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On The Death Penalty And Our Failure To Administer Justice Justly

September 22nd, 2011 Comments off

Peaceful protests were plenty in the days leading up to the execution of Troy Davis last night.

This week, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis in a case that gripped the nation for all of 24 hours, but had earned the attention of anti-death penalty, human rights and criminal justice advocates for years. Davis had been convicted after two hours of deliberations for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

Before going further, I want to express my condolences to the MacPhail family for all they have been put through, from the loss of their Army Ranger, Police Officer and Good Samaritan son, brother and father. There is no question he died off-duty while fulfilling the oaths he took in his service to this country and to the city of Savannah. But this post and this issue is not about him, the victim. That is largely because the primary focus of the criminal justice system – the administration of the death penalty in particular – intentionally is not structured to factor in retribution.

This focus is why criminal cases are brought by the state (whether on the local or federal level) on behalf of the people and society as a whole. Accompanying civil suits may be brought by victims and their family to seek compensatory justice, but they are largely apart from the criminal cases. This is because criminal punishment is in the interests of society as a whole and not on behalf of the victims. It is also why we seek justice itself, instead of retribution.

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On the Cordoba House and the First Amendment

August 11th, 2010 Comments off

I’ve been meaning to write a bit more and clarify my thoughts and feelings on the Cordoba Initiative’s plans for a community center and mosque in lower Manhattan. Last week, I strung together a bit of a rambling post discussing how disappointed I am in the sweeping tide of anti-American behavior taken up in the name of “American values” throughout this nation.

The proposed Cordoba House is an uncomfortable issue for most and brings up conflicting feelings and desires to both defend American freedoms and empathize with the families of September 11, 2001 victims.

Part of my desire to discuss the topic more was the realization that I hadn’t articulated well exactly what it was that I found offensive and anti-American. So let me be clear, opposing the Cordoba House is not anti-American. It is merely the attempts to use the government or government means that is anti-American and, quite simply, unconstitutional.

While technically, the movement to have the former Burlington Coat Factory building landmarked was not specifically tied to the building of a mosque (and it would not have completely blocked the construction, but simply made the plans more difficult as the exterior of the building would have had to be preserved) and was, therefore, not relating to the establishment, promotion or obstruction of religious freedoms. Despite this, few would argue that the facts really hid the between-the-lines anti-Islam motivations thereunder. This would be no different than the post-Edwards v Aguillard move of creationists to remove overt religious references to religion or god in the newly revamped intelligence design movement. Everyone knows the motivation has no basis in science, but in religious ideology.

In the case of the Cordoba House, pushing to landmark and make more difficult the conversion of the building at the proposed site was a measure to use the government to obstruct the construction of a privately funded, otherwise legal religious building and institution. In other words, this move represented an effort to violate the Establishment Clause.

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Freedom in America: Why don’t some folks get it?

August 6th, 2010 8 comments

Mike Bloomberg marked the Cordoba House victory from Governor's Island (nee Nutten Island), where the Dutch first settled New Amsterdam.

This past week has seen two important victories for liberty in America.  Yet somehow, the news accounts are all over the place.  If you look at a Red station/website/paper (e.g., anything owned by Rupert Murdoch), the sky is falling.  If you’re on Twitter or Tumblr, you’d think everyone had decided to sing Kumbaya and that all the world’s ills are over.  Obviously, the reality is somewhere in between.  And, at least in my eyes, these victories for liberty were but speed bumps that have not halted a harsh and brutal wave of oppression that ironically brandishes the name of freedom.

The victories of which I speak were both very important.  The first came on Tuesday when the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously against a measure to grant landmark status to the building that once housed The Burlington Coat Factory and now is planned to be torn down and replaced with a 13-story community center called the Cordoba House.  The second was Wednesday, when a California jurist enjoined enforcement of a ballot initiative that effectively banned same-sex marriage in the state.  While these two levees pushed back the waters of hatred and bigotry (of late, quite commonly in the name of fundamentalist Christianity), this country is leaking like a sieve elsewhere and that the victories were necessary at all is reflective thereof.

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