying, ‘Turn the other cheek; don’t resist an evildoer,’ those are subversive things.”
Drama asks audience to consider Christ, death penalty
If Jesus were prosecuted today under Texas law, what would we do?
Would we sentence him to a life behind bars, or would we sentence him to death? (more…)
Texas business needs Latino labor; the Texas GOP needs Latino votes
By Alan Bean
Thanks to Scott Henson for alerting me to this piece in the San Antonio Express-News. In the 2012 election, as everyone knows, Latinos turned out in record numbers, voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Signs abound that Republicans, even in safely red states like Texas, are taking notice.
Even if Latinos continue to support Democrats, the blue team won’t be competitive in the Lone Star State for at least another decade. But Republicans can’t win the presidency without significant Latino support, and that sobering fact has deflated the anti-immigrant movement, at least temporarily.
Long-term, Texas Republicans can maintain control of their state’s legislative machine only by cultivating Latino participation and influence. That won’t happen if Texas Republicans are lining up to sponsor anti-immigrant legislation.
Jason Buch’s article (see below) suggests the Texas GOP may be awakening to the new reality.
If so, this is great news. Mass deportation is having the same impact in poor Latino communities that mass incarceration has wrought in poor African American neighborhoods, and for similar reasons.
During the most recent session of the Texas legislature, immigrant rights activists combined with pro-business groups to defeat most Arizona-style bills. Texas businesses, large and small, need undocumented workers in the same way the GOP needs Latino votes. Texas Republicans can soldier on as the Party of White for at least another decade without Latino support, but bereft of undocumented labor the state’s economic infrastructure would collapse.
Immigrants, legal and otherwise, contribute far more in labor and taxes than they absorb in various forms of social assistance. Brave men and women (it takes courage to cross the border these days) come to America in search of work and show their gratitude by working far harder than most native born citizens. As Texas moves reluctantly into new demographic territory, may these good people receive the dignity and respect they deserve. (more…)
Changing the wind in Waco
By Alan Bean
An earlier post, Immigration and the Heart of God, was written for the event described in this article. The goal was to place the immigration issue on the agenda of the faith community. Friends of Justice has been part of this work for several months now and, in cooperation with like-minded groups and individuals, we plan to expand the scope of the Immigration and the People of God program described below. Lydia Bean’s comment captures the spirit of this work: “It is very clear this is something God cares about. Politicians always have their finger in the wind to see how it blows. Rather than trying to change the politicians, we’re trying to change the wind.”
Waco churches urged to join immigration reform discussion
By CINDY V. CULP
Local activists are encouraging Waco churches to join a nationwide effort that seeks to move the discussion about immigration policy from the political arena to church pews.
The effort kicked off this summer with a symposium that explored what the Bible says about immigrants and how Christians should respond. Held at First Spanish Assembly of God Church in Waco, it drew representatives from 27 organizations, most of them churches, organizer Manuel Sustaita said.
Now, the fledging group is encouraging pastors to follow through on pledges they made at the event, said Lydia Bean, another organizer.
Nine said they would preach sermons this fall related to God’s heart for immigrants. Others vowed to hold voter registration drives or host guest speakers to educate members about immigration issues, she said.
The group plans to meet later this month to talk about possibly hosting a broader community event, Bean said. But for now, the focus is on encouraging congregations to discuss immigration issues. That sort of grass-roots effort is the best bet for prompting meaningful immigration reform, she said.
“I think it is very clear this is something God cares about . . . Politicians always have their finger in the wind and see how it blows,” said Bean, an assistant sociology professor at Baylor University. “Rather than trying to change the politicians, we’re trying to change the wind.”
Bean and Sustaita — who is known to many in the community because of his role as founder of the Waco Vietnam Veterans Memorial — declined to publicly list the churches involved. They said they are sensitive to the fact that immigration policy is a politically touchy issue and want to let pastors approach it in their own time and own way.
But most of the churches involved are evangelical, they said.
The Catholic Church has long advocated immigration reform, Bean and Suistaita noted. So parishes here are already involved in the issue.
