Unveiled: Attack on Women’s Rights in the U.S.

April 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Stephanie Brown
stephanieb@smu.edu

Panelists at Thursday's "Under Fire: Women's Rights in the U.S." program.

As students flocked to Moody Coliseum, Thursday, to attend Ke$ha’s “Get Sleazy” concert, others climbed the steps of Dallas Hall, filling McCord Auditorium to capacity. These students and members of the Dallas community were interested in participating in a different, more serious event; one that addressed an issue that is under attack in the United States and worldwide.

 

Women’s Rights.

The Embrey Family Foundation and Southern Methodist University’s Embrey Human Rights Program hosted the event entitled, “Under Fire: Women’s Rights in the U.S.” The event featured four panelists who spoke on different aspects pertaining to women’s rights.

Reverend Gary B. MacDonald, director of advanced ministerial studies at the SMU Perkins School of Theology, spoke first from a religious perspective regarding the conflicted liberty women face in dealing with abortion. In his lecture, MacDonald discussed the church and how they had a responsibility to initiate conversation regarding abortion and most importantly, teach that there is more than one way to view the issue from a Christian standpoint.

“We are supporters of women’s rights because we are people of faith,” MacDonald said.

Following MacDonald, the Director of Internal Legal Program for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Luisa Cabal, took the podium to examine the global trends on protecting the reproductive rights of women.

“Challenging times call for bold strategies to combat these problems,” she said.

Cabal focused on several case studies pertaining to countries across the world where women’s reproductive rights have been non-existent or restricted and how organizations such as hers are working to eradicate this problem. Cabal shared that progress that has been made in countries where women’s rights are limited or absent. She concluded by insisting it was imperative to fight for women’s reproductive rights in order to be considered a fundamental human right.

The next panelist, Kathy Miller, the Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network, presented on sex education in Texas. Miller infused her lecture with statistics that awed her audience. She also presented one particular statistic conveying the results of a survey conducted by the Texas Freedom Network in 2009 that caused the audience to audibly demonstrate their disbelief.

“In a state where 87 percent of the voting population wants comprehensive sex education in schools, this survey showed that 94 percent of high schools in Texas are teaching an abstinence only policy until marriage,” said Miller.

After she encouraged the audience to write to representatives regarding two bills that are before the Texas Legislature, which require the comprehensive teaching of sex education in schools, she turned the podium over to the final panelist, Kelly Hart.

Serving as the Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Hart expanded on what Miller discussed in regard to issues before the Texas Legislature, such as the Sonogram Bill and funding for programs such as Planned Parenthood.

“It’s a slap in the face to women for the government to say we’re going to take health care specific to your needs and wipe it off the map,” Hart said in reference to Planned Parenthood’s fight for funding.

As Hart concluded her lecture, Dr. Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, opened the floor for questions. During the question and answer session, the ethical responsibility of physicians to society, the Sonogram Bill’s implications on women and whether the male should role in the abortion process were debated.

Halperin closed the lecture by asking the audience to consider an idea regarding the law and women’s rights.

“In most countries the law is made by men for a certain purpose,” he said. “Is the law used to protect people as a shield or is it a sword used to remove people from the law and attack others in the name of the law?”

A Journey Through Burma…Past and Present

March 4, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Anne McCaslin Parker
annep@smu.edu

Author Rena Pederson tells her audience at SMU about Aung San Suu Kyi and life in Burma in her lecture "The Burma Chronicles" on Thursday, March 3, 2011. (PHOTO BY SYDNEY GIESEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Students gathered for an Embrey Human Rights Program in McCord Auditorium Thursday night to welcome distinguished journalist Rena Pederson.

Pederson, former editor for the Dallas Morning News and Pulitzer Prize nominee, began the evening by showing a documentary on the history of Burma and the condition the country is in under a dictator military regime.

A few years ago, she became particularly interested in a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been described as “arguably the best known political prisoner in the world.” She is the daughter of Aung San, a heroic man who fought for Burma’s independence in 1948. Just as the country was about to hang their first flag, he was assassinated and dictator Ne Win came into power. From this point on, Burma would become a country of unrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi left Burma at a young age to study abroad and became a happily married mother of two. In 1988, she returned home to care for her gravely ill mother when she realized the state of her country. Angry at the regime in power, she was determined to make a change. She became one of Burma’s top political leaders and with country wide support, led thousands of rallies, protests and founded the National League for Democracy.

