Archive | February 2015

CCA Issues Stay of Execution for Rodney Reed

The Texas Tribune

Death row inmate Rodney Reed, scheduled to be executed on March 5, 2015.

Death row inmate Rodney Reed, scheduled to be executed on March 5, 2015.

A divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday issued a stay of execution for death row inmate Rodney Reed so new evidence can be considered that Reed’s attorneys say proves their client’s innocence.

Reed, 47, was set to be executed on March 5. Six of the court’s nine judges voted for the stay. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Lawrence E. Meyers dissented, and Judge David Newell did not participate in the decision.

“We’re extremely relieved that the court has stayed Mr. Reed’s execution so there will be proper consideration of the powerful new evidence of his innocence,” said Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project who is Reed’s attorney. “We are also optimistic that this will give us the opportunity to finally conduct DNA testing that could prove who actually committed the crime.

Reed’s attorneys on Feb. 13 asked the court to consider new witness testimony and forensic evidence they say proves that Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old Giddings cashier, was likely killed hours earlier than previously thought and that her body was moved after she was killed.

If true, those findings significantly challenge the timeline prosecutors used to convict Reed of Stites’ murder during his 1998 criminal trial.

The Bastrop court denied the stay, moving the case to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

At the time of trial, the state’s theory of the crime was that Stites was abducted, raped and murdered early in the morning of April 23. But the new affidavits filed by Reed’s defense team put the time of death the night before, on April 22.

Reed has said he was having an affair with Stites, who was engaged to former police officer Jimmy Lewis Fennell Jr., but did not kill her.

Fennell has since been convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a 20-year-old Williamson County woman. At Reed’s trial, Fennell had testified that he and Stites were together the evening of April 22.

Begging (American Style)

In far flung countries begging is a custom, our developing, American definition, pieces of indigenous lands unless you have no land on which to live.

In the U.S., in the big cities and maybe in rural areas, too,  homeless folks beg for spare change, or barter their work for food, etc.—on street corners, under viaducts, wherever they can find empty space they occupy, squatters on public domains, their weapons are signs of begging, only we are a little embarrassed by the term, and sad faces, I feel so sad for them, knowing I could just as easily be there myself/entertaining the people in cars, now entertaining could equal begging, American-style.

Immigrant workers stand on curbs or at busy intersections, in clumps, they ain’t no chumps, they be just begging for a job today—survival worries—take it one day at a time—that’s all the energy any of us has, what we have now, not so fine, and furiously fine.

I’ve begged in Berkeley in the Mid-Sixties—easier then, because I was selling the Berkeley Barb, the daily news of dissent.

Now I’m begging for people to buy my poetry, or my leather products—cut off/cut off unemployment benefits due to a label given to me by the State—misconduct—it’s done, not filling a monthly quota is misconduct, rather hostile & abrupt, scheduling problems, targeted by the political system of an entity whose stated aim is to deal ethically, they hide beyond the wall, wrapped in gauze of serving the needs of the Mentally Ill/no surprise.

What about my needs for dignity and equity and justice?  I also have a Mental Health diagnosis, don’t I count?  Can’t learn anything when my boss threatened to kill me in her multiple-personality way, PTSD retriggered, I’m awash in symptoms.  Was this my fate or my Karma?

So, now, no coins jingling in my pockets, or bills in my wallet, unless I sell my poetry, you see, by begging, American-style, luckily as a poet I have my craft, my greatest earthly joy/my products are me.  It’s a trip when you’ve had a job all your life, or most of it—now this prop has split, gone.

Selling my poetic discourse under a tree.

But what’s up with me?  Lots of black crow feathers in my mouth—tastes like one sick bird, lots of bending & stooping and the humble pie is rancid vomit.

Everyone’s got to beg someday, so don’t be too proud to beg, OK?  Good to give away all you got, good to receive as well.

© Christopher Bear-Beam July 25, 2011

SAVE RODNEY REED

Mental-Disorders

(The author wishes to share his extreme disappointment due to mechanical problems, thus not able to post them. Maybe it’s better anyway–I forgot to have folks to sign a waiver).

Austin, Texas
February 15, 2015

The Friends Meeting of Austin– www.austinquakers.org,– was host today, at a very unique Press Conference, to support Rodney Reed who is scheduled to be executed, by the state of Texas on March 5, 2015.

Today’s guest speaker, Helen Prejean, known world-wide for her activism for justice in the Criminal Justice System, was in Austin for another speaking engagement: when Judy Morgan found this out she contacted Sister Prejean, to see if she would be able to attend today’s event. It turns out that she would.

