March 28, 2013
On page 169 of Kyle Cassidy’s Armed America, a photography book filled with Americans proudly displaying firearms, Paul and Beth—no last name given—sit with their two children and three guns on a living room sofa. Smiling, they appear to be a picturesque family, and the deadliness of Paul’s Bersa .380, held only inches away from his infant son Gavin, fazes no one. In the photo’s caption, Beth responds to the photographer’s question, “Why do you own a gun?” stating that she “was raised to never rely on anyone else to protect [her] or watch [her] back.” It is obvious that Paul and Beth’s guns give them a feeling of security.
Like many Americans, Paul and Beth’s firearms are essentially members of their family, protecting their vulnerable children from outside forces much like guard dogs. It is no wonder, then, that so many citizens become immediately defensive upon mention of gun control. Terrified of what others may do to them, they clamor for protection. Americans certainly have a problem with firearms, but it is clear that the true problem is the fear that necessitates those weapons…
As followers of Christ, what are we to do in a world that fears instead of loves? The road to recovering from this social disease will be long, but it must start with the renewal of trust from person to person. Our actions do not have to be revolutionary: instead of locking our doors and keeping others out, we can take time to learn about our neighbors and invite people from our communities into our homes. We can choose to believe that trusting others is not naïve, but necessary to our collective social health.
– Excerpted from “The deadliest American family member” by Lea Graber, Freeman Academy (Freeman, South Dakota), Grade 12.
March 8, 2013
President Barack Obama speaks about the importance of expanding the protections of the Violence Against Women Act. He is joined on stage by politicians, women’s rights activists, and Native American rights activists. This signing of the Violence Against Women Act into law took place on March 7, 2013. (Photo Jesse Epp-Fransen/MCC)
On March 7, 2013 President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. This is legislation, originally crafted nearly twenty years ago to address issues of domestic violence and rape.
VAWA has traditionally been passed with bipartisan support but upon expiration during the last congress it failed to be renewed. The act is essential in providing funding for the domestic abuse hotline that has provided emergency assistance for 2 million women since its creation. The act also funds a network of shelters so that survivors of domestic abuse are not forced to choose between safety and shelter. This aspect is being expanded in the current legislation to include housing assistance to help persons leaving violent homes to be able to transition from shelters to more stable housing.
Two significant expansions in this iteration of the legislation include a non-discrimination clause based on sexual orientation. This clause asserts that services will be available to those in need regardless of the orientation of the survivor, thus protecting women and men in same sex relationships from being barred from utilizing services because of their orientation.
The second significant change is that tribal courts have been given authority to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault that occur on tribal lands in the case where the perpetrator is not Native American. This closes a gaping loophole in which non-native persons were accountable to neither the tribal court nor the local municipal or state police because of issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty. Native American’s have suffered a much higher rate of sexual assault than the general public and 70% of the perpetrators are non-Native. Cases that have in the passed involved a question of jurisdiction have had a significantly lower likelihood of prosecution, when compared to crimes committed against other people of color or white victims.
This change in legislation is an incredibly important step in addressing domestic violence, but as with so many issues legislation can play only so much of a role. Along with changes in policy there must be changes in perception and changes of the heart. Visit the Fear not: Seek peace in our homes to find MCC resources on domestic violence including information on abuse prevention and response as well as “Created Equal: Women and Men in the image of God,” a biblical reflection on creation and gender.
January 22, 2013
Jesse Epp-Fransen reflects on the massacre of innocents in light of the current political debate concerning gun violence.
The story of the Massacre of the Innocents in Matthew seems out of place in a story of good news and glad tidings. During the Christmas season, when we celebrate the coming of the Lord with angels and shepherds and kings, this tale of infanticide is shocking and upsetting.
Yet this past Christmas, the national coverage of the Newtown, Conn., shooting made this story terribly fitting.
Matt. 2:16-18, the only account of the massacre, reads: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Read the entire article here.
December 21, 2012
Ruth Keidel Clemens stands between Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America. In the foreground Rabbi Julie Schonfeld and Achbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick speak to the assembled press.
Ruth Keidel Clemens, program director for MCC U.S. stands with faith leaders in support of legislative action to prevent gun violence at a press conference outside the National Cathedral on December 21st, 2012. MCC U.S. comments for the event are available here.
The Fear Not campaign, referred to in Ruth’s comments can be found here.
The Washington Post article covering the event can be found here.
June 29, 2012
Jesse Epp-Fransen writes about the system of mass incarceration in the U.S. in the latest Mennonite World Review.
For too long we have seen prisons as the only solution to issues of crime, injustice and drug use. The church has been speaking about restorative justice for a number of years now, a practice that has much to give to our broken criminal justice system.
The United States has 8 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. About 2.2 million people are in prison in the U.S., a 500 percent increase over 30 years. The war on drugs is a big reason why.
More than half of the U.S. prison population in 2010 was convicted of drug-related crimes. For 30 years prison has been a primary tool to address drug use. This has not been successful.
Read the entire article here.
June 21, 2012
In early June Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation establishing a “Justice Reinvestment Working Group.” (The news story is available here.) The role of this group will be to guide a comprehensive analysis of the state’s criminal justice system. The goal is to reduce corrections spending and increase public safety.
Gov. Brownback said concerning the legislation:
I’ve made it a priority to ensure we do everything possible to make the transition from correctional facilities back to the community safe and successful. In Congress I authored the Second Chance Act to push states to reduce recidivism; here in Kansas I promoted a statewide mentoring program for people in prison. Now the Justice Reinvestment approach will help to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our criminal justice system, which will ultimately make our state an even safer place to live and work.
At the federal level this Justice Reinverstment approach sounds similar to Sen. Jim Webb’s call for a National Criminal Justice Commission Act (NCJCA). A national commission would seek to find best practices among states and provide suggestions for how our criminal justice system could be improved.MCC Washington Office has supported the Second Chance Act and advocated for its re-authorization as it is an important tool to reduce recidivism and increase community re-integration.
It is the belief of MCC Washington Office that an examination of the criminal justice system, either within a given state, or nation wide, will bring attention to the ineffectiveness of our current system and the many programs currently working on small scales to build justice within our communities.
Learn more about MCC’s work on restorative justice as an alternative to incarceration here.
May 1, 2012
Jesse Epp-Fransen recently attended a Restorative Justice conference hosted by West Coast MCC.
Restorative justice works! This was the message of the Day of Justice held in Fresno, California, on March 16, 2012. The conference, put on by West Coast Mennonite Central Committee, featured members of local law enforcement, a judge, a leading advocate for the “three strikes” law in California, and members of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) in Fresno.
The participants brought varied opinions and a range of perspectives on restorative justice. Restorative justice is a perspective on addressing crime that puts healing and community support at the heart of its action. While some speakers were cautious of giving full support to the restorative justice model, other panelists, such as Reedley Police Chief Joe Garza, expressed being confident that restorative justice was the direction law enforcement needed to move.
Read the entire reflection here.
Learn more about West Coast MCC here and the Washington Office’s work on restorative justice here.