Thursday night distinguished journalist Rena Pederson spoke at SMU regarding this history of Burma and their military regime.

The Burma Chronicles Flyer. Thursday night distinguished journalist Rena Pederson spoke at SMU regarding this history of Burma and their military regime.

After 1990 elections, it became evident that her party was going to take over the country and Ne Win commanded a vicious crackdown. Thousands became political prisoners overnight and soldiers killed anyone who tried to protest. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for six years.

During her time under house arrest, Rena Pederson arranged for a diplomat to smuggle her into the home of Aung San Suu Kyi for a one-on-one interview. “She was so impressive, I felt her, I was left momentarily speechless,” Pederson said. “She just has such an incredible presence.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, is known as “The Lady” throughout Burma because people are afraid if they say her name they will be prosecuted. Burma is currently under the control of Than Shwe, known as “The Old Man” or “Number One.”

“She is the one who is beloved by the whole country,” said Pederson. “Not him.”

In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and her husband and two sons accepted the award for her.

“She is a lady full of charisma, quality and leadership that some people try to cultivate, she developed it with fire,” said Pederson.

She was only able to see her family sporadically throughout the 1990s and when her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, she was unable to go to his deathbed because she knew she would never be able to come back. They mutually decided that it was best for her to stay and remain devoted to supporting fifty-five million other people.

Aung San Suu Kyi continues to remain a leader in her country, but the situation has not changed much. Freedom of expression, association and assembly are all strictly limited in Burma. According to Pederson, “This country is so religious. There are all of these people who are so religious and aspire to be so spiritual, yet it is so evil.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush has spoken out many times on the issue of Burma and continues to show her support. “The people live in fear,” Pederson says. “The best thing we can do for the people is to talk about it and keep it in the spotlight.”

Film Screening and Panel Discussion: “No Woman, No Cry”

February 25, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Meghan Sikkel
msikkel@smu.edu

"No Women, No Cry" directed and produced by Christy Turlington Burns raises awareness about maternal morality

SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program hosted a film screening and panel discussion in McCord Auditorium Thursday night featuring “No Woman, No Cry,” a documentary directed and produced by former model Christy Turlington Burns. The film raises awareness about maternal mortality, an issue found both abroad and in the United States, emphasizing that over half a million pregnant women die giving birth each year.

“No Woman, No Cry” documents the adversity faced by three pregnant women around the world: Janet, a young mother from the Maasai tribe in Tanzania who must walk five miles to the nearest clinic when she experiences complications with her pregnancy; Monica, a woman living in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh who insists on giving birth at home because she is too ashamed of her pregnancy to travel to a hospital and seek professional help; and Linda, an obstetrician in Guatemala who travels around the country educating women about pregnancy and giving post-abortion care.

SMU sophomore Rachel Stonecipher, vice president of Amnesty International and member of the Embrey Human Rights Program’s Student Leadership Initiative, “loved the film.”

“The part that really struck me was the woman in Bangladesh who couldn’t go to the hospital because of social pressures from her family and her community,” she said. “I think that sort of points at larger issues of women’s rights that need to be addressed before we can solve these problems.”

Panelists at the screening included Eric Bing, director of global health for the Bush Institute and Jodi Keyserling, senior policy analyst for CARE. Karen Kelly, CARE action network district chair for TX-12 and CARE field coordinator Suzanne Berman also spoke at the event.

CARE, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, is a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty in over 70 countries and serves nearly 57 million people.

“CARE works to attack poverty at its roots,” Keyserling said. “We do a lot of that through the empowerment of women and girls.”

The organization helped bring “No Woman, No Cry” to SMU.

“I wanted to see this film come to this area, to this region, because I believe Texans have a huge place in the change we are going to see,” Kelly said. “If you tell a Texan they can’t do something, it’ll happen.”

Speakers at the event discussed solutions to the issue of maternal mortality.