Walter Long introduced the program. The innovative Press Conference was actually following the format used in The Friends’ worship time. Walter Long, one of the members of the Friends, moderated the flow through the Press Conference. During the times of silence, those who are Friends silently linger and wait for the Spirit or Inner Light to show them what to say; then an individual stands up and speaks what he or she has been given.

Mr. Long also read a letter from their church to the Texas Board of Pardons; they asked that Rodney Reed have the benefit of a new trial or the legal opportunity to present evidence that was not allowed in Mr. Reed’s initial trial (this is the author’s statement, so if there any wrong or inaccurate information, please contact Christopher Bear-Beam at sunbear.com@gmail.com.

We continued on our path through our loom of silences. There were designated speakers, followed by any comments that others would desire to share.

Roderick Reed, Rodney Reed’s brother

The first speaker was Roderick Reed, Rodney Reed’s brother. He thanked all the audience for their support, and said that he wanted to let people know what his family was like, and what they valued. Their family was a military family so they lived in many places. They value love, respect, and an abiding faith in God.

Rodney has three sons, and now he is a grand father, and it saddens him that he isn’t able to see more of them, although he now has the chance to see them more.

Everyday seems like a nightmare, Roderick said; we get tired but it’s people like you who keep us going. Rodney’s and Roderick Reed, mother wanted this group to know how she appreciates all the support given by those who are fighting for Rodney’s life!

Roderick mentioned that the family’s spirits are up, and the Reed family is so very grateful for the support they’ve received, that it’s just hard to put into words. ‘We’re looking for victory,’ Roderick said at the conclusion of his remarks.

Heather Stobbs, Stacey’s cousin speaking

Heather Stobbs apologized to the Reed family for her not coming forward until much later, to tell what she knew of the people involved, and the facts surrounding her cousin’s death.

When something like this hits a family, the typical survival mechanism is to “close ranks” and stick together. She said her family is split between those who don’t believe Rodney Reed killed Ms. Stilts, and those that do.

As Heather learned more about the facts in the case, she began to want a new trial for Rodney, but the courts shut down this avenue. She concluded by saying her perspective is that Rodney Reed did not do this murder—nothing else.

Sylvia McCormack, a minister in Austin, Texas (no picture available) spoke about how Black & Brown people in the Criminal Justice System were being eaten up like bread on a daily basis, but for those of us who fight for justice are ‘daily bread,’ too. She concluded by saying our mis-justice is seen “in the hues of our prisons is black & brown.”

A Catholic priest spoke after Rev. McCormack (I apologize for missing his name and church). He cited Micah 6:4 that tells us to “act justly” (Journey Bible, Zondervan).

Tom Van Distal, pastor, the Congregational Church in Austin, Texas

Reverend Van Distal can’t understand why more clergy members aren’t speaking out about Rodney Reed’s case, and also said that the time has come where we can’t “sugar coat” the issues about Reed’s trumped up case.

Continuing, Pastor Van Distal read a letter that he sent to some of his spiritual cohorts; he said that all the court documents have suppressed the truth. He asked, ‘Do we want to live in this kind of society? The letter called on “all clergy to take a stand in support of Rodney Reed!”

Gaea Logan (no picture available), is a therapist, and founder of The International Center of Mental Health and Human Rights. The Center works with communities who have experienced trauma, abuse & oppression. Historically speaking, trauma was given a pubic persona and messaging of lynching. This was done with the blatant intention that the everyday people were the only authorities, i.e., whites had the social and self-made legal authority, and they intimidated African Americans by lynching and other violent means.

We are a highly complex system that’s organized around trauma. Seventy percent of the people who are incarcerated, then executed, are Black or Brown; there are forty-two per cent African Americans are Black on Death Row, whereas forty-three per cent are Whites on Death Row.

What’s it like to have your brother on Death Row? What kind of family (community) do you want to be? Sister Prejean has said, “If I don’t speak out, I’m an accomplice.”

Sister Prejean speaking at the Austin Friends

Sister Prejean began by citing Frederick Douglas who said, ‘Justice is never given to you—you have to struggle for it.’

This culture and its Criminal Justice System are “practioners of death,” Sister Helen said. ‘On the other hand, we are so blessed to be aware, to have our eyes open, to know injustice when we see it.’ We are able to be mindful of injustice and take actions to rectify it.

Sister Prejean thanked the Reed family and all other advocates and supporters as we seek justice for Rodney Reed.

The final designated speakers was Quincy McNeil (no photo available), one of Rodney Reed’s attorneys. He thinks that they have a powerful case, and is cautiously optimistic about winning; Stacey Stite’s killer has never come to justice.

