Justice Killing?

blind justice

by Katie Brick

I was inspired when I read about Denise and Bill Richard, parents of an 8-year boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing, who asked Federal prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table. I was challenged – would I do the same if my kids were killed that way? Theoretically: yes. But I would never ever want to test that theory, nor am I in an omniscient position to judge how grief impacts people or what they think will bring them solace.*

So I am one of the growing number of people who want the death penalty to be taken out of the equation in the U.S. Don’t give it as an option to prosecutors, to bereaved loved ones, to the criminal justice system.

When the time from sentencing-to-death can be decades, there is a pragmatic reason for ending the death penalty. Each new appeal and delay brings the tragedy back up in the minds and hearts of survivors. In a Boston Globe piece titled, “To End the Anguish, Drop the Death Penalty,” the Richards wrote, “The defendant murdered our eight-year-old son, maimed our seven-year-old daughter and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”   They continued, “As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours. The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”

In my opinion, religious principles are another reason to end the death penalty.   My religious denomination, among many others, opposes the death penalty on religious and spiritual grounds. Thank you Catholic Church for offering some clear reasoning about themes of the dignity of the human person and protecting life vis a vis the death penalty, which can be seen in an April statement opposing the death penalty from the Massachusetts Catholic Bishops.

With DePaul University’s mission and geography, the issue of the death penalty is particularly relevant to those of us who attend and work here. DePaul is grounded in a Catholic tradition that opposes the death penalty. Our Vincentian character calls us to attend to the dignity inherent in each human person and particularly to serve those who are on the margins of society – people who disproportionately are sentenced to death. For example, while African Americans comprise about 14% of the U.S. population, they make up 42% of people currently awaiting execution.

Students who volunteer or do academic work throughout Chicago as part of our Urban mission tenet become aware of the disproportionate incarceration rates of people of color and many students are from communities where the justice system has often proved itself to be unjust and worth questioning. Our College of Law has been a leader around justice in capital cases, and I have been to some incredibly moving DePaul educational events on the topic.

In fact, anti-death penalty activist Sr. Helen Prejean felt such a kinship between her work and the DePaul mission that she donated her archives to the University, and each spring we now have Sr. Helen Prejean Week, which she anchors. During her most recent visit, the DePaulia reports that Sr. Helen said, “It boils down to this: That no human being can ever be identified completely with the worst act of their life…Life is fluid. There’s a transcendence in us. We can change.” This is another reason I do not believe in the death penalty – I have heard incredible stories about death row inmates that involve wisdom, repentance, faith, and human connection. What human can decide to end a life? Is that not up to God?

In a talk at DePaul, I heard Sr. Helen say that she believes most people who are in favor of the death penalty are simply undereducated. They don’t understand the lack of justice with much of the process around who gets sentenced to death, they mistakenly believe it will bring healing and resolution to victims’ loved ones and communities, and they are not aware of other just alternatives that will protect communities and hold people accountable for their actions.

It seems as if Massachusetts, whose last state execution was in 1947, may have gotten the education Sr. Helen is talking about. A recent Boston Globe poll showed that just 19 percent of Massachusetts residents wanted the Boston Marathon bomber to get the death penalty. So whose needs are being met with achieving the verdict of death? Why does killing someone to punish them for being a killer seem righteous to a majority of Americans – albeit a shrinking one as attitudes continue to change? What is the meaning in sentencing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death when those who might have opposed such a sentencing were excluded from the jury pool and the Federal government had to spend so much time and money not to prove him guilty – that was never in doubt – but to convince a jury to sentence him to death?

As a person of faith, I hope this high profile case continues to raise these sorts of questions. I hope it causes more of us – including me – to continue our education around capital punishment and what must be done. I hope for more healing now that the trial is over (is it over?) and will keep all those impacted by the Marathon bombing in my thoughts and prayers, for that is one thing I can do here and now.

 *I suggest reading the novel “The Sweet Hereafter” by Russell Banks for some perspective on how the legal system can delay the healing of individuals and rip communities apart. This book still haunts me when I scan the news or hear about families like the Richards, and indeed, sometimes art or literature moves me more than religious dictates around ethical issues.

Katie Brick is the Director of the Office of Religious Diversity at DePaul University.

Suis-je Charlie? My Free Thoughts about Free Speech


 Fr.Guillermo “Memo” Campuzano, C.M., currently serves as Priest Chaplain for DePaul’s Catholic Campus Ministry.  He has worked on behalf of social justice on several continents and often works with religious communities around issues of faith and mission.  Students adore him and his challenging, humorous, realistic and loving approach to life and relationships as well as his absolute passion for justice on behalf of those who are marginalized. Let’s hope all are inspired to share their thoughts in the wake of his – he loves a lively diálogo.