“You can have the best doctor in the world, the best services, the best the world has to offer, but if a woman doesn’t have the knowledge of the services, it’s difficult to really address this issue,” Keyserling said. “We don’t need a breakthrough to save women’s lives…we need financial resources and political will.”

Keyserling urged the audience to take action to help save women’s lives and emphasized the importance of gaining political support through communication with local officials.

“Right now this is a critical moment and a critical time when members of congress need to hear that people care about these issues,” she said. “You are the constituency. One of the top five things you can do is contacting your representatives and letting them know that you really care about these issues.”

Bing stressed the importance of internal change in making a difference in the world.

“I think that we all want the world to change around us and this to happen and that to happen without thinking that we’re going to change,” he said. “But once we change, we really can change the world.”

Panelists encouraged students who are interested in maternal mortality to attend CARE’s National Conference and International Women’s Day Celebration March 8-10 in Washington, D.C. Registration ends Friday, Feb. 25. Visit www.careconference.org for more information.

SMU Community Honors the Memory of Holocaust Victims

January 28, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Lee Gleiser
lgleiser@smu.edu

Yit’gadal v’yitkadash, the Hebrew words of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to honor the dead, resounded through the room of silent participants.

More than 30 SMU faculty, staff, students and community members gathered noon on Thursday to mark the liberation of Auschwitz – Birkenau by the Red Army 66 years ago.

The Embrey Human Rights Program and the Office of the Chaplain at SMU put together this memorial to commemorate the day declared by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A dimly lit room in the Hughes Trigg Student Center featured flickering candles illuminating black and white photographs of Holocaust victims and the sites of their suffering.

A large screen displayed a slide show of crematoriums and gas chambers witnessed by those who had recently returned from a Christmas break trip to Auschwitz with Human Rights Professor Rick Halperin.

“These pictures don’t even come close to the impact you have when you are standing there the day after Christmas,” Halperin said.

SMU Chaplain Steve Rankin called the participants to the “holy task” of never forgetting those who had suffered and perished. Halperin then invited everyone to consider traveling with him on his annual journey to the sites where “four million people were obliterated for no fault of their own, just because of who they were.”

Halperin said there are four lessons to take away from the event. The first is the duty of remembrance of the 11 million people who died, each of whom had “a name, a life, dreams, hopes, an identity.” The second is to prevent it from ever happening again in a world where hate lives on. The third lesson is to speak up and overcome indifference and the fourth is to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves.

“It is not enough to remember,” Halperin said. “The key to a better world is commitment to act.”

Rabbi Heidi Coretz, director of SMU Hillel, lit a memorial candle and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish. The room was absolutely silent. When the prayer ended, there were hushed tones and whispers as people talked among themselves, viewed the slide show or sat in silent reflection.

The participants were of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, and all religious affiliations, including students in their 20s and faculty and staff in their 60s. Some had come from campus. Others had come from as far away as Fort Worth.

Gil Amsellem was born in Israel and had moved to Texas when he was 13. A recent graduate of UT Arlington, Amsellem drove from Fort Worth to attend the event.

“It is very important for me to keep my Jewish faith as much as I can,” Amsellem said.

Katie Perkins, a junior at SMU majoring in English and political science, came because she feels “it is really important to show support and reverence for what happened and to remember. It is hard to believe people can be so cruel and unfeeling.”

SMU has honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day annually for the past five years. When asked if he was pleased with the event and the turnout, Halperin responded, “The only failure of this event would have been not to have done it.”

Those who attended arrived in silence but were called not to be silent as they left.

The Embrey Human Rights Program will be hosting a trip to Holocaust sites and memorials throughout Germany March 11-20, 2011. Those interested may contact Rick Halperin at rhalperi@smu.edu or Sherry Aikman at saikman@smu.edu.

www.jewfaq.or/prayer/kaddish.htm
www.un.org/holocaustremembrance/

http://smu.edu/humanrights/

HIV/AIDS Expert Speaks to Students on Campus

January 27, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Medical anthropologist Anat Rosenthal described her research on HIV/AIDS and its impact in Malawi. (PHOTO BY HAYLEY BOSCH / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

By Hayley Bosch
hbosch@smu.edu

The Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, the Department of Anthropology and the Embrey Human Rights Program welcomed medical anthropologist Dr. Anat Rosenthal to SMU Wednesday afternoon to share her knowledge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Rosenthal began working on issues of HIV/AIDS in 2002 in Israel. More recently, she moved her study to Malawi—a country in Sub-Saharan Africa that struggles with HIV. She broadened her research to include the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural Malawian communities, especially children.

