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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

In the aftermath of the elections

Sr. Helen Prejean
Sr. Helen Prejean
This has been an out-of-the-ball-park, stunning presidential election. Forty-two million Americans voted for Donald Trump, a man who during the campaign engaged in the most abusive, divisive, violent, and untruthful rhetoric that I have ever witnessed in American politics. He approves of waterboarding. He says we need to give police more freedom to “stop and frisk” in our cities. He wants to build a wall on the border of Mexico. He’s all for Law and Order and a staunch believer in privatizing prisons. He even threatened to prosecute and lock up his political opponent.

Here’s my question: how deeply must our citizens be hurting, and how desperately must they distrust the current political system to have chosen such an outlier candidate?

And I can’t help but ask: with Trump’s appointee as Attorney General and his nominee for the Supreme Court what will happen to our quest to abolish the death penalty – especially now that we’re closer to ending it than we’ve ever been? What will happen to our quest to end mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of so many minorities, especially African Americans?

It’s time for soul searching. It’s time for deeper listening to each other. I confess that during the 18-month presidential campaign (it felt endless) I didn’t take pro-Trump folks seriously at all. I wrote them off. I couldn’t believe that more than a few citizens would actually vote for Trump as president. Boy, was I wrong!

Now I know that I need to make a concerted effort to engage in dialogue with people whose political beliefs are very different from my own. I need to really listen when they express just what it is they hope for to “make America great again.” Or is “making America great again” what they’re really seeking anyway?

People in the Rust Belt, who’ve lost manufacturing jobs and whose wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years were the turning point in the election. A whole lot of people are not experiencing the Great American Dream, that’s for sure. I’ve been knowing that about those who live in poverty. Now I’m learning it about middle class America as well.

I welcome your thoughts. Please post a comment on my Facebook page.

Source: Ministry Against The Death Penalty, Sister Helen Prejean, December 7, 2016

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