But the topic is only recently gaining traction in evangelical circles, Bean said. (more…)
The “theology” of a Lubbock Judge puts Texas back in the spotlight
By Alan Bean
Lubbock County Judge Tom Head wasn’t looking for national publicity when he set up an interview with the local Fox affiliate. Head just wanted to plug a 1.7% tax increase that would fund an expansion of the sheriff’s department and put more money at the disposal of the DA’s office.
But Tom Head is now famous, for the moment at least. Perhaps the County Judge thought the voters needed a really good reason to open their wallets. How about this scenario. There’s a good chance that Barack Obama will get himself elected (God forbid), and if that happens we’re gonna have as an old time insurrection, right here in Lubbock County. And Obama, he’s not gonna like that so he’s just likely to call in UN troops, an army of foreign occupation, and force his will on the good people of Lubbock County at gunpoint. And if that happens, I’m gonna stand boldly in front of those UN personnel carriers and say, “You ain’t comin’ in here!
I am paraphrasing. You can find Mr. Head’s exact words here (and in several thousand other places). His paranoid screed went viral.
Lubbock attorney Rod Hobson (who helped shut down the ill-famed Tulia drug bust) was so impressed by the judge’s rhetoric that he hung a UN flag outside his office. “When I saw the story I thought, once again, Lubbock is going to be the laughingstock of the entire nation,” Hobson told a local TV station. “What makes it so sad is he is our elected county judge, who is in charge of a multimillion-dollar budget. That is scary. It’s like the light’s on, but no one is home. … I’d just like to think he’s off his meds.”
A few days ago, Fort Worth columnist Bud Kennedy expressed his relief that Missouri’s Todd Akin was deflecting attention from notorious Texas weirdos. This morning he admitted that the prurient interest of America has returned to the Lone Star State. To put things in perspective, Kennedy offers a little background on Mr. Head.
Folks, please understand. In Texas, we don’t choose our county judges or commissioners based on any qualifications besides who’s good at dominoes.
In the orchard of targets for TV joke writers, Texas county officials are low-hanging fruit.
Head, 63, is an administrator with only a psychology degree. He worked first in law enforcement as a Texas Tech University campus officer and city marshal, then as an elected county justice of the peace.
He moved up to county judge in 1999 and led his own mini-rebellion against Obama in 2009, posting literature and cartoons mocking him on a hallway bulletin board before commissioners removed them.
One of the posters showed jail book-in photos of nine arrestees in Obama T-shirts. Seven were African-American.
Asked to explain himself to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Head boldly shared his Christian witness:
I cannot divorce my theology and my philosophy from my office. I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun rights and if you’re gonna vote for me and if you’re not for gun rights, then you probably don’t want me in office.
In other words, this isn’t a story about a single Loony-Tunes (check out his tie in the picture above) judge in West Texas–the voters of Lubbock County like this guy.
But wait a minute here, what possible connection could there be between Mr. Head’s “theology” and his paranoid take on Obama and the United Nations?
The judge is likely referring to Agenda 21, an uncontroversial fluff-document signed by 178 world leaders, including President George H.W. Bush, in 1992. The idea was to encourage the efficient marshaling of scant natural resources in times of famine and natural disaster. Or that’s what we originally thought. Listen to Glenn Beck’s dispassionate take on Agenda 21:
Those pushing … government control on a global level have mastered the art of hiding it in plain sight, and then just dismissing it as a joke. Once [internationalists] put their fangs into our communities and suck all the blood out of it, we will not be able to survive.
Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center explains the paranoid perspective on Agenda 21 in remarkably restrained language:
Under Agenda 21, these activists argue, the expansive American way of life, in which everyone can aspire to the dream of owning a house with a big yard and two cars in the driveway, will be replaced by one in which increasing numbers are crammed into urbanized “pack ’em and stack ’em” apartment complexes, and forced to use mass transportation and live according to a collectivist ethos. Once the UN’s radical utopia is achieved, gun ownership will be forbidden and the UN will raise an army intent on terrorizing the populace in the name of social order and equality, sustainability and smart growth — all words that anti-Agenda 21 activists believe signal the true intent of the UN’s plan.
The tattered remnants of the John Birch Society are all over this stuff, which would be irrelevant were it not for the fact that Tim LaHaye, author of bestselling “Left Behind” series, is a proud JBS stalwart. LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins sprinkled Agenda 21 paranoia throughout their end times thrillers. I distinctly recall sitting in a well-attended Sunday School class in Tulia, Texas (70 miles north of Lubbock) in which Mr. LaHaye’s eschatology was embraced as the gospel truth.