Dr. Sarah Willen, a professor in the anthropology department, introduced Rosenthal.

“She earned her Ph.D. from Hebrew University [in Jerusalem] in 2009 for a study titled ‘Raising Our Children: Community Strategies for Coping with Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Rural Malawi,” Willen said.

Rosenthal’s presentation was accompanied by a slideshow loaded with information. One slide presented current research questions that she encountered in her study of HIV and its impact on children’s lives. From a demographic standpoint, one may ask how many children were orphaned by HIV/AIDS and who is raising them. The audience weighed in on the difference between health standards in the United States and Malawi.

The health status of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS—that is to say at least one of their parents have died—comparing with other children was brought up from a health standpoint.

“[According to] the UN, more than 11 million children under the age of 15 in Sub-Saharan Africa has lost one or more parent to HIV/AIDS,” Rosenthal explained. According to Rosenthal, this number was projected to almost double by 2010. Over 10 percent of the population in Malawi is HIV positive.

Dr. Rosenthal continued on to explain her work in Malawi: 12 months of fieldwork, participant observation and 45 semi-structured/unstructured interviews. She worked in rural communities with nongovernmental organizations, orphanages and government agencies.

Much of Rosenthal’s presentation concentrated on her work in one village where she worked with the Community Office on different kinds of projects, such as family strengthening projects, care projects and communal infrastructure projects. According to Rosenthal, these projects are not directed at children even though their mission is to support children in the community. The projects are actually aimed at the families that take care of orphans.

“The Community Office is not [building latrines] only for granny and her orphan kids, right? They do it for everyone,” Rosenthal said.

The relationship between a community and its people was addressed with the idea of community as a place. Rosenthal explained that the Community Office projects take care of the people in a way.

SMU student, Lisa Marshall weighed in on her reasoning for this.

“They can be proud of it. It’s something for them to care for,” Marshall said.

Rosenthal finished her lecture with a short story. She recalled a time she went to a young woman’s home on a house call with the nurse from the Community Office. The young lady was on the floor dying, alone except for a volunteer from the Community Office, Rosenthal and the nurse.

Dr. Rosenthal will be speaking again in Dr. Willen’s Health, Healing and Ethics class on Thursday morning.

Tim Jon Semmerling Presents Extraordinary “Renditions”

October 28, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Danielle Barrios
dbarrios@smu.edu

Students and faculty gathered Wednesday night for Tim Jon Semmerling’s lecture on Extraordinary “Renditions”: When Law and Pop Culture Co-Narrate the Bush Administration’s Use of Extraordinary Rendition hosted by SMU’s Asian Studies Program, the Department of Religious Studies, the Embrey Human Rights Program and the Scott Hawkins Lecture Series.

Although attendance was low, which Semmerling accounted for Ranger’s being in the World Series, he thanked everyone for showing after an impressive introduction noting that in May of this year, the U.S. army appointed him the lead mitigation specialist.

As Semmerling began his presentation with a welcoming smile, he began to present an intricately formulated slide show as he strolled the front of the lecture hall in Dallas Hall’s McCord Auditorium wearing a black suit with a green and gold striped tie. The slides began with President Bush’s introduction of the “Extraordinary Rendition” which Semmerling stated as “one of the most vital tools in our war against terrorists.”

“The truth of the matter is that our information on ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ is based on scattered and poorly tested evidence,” said Semmerling continuing, “we lack a certainty of truth.”

Semmerling stressed that our society needs to learn to scrutinize the narratives we have about the extraordinary renditions.

As Semmerling began to set out an agenda for the rest of his lecture, he mentioned the growing reliance in the postmodern world.