Please check out www.Justice4RodneyReed.org
For more information and how to get engaged in the struggle.

© Christopher Bear-Beam February 16, 2015

Seventeenth annual veterans summit, February 4, 2015

The Veterans Summit, sponsored by the Texas Veteran’s Commission, was held at the Crowne Plaza North, Austin, Texas, Wednesday February 4, 2015.

Attendees consisted of Veterans, government entities, non-profit service providers,  clinicians, & those providing liaison between collaborations; these have enhanced & enriched the services that may be given to consumers, as well as opening up access to areas & services that may be difficult for many to locate.

One of the major issues revolves around the Hazlewood Act, a Texas Act that provides educational benefits to Vets & their families.  Currently, the Hazlewood Act’s status is what you might say is in “limbo.”  I’ll explain why in a minute. The Act limits the Veterans who may have been inducted into the military to Texas Vets (Vets born in Texas), and not to Vets who were born or inducted in other states than Texas.

A claimant brought a law suit due to Hazlewood, because he believed it was unfair & discriminatory to not be able to receive the educational benefits, even though he wouldn’t be eligible to receive funding, as outlined by the Hazlewood Act, because he was born in another State.  A District Federal Judge ruled in favor of the Claimant.

This decision will impact Veterans & their families, service providers, educational institutions, non-profits and government agencies, too.  Under Hazlewood, a Vet may transfer 150 Credit Hours to family members.  There’s also a ‘survivor clause’ that if a Vet dies in the line of duty, or if his medical illness(es) prohibits the Vet from working, then the Vet may be eligible to transfer 150 Credit Hours to family members.

Up to the present, the Hazlewood Act has assisted thirty-eight thousand Veterans in the State of Texas. Funds from other sources have allowed 1.7 million dollars. There are concerns that providing a larger base of Vets born in Texas, thus, a more limited amount of monies will have to borne by external resources here.

For example, one representative on this panel, was a staff person from a Texas Junior College; he explained in a very logical and clear way, how Hazlewood operates as it relates to tuition & fees, and he was very adamant that their college would have a large “shortfall” of one hundred and seventy-nine million dollars, due to changes in Hazlewood in the future.

If you have other questions regarding the Hazlewood Act you can contact the Texas Veterans Commission, or if ,  have general questions around education benefits for Veterans, please contact them at: (512) 936-1872, and check out their website  at: www.tvc.texas.gov.

©Christopher Bear-Beam February 4, 2015

Jean Vanier’s alternative way of looking at conflict

Jean Vanier was the founder of the international L’Arche (“The Ark”) movement in the Sixties. In 1964, Vanier invited two men with mental disabilities, to move into a house and to live in community—together—in Trosly-Breliel, France. Eventually Henri Noumen (author of The Wounded Healer) became involved & lived in one of the communities; since that time ninety-five L’Arche communities have sprung up in twenty-four countries. For twenty-five years, Jean Vanier has lived & worked in communities with residents who have intellectual, physical & mental disabilities.

The source of one of the greatest levels of pain for most of the community members, has been that of rejection. “The feeling you are seen as ugly, dirty, a burden, of no value. That is the pain I have discovered in the hearts of our people” (p.13). A key for people living in such a place like L’Arche is that of living in community. The reason for this is the feeling of bonding and acceptance, and knowing they can be just who they are. When individual members feel this, their minds & bodies reach a sense of peace. “Their tense, angry, fearful, depressed body gradually becomes relaxed, peaceful and trusting” (p. 15).

Make no mistake, living within a specific community isn’t easy and it’s more than some abstract idea. It takes real committed effort to make community work. Most of us don’t have the desire or means to live within some kind of purposeful community. But many of us may be involved in various communities from which we draw joy, strength, dialogue, and social interaction. Some of the same principles may be able to be applied in those groups.

The author felt like it would be helpful to look at conflict & its resolutions from a more alternative, contemplative or meditative point of view. Essentially, Vanier suggests there are four sources: • #1–“Community is a place of conflict: conflict inside each one of us. There is first of all the conflict between the values of the world and the values of community, between togetherness—not just proximity—to make decisions together and not all alone. Loss of independence is painful, particularly in a world where we have been told to be independent and to cultivate the feeling that ‘I don’t need anyone else.’” (p. 30-31). We see, then, that Jean Vanier’s template of conflict resolution has to do with acknowledging our own pain, loss, rejection, thoughts of negative self-esteem. When we are able to do this, we are starting to know about ‘healing brokenness through brokenness.

