Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rhode Island, Humanism and the Death Penalty

John Gordon
Recently, Humanist and philosopher John Shook said it very simply, and I have to agree with him: Humanism cannot support the death penalty. His full article is linked and I would suggest that everybody with an interest in justice read it, but one part bears repeating here:
Humanism stands for valuing the lives of all, individual human rights, justice for everyone, and governments that defend all of their people. These grounds alone are sufficient for abolishing the death penalty.
As a member of Humanists of Rhode Island, I am proud to live in a state that saw this simple truth over a century and a half ago, when, in 1852, Rhode Island became the second state (after Michigan) to abolish the death penalty. Though proponents, to our shame, re-established the death penalty in 1872 and later in 1973, in 1984 the death penalty was once more off the books. Since then proponents have made several attempts to reintroduce this penalty, but so far to no effect.

The Rhode Island Secretary of State has a great little article on the history of the death penalty in Rhode Island. Rhode Island took such a forward looking because of a tragic mistake. The state executed John Gordon, an innocent man.

Though there is no way to undo such a wrong, on June 6, 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a pardon that officially admitted that Rhode Island had not given John Gordon a fair trial, and probably executed an innocent man. Upon signing the pardon, Chafee said:
John Gordon was put to death after a highly questionable judicial process and based on no concrete evidence. There is no question he was not given a fair trial. Today we are trying to right that injustice. John Gordon’s wrongful execution was a major factor in Rhode Island’s abolition of and longstanding opposition to the death penalty. Today, as we pardon John Gordon, we also recognize and uphold that commitment.
In addition to Rhode Island's proud tradition of religious and philosophical tolerance, which guarantees a persons right to freedom of and from religion, there is another Humanist current we can take justifiable pride in: Our commitment to the value of human rights.

Be proud of this tradition and feel free boldly proclaim your opposition to the death penalty as both a Humanist espousing reason and compassion, and as a Rhode Islander, valuing a tradition steeped in human rights and fairness.
Veteran's Square Conservation Area
On November 19th, six members of the Humanists of Rhode Island, specifically Adam, Mark, Dan Julia, Zack and Steve, joined about eight other people at the brand new Veteran's Square Conservation Area at the intersection of Rte 117 (Centerville Rd.) and Main Street in West Warwick to actually help build the park. To the best of my knowledge, the park is owned by the citizens of West Warwick, but under the care of the Pawtuxet River Authority.

When complete the area will have a boat launch and it ill be stocked with trout for fishing. Even though it's right on a main road, the area is beautiful, and we saw Canadian Geese on the river the entire time we were there.

Our members started showing up around 8:30 AM, and met Rita, who was in charge of the planting project. She was such a gracious person, and provided us all with coffee, hot cocoa, donuts and pizza for lunch. Also present was a representative of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who was a real great guy. 

We started prepping the soil and digging holes for the line of plants that would provide a fence between the street and the park. Zach, the youngest person there (and a member of our group) was a powerhouse. He never stopped working, whether it was digging a hole, picking up the trash at the water's edge, or planting bulbs. He was an inspiration.

Cleaning up the trash at the rivers edge meant pulling a shopping cart, a car tire, various pieces of lumber and a computer monitor out of the river. I was told that the area is now much cleaner than it was a few years ago. When the DEM first took over the site, they pulled over three hundred ties out of the river. I'm sure the mallards and the Canadian geese are glad to be rid of them.

When we left at about 2 PM the park looked much improved, though there's still work to be done of course. Not used to digging holes, I was pretty exhausted, as I'm sure the rest of the volunteers were, but I also couldn't think of a better way to spend my day.

Photos from the day can be found here and here, on our FaceBook page.