Children, Holocaust And Responsibility

Oyster Creek, Tex, Lawrenceville, Va and Murietta, Calif, are among the many localities that have strongly objected to having a shelter for the Central American children who need to be taken care of until their immigration status is clarified or they are deported. As past and future demonstrations remind us, possible locations in Connecticut, Iowa, North Carolina, New York along with several other states also have objected, some with extreme measures such as a demonstration complete with rifles. According to several reports including one by Sonia Nazario who has long studied the effects of illegal immigration on children, they are fleeing violence—usually from gangs—and most would be in harm’s way if they went back. I can’t help think that the more we take politics and ideology out of how we perceive this problem, the more we are able to see it as a humanitarian crisis, of minors trying to escape despair, poverty as well as violence. Maybe that’s why as I was reading about these shunned children, I remembered Holocaust survivors telling me about the instances of boats full of Jewish refugees who kept being denied access to port after port, until in at least one instance they went back to Germany where many of the passengers ended in concentration camps. I wasn’t surprised therefore when I read that Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, had the same idea when while speaking to the Boston Herald he made a comparison linking the children and the Holocaust. Yet, when asked by the White House if he could help with a location in his state, he did not say yes, but said he would be thinking through a practical solution. I was told by those same survivors that the Jewish refugees’ plight and fate eventually played a role in the establishment of the state of Israel, for many in the United States understood but too late that something had to be done. If Deval Patrick and I are correct and there is a link with what happened to Jewish refugees, then we need to ask ourselves, are we making the same mistake again? Will some of the children have to go back to harm and be killed in order for us to grasp our human responsibility?

Psychiatic Hospital on Death Row

California state officials are opening a 40-bed psychiatric hospital on death row at San Quentin. Judge Lawrence Karlton said they had to. He ordered a psychiatric evaluation of all 720 inmates on death row and 37 already qualified for admission to inpatient psychiatric care pointing to the fact that additional space will no doubt soon need to be found. Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring commented that the order “was a measure of American greatness and American silliness….We are curing them to make them executable.” Courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are not aware they’re being killed. The peculiar situation created by the order points to the fact that underlying issues go even deeper than the death penalty. Justin Helzer’s suicide which started this whole process was diagnosed as schizophrenic and delusional. He had helped his brother kill 5 people and throw their dismembered bodies into the Sacramento River. In 2010, while on death row he blinded himself with a pen and in 2013 hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet.

It may be that mental illness is a contributing factor—or a cause—behind the inmates’ crimes, and if not it may be that incarceration may be a contributing factor—or a cause—of their mental illness. The implication then would be that the death penalty, the criminal justice system and the mental health delivery system ought to be seriously reviewed to take in those realities. A 40-bed psychiatric hospital is but a way station

A Problem That Can Be Fought

According to the UN global initiative to fight human trafficking, the trafficking of human being is the fastest growing form of international crime and the third largest criminal industry after drugs and arms trafficking. In some cases no doubt, some of the same people are perpetrators. A recent study by the International Labor Organization found that globally the illegal profits generated by human trafficking is $150 bn or 3 times what it was thought to be. It involves 21 million people, and about two thirds of the profits, ($99 bn) come from commercial sexual exploitation. The rest comes from forced labor, including domestic, construction and mining.

Once the shock and cringing are over, the part of the report that ought to stay with us is what we can do to combat this. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, describing the persistence of slavery as one the modern economy depends on, says “ We have to realize the problem is one that touches us all… in a globalized economy we all buy products likely to be tainted by forced labor. That is why the governments need to take concrete steps to address forced labor across the world.” He suggests, for example, introducing extraterritorial legislation to make business executives responsible for slavery in their supply chains, and supporting a binding protocol strengthening international standards against forced labor.

The point is being horrified is not enough, we must understand that no matter what governments individually and together decide to do, that these are problems can be fought.

Compassion And Executions

Ever since the execution of Clayton Locket went awry and caused what appeared to be extreme suffering, so much so it took him 43 minutes to die of a heart attack after the execution was stopped, some have said it was what he deserved. The victim’s family has been silent refusing to comment, but their neighbors and community in Oklahoma have been quite vocal, and the governor who apparently did not disagree with them called Locket evil. Others commenting on Locket’s execution have shared similar sentiments. What strikes me about the comments from any who felt Locket merited a torturous death is the lack of compassion. He died at the age of 38 after being in prison for 15 years, mainly on death row. The state in the name of the people imprisoned him and took his life because of what he did, which unquestionably is a horrible crime. He contributed to the murder of a 19 year old girl, and then to burying her alive after she was shot. But being civilized means we abstain from cruel punishment or in some way place ourselves above it. Christians, Buddhists, Jews each have their own explanations as to why mercy, charity, kindness, empathy, love, whatever form compassion takes, is necessary in this kind of situation. While the execution has sparked discussion about many topics related to capital punishment and executions, we need to add that of compassion. What does its lack in this instance say about us? Can the lack of compassion make us evil? Can it be said that if those who commit criminal acts had had compassion they might have stopped themselves? Do we have the right to abstain from compassion when someone else does?