• #2–“The next source of conflict is in learning to give space to others so that they may grow, rather than competing with them and lording over them. Our world is a world of competition. We have all been taught to live in a competitive world and to win, to be a success, and to move up the ladder of promotion and to get ahead. It is hard then in community to stand back in order to help others grow and exercise their gifts. There is then in community a loss of aggressive competition cultivated in our societies” (p.31). The conflict resolution suggested here is both counter-cultural & counter-intuitive; it means we detach from the ways of power, superiority, dominance, and help others within a relationship, as we are able, to apply some concrete tactics & exercises to our own actions first. Think of ways that you can apply Vanier’s suggestions: are there specific areas concerning conflict that you might be able to apply Vanier’s observations?

• #3–The next conflict Vanier describes is attempting to balance a care for others and a care for ourselves. “It means to discover that our greatest freedom is to help others walk to freedom” (p.31). This is always a difficult one to really practice—balance doesn’t come easy to human beings at all! I suppose we’re just naturally off-balance to begin with. That’s probably because our own personal & interpersonal systems are so complex, and much of the time we’re unaware of the need to consciously do something for our own self-care—we make excuses like ‘I don’t have the time.’ Another area that seems to come with this is one’s religious service to others. We become so attached to our “serving,” acting, & doing that we can end up burning out, while we’re thinking we’re practicing service to others.

• #4—The final source of conflict referenced by Vanier is between being open and closed; in some cultures, the family, extended & beyond, stay connected, meet regularly, & do common rituals together, they still may not be an open system. A part of this is due to culturization and its subsequent conditioning processes. As Vanier writes, …, people can sacrifice their personal growth, freedom and becoming, to the god of belonging—belonging which gives security and power…A community which is called to keep people open is a vulnerable community that takes risks. It does not hang on to its own security and power obliging people to stay” (p.32).

There’s another piece of the story of L’Arche Communities. In the West today, we are in a pandemic of powerlessness (there are many reasons for this, but there isn’t the time in this forum to go into all of those—for another blog!). The powerlessness is pervasive throughout the systems of our culture. Powerlessness leads to the notion that ‘nothing can be done about anything.’ The problems are too big & overwhelming; we’ve been trying for years to affect changes, and mostly things have remained status quo. This is often the reasoning we use with ourselves and it has become exponentially multiplied within our culture.

The brokenness found in L’Arche Communities is first seen in ourselves; in other words, this means we need to find a way to be reconciled, first with ourselves. This “brokenness” expressed in the pain of many people around the world, finds its expression in its own community, and in this fertile soil human beings can fruit, blossom, and bloom in their own power. All their lives they’ve lived in a “hot house” of the Other, but at L’Arche they become one of a community, and the community is a place where one’s personal power can be developed, by looking into other’s mirrors, we are supported by the community & our friends and family, as we transform into a beautiful & powerful picture of change!

© Christopher Bear-Beam September 12, 2014

Law enforcement ignorant of communication methods in Ferguson, Missouri Part I

In the August 22, 2014 issue of the Austin Chronicle, Jim Hightower writes in his column that there are lessons we can learn from the past and ongoing events in the estranged community of Ferguson, Missouri. To use his words, the way the local police department marshalled their forces, in an “infuriating” manner, against their own citizens.

The gulf between African-American residents and in what is basically a European-America faction who support Officer Wilson who shot an unarmed Michael Brown six times. To add to the indignity of how Michael Brown was killed, as well as his age, ethnicity, and class, after Michael Brown was shot, authorities allowed his body to lay in the middle of the street for a number of hours; this to me is the height of disrespect.
A similar happening occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the city. Many of the hard hit areas were areas where African-Americans and other persons of color lived. Sadly, first responders didn’t make it to many homes to identify bodies in any kind of timely fashion, in a respectable way, or failed even to come. Police, themselves, appeared to use this incident as a pass for vigilantism, and criminal actions against many persons-of-color in that city.

Yes, we can learn from the experience of the Ferguson Police Department, primarily how not to quell violence, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, what methods of reconciliation & integration have been useful? Police officers dressed out in combat gear is seen as an occupying enemy.
The irony in this is that practically all the personnel on the police force are white, in a town two-thirds African-Americans. So they are the local representatives of a white, male system that employs a military force; the police department is only one representative of Institutional Racism that continues to perpetuate the use of military equipment, armaments, and racism within the community.

My undergrad work in the field of Communication Studies helped me to develop a good platform for practical communication. What factors does effective communication hold in its hand? Language, choice of language, grammatical tools, etymology, learning how to be a better listener, learning how to read environmental, social, emotional, intellectual, social contexts in which the communication unfolds, projection of biases, ignorance, perceptions of both encoder & decoder, peer influence, & genetic components.