This is my first blog post ever.  So my readers need to be very gentle and compassionate with my disorganized, free thoughts that I intend to share.  My intention in accepting the challenge to write a blog about Charlie Hebdo is to be thought provoking and not in any way to dogmatize about something that needs to be analyzed very carefully (not just from one perspective).

This week I have read in several magazines and newspapers around the globe about something that deeply captured my attention:  the right to blaspheme – which can mean many things.  In a way, it’s what many in our society consider an absolute right – the right to say anything we want with no limits whatsoever.  The right to blaspheme is the right to say whatever we want about what others consider sacred/absolute in their lives.  Religious people who believe in God are people with an absolute that they call Hashem, Allah, El Shaddai – just to mention the three monotheistic Abrahamic religious experiences.  I am aware that on behalf of this absolute, many acts of inhumanity have been and continue to be made in our society.

For me the paradox is that many people are claiming – after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack – that they believe in another absolute:  free speech, which gives them the right to say anything they want about other people’s absolutes, even if it is offensive.  That absolute (free speech) is so absolute that they are willing to risk their lives for it.  I say, “What?!?!”  My question:  Is this a battle between secular and religious absolutists?  Does this reoccurring god of the intellectual world have any ethical limits?  Or is it an absolute absolutism?

I am a religious man – and I humbly think I am an intellectual man.  I like to say what I think – that is what I am doing on this blog.  From both perspectives, as a religious man and as a pseudo-intellectual man, I believe that both my faith and my free speech have limits – my absolute respect for life.  I absolutely deny, in my life, the possibility to kill or harm in the name of God.  But I also deny the possibility to risk my life or put other people’s lives at risk just for me to have the right to say whatever I want.  From an ethical perspective I think there is a moment when I morally can risk my life religiously or secularly:  it is when I would give my life to protect the life of others.  This is martyrdom in religious terms – to protect the life of others – or the most radical act of humanity in secular terms.  Is this an absolute where religious and secular worlds can meet?  I hope so.

In our humanity, what is absolute?  To what do we give that value?  What are willing to do to protect it?

Macon Memories

by Katie Sullivan

This past week, from December 2-9, residents of DePaul’s Vincent and Louise House (V&L) spent their winter break service immersion trip at Daybreak, a project of DePaul USA, in Macon, Georgia.  Daybreak is a day/resource center that provides the homeless population of Macon with critical services in one location.  Daybreak believes that “everyone should have a place to call home and a stake in their community.”

Featured image

The students from V&L got to know guests and helped with the daily tasks that needed to be done, from serving breakfast to helping with laundry and showers to assisting guests with resumes and job searches in the technology room.  It was a week filled with connections and memories and gratitude.  Being welcomed into the Daybreak community was like being welcomed into someone’s family!

Featured image
Olivia Johnson, a junior living in the V&L House, is excited to help guests in the technology room at Daybreak.
Liam Kemmy, a sophomore V&Ler, pets a puppy one of the Daybreak guests brought with him.
Sophomore Erica Dix sits with Caleb, one of the guests from Daybreak.
Morgan Spears, a senior living in the V&L House, plays checkers with Eric, a guest at Daybreak.
Juniors Katie Wallace and Nicolette Prociuk sit in the great room at Daybreak. Nicolette made beaded bracelets for many of the guests and Katie kept her company.

Daybreak provides much needed services to those in need in the Macon community, and it also provides volunteers, such as the students from the V&L House, the opportunity to simply be present with the guests and get to know them and hear their stories.  Sr. Elizabeth Greim, DC, the program director, encouraged the V&Lers to participate in the “ministry of presence” during their time at Daybreak, which for some involved sitting with a guest and talking.  For others, it involved playing a game with a guest or two and getting into the competitive spirit with them. The ministry of presence looked different for everyone in the group, but all were embodying the spirits of St. Vincent and St. Louise as they used their time intentionally to get to know guests.

The V&L House residents pose with a statue of Otis Redding, who was from Macon, in a park close to Daybreak. Front Row (L to R): Olivia Johnson, Nicolette Prociuk, Liam Kemmy, Morgan Spears, Katie Wallace. Back Row (L to R): Erica Dix, Beth Pedraza, Nick Cuba, Alli Grecco
Vincent and Louise House residents outside Daybreak. Front row (L to R): Beth Pedraza, Morgan Spears, Olivia Johnson, Alli Grecco, Nicolette Prociuk. Back row (L to R): Erica Dix, Liam Kemmy, Nick Cuba, Katie Wallace

Interested in learning more about the Vincent and Louise House and the work they do throughout the year?  Think you might want to apply to live in the house next year?  Follow the V&L House on Facebook for updates about what’s going on in the house and information about the application process, which takes place during Winter Quarter.

Katie Sullivan is the University Minister for Catholic Social Concerns in DePaul’s Catholic Campus Ministry office and coordinates the Vincent and Louise House.