Tim Semmerling delivered his lecture Wednesday night on Extraordinary "Renditions." (PHOTO BY DANIELLE BARRIOS / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

“Because pop culture is finding its way into the law, lawyers are forced to rely on their gut feeling,” said Semmerling. “Pop culture is grabbing onto this authority of law by grabbing onto the objectivity of law.”

Semmerling went on to describe and analyze Dick Cheney’s “The Dark Side” speech but believes there could have been a more comprehensive meaning to explain what he really meant about what he later explained as the “Frontier Myth.”

The Frontier Myth is a 300-year-old myth describing how American democracy was built. He described this myth as “justifying our power as a nation” and “verifying who we are as patriots” following specific steps laid out as the separation from civilization, the regression to a more primitive state, and the regeneration through violence. Using a flow chart, he showed how civilization must win and the savage must lose.

SMU senior, Sahar Pezeshki, commented on Semmerling’s interesting further connection between fairy tales and the “Frontier Myth” admitting that although she was required to attend for class, “I would have come anyway.”

Semmerling continued anaylzing “The Dark Side” speech by pointing out three parts: separation, regression, and violence. Then, he spoke about the realms of truth which consist of factual truth, high or legal truth, and symbolic truth which “borrows, never surrenders, and trumps both.”

He went on to mention the movie Rendition proving that symbolic truth will always trump legal truth cutting functions and time short, distorting torture and “sanitizing the entire experience.”

Semmerling continued by saying that pop culture is getting rid of lawyers.

“In order to understand what extraordinary rendition is we must scrutinize,” Semmerling said, “we have to accept our own complicity and recognize the limits and demand more accountability.”

As the slideshow came to a close, Semmerling took questions, which encouraged his dynamic lecture but a comment from one professor criticizing missing elements of his “Frontier Narrative.” Semmerling admitted that America may never get out of war.

Journey of Hope Members Speak Out About the Death Penalty

October 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Christina Clark
christinac@smu.edu

Most people will never know what it’s like to make a best friend on death row. Or how it feels to sit in a cell for 21 years for a crime you did not commit, a crime that had clear evidence to prove otherwise.

Curtis McCarty has felt all these things and more. He was one of seven speakers at the Thursday night “Death Penalty Matters” series hosted by the Embrey Human Rights Program. The two and a half hour program included speeches from Journey of Hope members. This organization is made up of people who have family members on death row, people who had family members killed, and people who were exonerated from death row.

Rick Halperin, Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, introduced Journey of Hope’s speakers, and then led the audience in a moment of silence for an inmate who was sentenced to die that night, calling the death penalty “a great disease.”

There have been 43 executions in the U.S. this year.

Marietta Jaeger-Lane, a tiny woman with white curls, tottered to the podium from her seat to share her family’s story. Her daughter Susie was kidnapped from their tent on a family camping trip in Montana and murdered a week and a half later. She was seven years old. And yet, Jaeger-Lane thinks the death penalty is “barbarous.”

In sharing her story, Jaeger-Lane noted that her first response was rage. However, Jaeger-Lane used her Christian faith to help her through the time period after her daughter was taken.

“I gave God permission to change my heart,” she said while describing the transformation in her feelings. Coming from Michigan, where there is no death penalty, she felt that such a punishment was “a state sanctioned violence that doesn’t solve problems.” She told the audience that having the killer, who was later charged with the murders of three other girls, sentenced to death did not bring her Susie back.

Marilyn Grant heard about the series through Facebook. Her son, who has been given the death penalty, was at the scene of a robbery and homicide. While not having taken any of the items or having shot the victim, he still sits on death row. His partner, having taken a plea bargain instead of going to trial, is spending his life in prison.

Grant thought the speeches were wonderful. “Families in this situation don’t get the support that they need. This is the support that there needs to be more of,” she said. “It is my wish that the United States government knows that this unjust law is not a law that we need to have.”

Elizabeth McElhaney is a law student studying criminal justice at SMU. Having always been interested in human rights, she feels that there is “no justice” in the current United States criminal justice system.

“[The government] wants to see the pound of flesh,” she said, gripping her heart. “I’ve never met someone who felt better after knowing that a murderer they were connected to died for his crime.”