But this isn’t just about West Texas. Texas is riddled with Anti-UN nuttiness. Ted Cruz, the man expected to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison as Texas Senator, is mad as hell about the imminent UN destruction of American sovereignty. In the mind of Ted Cruz, the Antichrist is George Soros, but the general thrust mirror’s the views of Beck. Cruz recently printed this rant on his personal blog:
Agenda 21 attempts to abolish “unsustainable” environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. Everyone wants clean water and clean air, but Agenda 21 dehumanizes individuals by removing the very thing that has defined Americans since the beginning—our freedom.
Cruz is particularly concerned that the UN plans to abolish the game of golf.
All of which explains how a simple-minded Texas judge could see opposition to a US president and an innocuous (and largely meaningless) UN document as theological issues. When the saints of God are raptured to heaven and the Antichrist (known as Nicolae Carpathia to Left Behind enthusiasts) comes to power, United Nations troops will spring to his assistance.
How do we explain this craziness? Or maybe it isn’t crazy. When the majority of people in a given locale (say, Lubbock, Texas) share a common delusion maybe it’s the unbelievers who are crazy. Who gets to define normal?
Tom Head’s fears about Barack Obama reflect the deep dread many Americans feel about the future. Where are we heading? What is happening to America? What’s it all about, Alfie?
How else do we explain the Tea Party’s undimmed enthusiasm for free market fundamentalism? After the financial industry lied and swindled the world to the brink of financial catastrophe, how can anyone believe in the natural goodness of unregulated markets?
Because it’s all we have. If the free market won’t save us, who will? If the free market won’t save us, the glory that was America disappears. It’s Ichabod time!
How do we explain why a great nation like the United States of America has a crumbling infrastructure and can’t pay its bills when the folks in collectivist dystopias like Canada, Norway and South Korea seem to be faring so much better?
We could blame the fact that we spend more on defense than all the other nations of earth combined. We could point to our bloated prison system. We could acknowledge that America is now a wholly owned subsidiary of a consortium of international corporations.
But that doesn’t sit right somehow.
How much better to believe that America has been hijacked by ultra-liberal socialist big-spenders like Barack Obama who give their true loyalty to Allah and/or a One World dictatorship. That way, we simply turn the reins over to pro-business folks like Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz and an unregulated market will gradually drag us back to prosperity.
If you’re Tom Head, it does.
Are Texas Democrats ready to take Latinos seriously?
By Alan Bean
With every new election cycle, the Latino share of the vote in Texas rises by about 2 percent. If this trend continues, as it almost certainly will, Latinos will eventually dictate the shape of politics in the Lone Star State.
George W. Bush took the Latino vote seriously, both as governor and president. When Republicans reach out to Latino voters they can snare as much as 40% of the vote, enough to win easily in deep-red Texas. This is because the white middle class is overwhelmingly Republican; only 26% of white Texans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, (his fifth worst showing with this demographic behind Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana).
I attended the event described in this Star-Telegram article with my sociologist daughter, Lydia Bean. The day’s most telling quote didn’t make it into the paper. Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino Chair of the Texas Democratic Party, told the gathering that after Ann Richards lost the governor’s race to George W. Bush in 1994, Texas Democrats pinned the blame on the defection of conservative to moderate white voters. In consequence, it was decided that winning these people back was the key to electoral success. (more…)
Texas executes wrong man
In 1989, Carlos DeLuna was executed for the killing of a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi, TX. His conviction rested solely on eyewitness testimony. Over twenty years after his execution, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review has published a report stating that DeLuna was not the murderer.
In reality, the murderer was most likely another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez was also at the scene of the crime, but fled in the other direction while police detained DeLuna. Despite DeLuna’s pleas of innocence and the prosecution’s lack of reliable evidence, DeLuna was found guilty of murder. And an innocent man was executed.
Sadly, this is just another chilling tale of our flawed justice system. MWN
Wrong man was executed in Texas, probe says
By Chantal Valery
He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLunapaid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out Tuesday found.