All of the speakers had one common theme in each of their stories—forgiveness. Ron Carlson, Journey of Hope’s first speaker, said that his life completely changed when he forgave the killers of his sister and his father.

“Forgiveness can change your life,” he warbled as shaking hands gripped the microphone. “I never received closure until I forgave.”

After recovering from a drug and alcohol addiction, he picked up after his family members were murdered, and he turned to the Christian faith to help him. When he forgave Carla Fay Tucker, the woman who drove an ice pick through his sister’s skull, he “started to see a human being.” The two became close, and Carlson made the six-hour drive every week to the prison to visit her for the four hours of visiting time allowed to death row inmates.

“Death Penalty Matters” is a nine-part series running throughout the fall. For more information on Journey of Hope, visit their site, and for more information on the series, contact Rick Haperin at rhalperi@smu.edu.

Embrey Human Rights Series Talks Death Penalty At Home and Abroad

October 8, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Lola Obamehinti

As part of their 2010 Fall Series, The Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU along with the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility hosted Larry Cox, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.

Rick Halperin, Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU, and Sherry Aikman, Coordinator of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, prepare for the night’s lecture. (PHOTO BY LOLA OBAMEHINTI / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

In addition to the Embrey Human Rights Program, the lecture was co-sponsored by the SMU chapter of Amnesty International.

The title of Cox’s lecture was titled “The Status of & the Struggle Against the Death Penalty Nationally & Internationally.”

Cox spoke about the history of the Amnesty International organization as well as why the organization, since 1977, has opposed the death penalty which was an unpopular stance at that time and still continues to be a controversial issue today.

He emphasized Amnesty International’s cause of every human life being valuable by saying how the organization believes the cruelty of the death penalty cannot be justified whether the prisoners are guilty or not.

“You can never justify torture or the killing of prisoners,” he said.

Larry Cox, Executive Director Amnesty International USA, talks to students, faculty, and people in attendance about the importance of abolishing the death penalty worldwide. (PHOTO BY LOLA OBAMEHINTI / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Death Penalty Matters: Executions Gone Wrong

October 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Elena Harding
eharding@smu.edu

Ron McAndrew is a former Florida State Prison warden who facilitated eight executions in his career. The third execution he presided over was of Pedro Medina on March 25, 1997. At the execution, McAndrew said he noticed the electrician wet the sponge and thoroughly rung it out. The sponge is used to facilitate the current of electricity through the condemned inmate’s body. He said he deferred to the electrician, who had more experience with executions, when he said the sponge was wet enough.

McAndrew said he knew there was a problem when he heard a loud ‘pop’ after the executioner flicked the switch. A plume of smoke billowed out from under electric chair helmet and shortly after, Medina’s head caught on fire.

This happened approximately one foot away from McAndrew who, as warden, stood in front of Medina during the execution. He said the execution chamber immediately filled with smoke and the smell of burning flesh. McAndrew’s voice trembled, as he explained why they could not stop. He said they had to continue because they had just run 20,000 volts and 14 amps through Medina’s body and his head was on fire.

“I was sick all the way through my body,” McAndrew said. “That was the longest 11 minutes of my life.”

He said this execution, along with others, led him to transition from death penalty supporter to abolitionist.

McAndrew spoke at SMU during a Death Penalty Matters lecture Thursday night on stories from inside the death house. The Embrey Human Rights Program sponsored the talk in Dallas Hall’s McCord Auditorium, where approximately 100 people listened to McAndrew’s experience as a prison warden.

Rick Halperin, director of the EHRP at SMU and board member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, introduced McAndrew as the speaker.

“The death penalty is all about people, many of whom who have done some difficult and terrible things, some of whom are innocent,” Halperin said.

He said the death penalty continues the cycle of victims-it starts with the pain of the family of the victims and ends with the pain of the families of the condemned inmate.

Halperin predicted that in the future, people would look back at the death penalty in horror, appalled at the barbarism.

McAndrew said he grew up believing the death penalty was right, but the closer he got to executions the more he doubted this belief.

Another reason McAndrew changed his opinion about the death penalty was John Earl Bush. McAndrew said Bush was the first person he executed and he had doubts as to whether Bush was guilty.

McAndrew said the death penalty in America is a political tool. He said that politicians use it to gain popularity during elections.

“We play it out, whether the person is innocent or guilty it doesn’t matter as long as we get our pound of flesh,” McAndrew said.

He said he is not soft on crime and then paraphrased Juan Melendez, a death row inmate who was exonerated in 2003, when he said, “it is a lot easier to exonerate from a cell than a grave.”

SMU senior Jonathan Barger said he was inspired to get involved in human rights issues after taking Halperin’s class during the summer.

SMU senior Jordan Johansen, president of SMU’s Amnesty International chapter, said the speakers of the past three weeks have all stressed education to combat the death penalty. She said learning more about issues such as the death penalty is particularly important for privileged SMU students may not have experience with tough issues. She said the last lecture in the series is important because Virginia Dupuy, professor of voice in SMU Meadows School of the Arts, is scheduled to perform selections from Meditations on Nov. 18.

”Art always makes things more accessible to people,” Johansen said. “It’s a powerful medium.”

Death Penalty Condemns the Poor

September 17, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Aileen Garcia
aileeng@smu.edu

Bryan Stevenson learned the value of human life from his grandmother. The daughter of slaves, she grew up in the rural South. Her upbringing shaped the way she saw the world.

He said she was the matriarch of the family, a powerful woman and extraordinarily kind and loving. When he was nine, his grandmother took him by the hand and told him that she noticed something special in him and said he could be anything he wanted to be.

She then asked him to promise her three things: always love his mother, always do the right thing even if it is the hard thing and to never drink alcohol.

Stevenson told the room of SMU students, professors and community members that he lived up to his promise and this was an example of how powerful words could have a lasting influence.

The audience listened to him speak on his work with the death penalty. The event was part of the “Death Penalty Matters” series organized by the Embrey Human Rights Program.

Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has devoted his career to serving the poor, incarcerated and condemned.

Jordan Johansen, president of SMU’s Amnesty International chapter, said Stevenson was inspiring.

“He is all about passion,” she said. “If we remember that we have passion and that we can make a real difference in people’s lives, that is important and it actually changes the world.”

Stevenson said America had the highest rate of incarceration in 1972 with 200,000 people and today that number has climbed to 2.3 million. The U.S. also imposes life sentences without parole, while most other countries do not.

He also said the death penalty involves the politics of fear and anger and that it can persuade society it is alright to deprive someone’s rights and strip them of their values and purpose.

“We destroy people,” Stevenson said. “We say this is not a human being that is deserving.”

They say everything is bigger in Texas. The death penalty rate here goes along with that saying; we have one of the largest rates in the country. Harris County holds the record on the number of people sentenced to death in Texas.

“It is immoral taking the life of a person even if it can be justified,” Stevenson said, “That does not end the question if we can perform executions.”

Stevenson also told the audience that the death penalty is connected to money. He said wealthy people will always be treated better and the poor will always be found guilty.

“It is sad, regrettable, but it’s our system,” he said.

He said poor people do not get the legal support they need to defend their cases because court appointment lawyers don’t get paid enough to care. He said, as a result, they do not put in the necessary effort into their client’s cases.

Stevenson said attorneys usually cut corners on research or take little evidence to trial to prove a man innocent. Trial can start at 9 a.m., but by noon he is found guilty and by 3 p.m. he is sentenced to death row.

According to Stevenson, the death penalty is just an easy solution to the world’s problems.

“One thing our country needs is hope and willingness to find absence of hope in our courts,” Stevenson said. “The court seems to want to get to the end than to get it right.”

In 2005 the death penalty was banned for juveniles and Stevenson said he is optimistic that soon people will look back in history and wonder why this ever took place.

“I am hopeful we can do better than our history and opt for reconciliation and redemption,” he said.

Stevenson believes where there is the capacity to be courage, there is the capacity to be justice.

SMU student Jesus Garza said the lecture made him consider the various viewpoints on the issue.

“He brought up some… important issues that connected the ideas of [being] pro or against the death penalty,” Garza said.

The next program of the “Death Penalty Matters” human rights series will be held on Sept. 23.