Even “all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them,” and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.
Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is “emblematic” of legal system failure.
DeLuna, 27, was put to death after “a very incomplete investigation. No question that the investigation is a failure,” Liebman said. (more…)
Michael Morton tells his story
by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro
Michael Morton is a free man.
In a recent 60 Minutes segment, you see footage of Morton being released from prison and stepping out into the warm Texas sunshine for the first time in 25 years. “The sun felt so good on my face, on my skin,” Morton recalls, “I felt like I was just drinking in the sunshine.”
In 1987, Morton was convicted of brutally murdering his wife, Christine. He was sentenced to life in prison.
But he was innocent.
Morton’s case gained national media attention last year when he was exonerated based on DNA evidence — a bandana found near the scene of the crime had traces of Christine’s blood and the DNA of another man. That same man’s DNA matched that found at the crime scene of another murder that happened in 1988 near where Christine was killed. Morton was in prison when the second murder occurred.
An investigation by the Innocence Project revealed prosecutorial misconduct in Morton’s case. Key pieces of evidence were withheld by the prosecution — pieces of evidence that would have cleared Morton’s name. The District Attorney at the time of Morton’s trial, Ken Anderson, is now under investigation.
“I don’t have a lotta things really driving me,” Morton says to the 60 Minutes reporter, “But one of the things is, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. Revenge isn’t the issue here. Revenge, I know, doesn’t work. But accountability works. It’s what balances out. It’s the equilibrium.”
Check out the full 60 Minutes report here.
Save the date: Ending mass incarceration community meeting in Dallas, TX
Innocent man finally exonerated
Richard Miles served 14 years in prison for the murder of one man and the attempted murder of another.
Miles’ guilt rested on the testimony of one eyewitness who claimed that he saw Miles shoot two men in a Texaco parking lot. Similar to the Curtis Flowers case, detectives pinpointed Miles and decided that he was guilty within a few hours of the shootings. Miles had an alibi and several individuals who corroborated his story, but that was irrelevant.
Despite little evidence, Miles was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
As of yesterday, however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Richard Miles is officially exonerated.
Unlike most of the exonerations thus far, there was no DNA to test. After it was discovered that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Miles was released in 2009 (but not officially exonerated). In 2010, the original eyewitness recanted his testimony, claiming that prosecutors coerced him into identifying Miles as the perpetrator.
Miles is one of many men who have recently been exonerated in Dallas, TX. The stories of several of these men are told in the book “Tested: How Twelve Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope” by Peyton and Dorothy Budd. MWN
Two Years After Wrongfully Convicted Richard Miles Was Released, He’s Officially Innocent
Free for two years, Richard Miles has nevertheless waited and waited for today — the official acknowledgement that he did not commit the murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake in 1994 for which he was sent to prison. The detailed 52-page opinion handed down from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reads like the outline of a Hitchcock film, detailing two police reports that weren’t disclosed at the time of Miles’s conviction, a 2010 recantation from the only uninvolved eyewitness and the determination that the small amount of gunshot residue on Miles’ hand was inconclusive. All of which amounted to the decision that the wrong man spent 14 years behind bars.
“When we balance the newly available evidence … with other exculpatory evidence and the evidence of guilt presented at trial, we are satisfied that Applicant has shown by clear and convincing evidence that no rational jury would convict him in light of the new evidence,” reads the court’s opinion released today.
The Dallas County District Attorney’s office recommended Miles’s release in 2009 after they determined that flaws in his trial violated his constitutional rights. Since his release more than two years ago, he’s been working, piecing his life back together and finding support in other exonerees as he waited for a decision from the state court, which must rule on all exoneration cases. But finally, as of today Miles can file for state compensation for his years spent locked up.
“This is going to be great for him because now he can do some of the things he wanted to do” like help his mother, said Charles Chatman, an exoneree who was released in 2008. Chatman and the other exonerees, including Miles, meet monthly, and Chatman tells Unfair Park that he and the other guys have given Miles a helping had since his release.
“We have helped him,” Chatman says, quickly adding that Miles isn’t “the kind of person who just depends on nobody.” Miles has been getting by working at a hotel, Chatman said, but even finding a job was difficult without a declaration of “actual innocence.” (more…)