On February 21, 2014, I will walk prayerfully from Dallas to Fort Worth with my colleagues from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Rev. Wes Magruder of the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and Lynn Walters of Hope for Peace and Justice. Our Faithful Pilgrimage to Abolish the Death Penalty will begin with a press conference in Dallas and end with a rally and press conference in Fort Worth. We intend to speak directly to the death sentences pursued and secured by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, Jr. I will walk prayerfully the approximately 35-mile journey with my colleagues because I know that it is time for death sentences to stop and the death penalty to be abolished.
In a 2012 interview with D Magazine, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins repeated his often-stated line that he is morally opposed to the death penalty yet his job requires him to pursue death sentences (http://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2012/april/dallas-da-craig-watkins-on-witnessing-his-first-execution?single=1)…and pursue Watkins has…from 2007 to 2013 Dallas County led the state in persons sentenced to death (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20131229-dallas-county-da-craig-watkins-leads-state-in-death-penalty-convictions.ece). It is not enough to be morally opposed to the death penalty. Texas is leading the nation in executions and there is a need for persons with tremendous moral courage to shutdown an immoral system that costs too much (almost three times as much as imprisoning someone for the rest of our lives); disproportionately executes the poor and minorities; deprives persons of the ability to love their neighbor as their self and continues the cycle of violence by perpetuating the ludicrous notion that you can teach people not to kill by killing. I am thankful that Craig Watkins has helped exonerate so many people…but it is not enough when you are consistently taking the lives of others. You would think that someone whose great-grandfather was executed by the State of Texas (Richard Johnson / August 10, 1932 / http://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2012/april/dallas-da-craig-watkins-on-witnessing-his-first-execution?single=1) would understand the toll that the continuation of such a system has on the moral fabric of families and a society. I need some time to pray that Craig Watkins will put his morals where his mouth is and so I walk prayerfully.
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, Jr. proudly displays on his website the photographs and names of persons he has sent to death row (http://www.tarrantda.com/?page_id=153). Shannon is proud yet fails to realize that his actions perpetuate violence against more families and creates more victims…thanks to his efforts and the efforts of other District Attorneys around the State of Texas the cycle of violence continues. Having decided not to seek reelection, Joe Shannon, Jr. will soon no longer be the District Attorney in Tarrant County (http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/tarrant/Tarrant-County-DA-announces-he-will-not-seek-re-election-226023891.html). I need some time to pray that his successor will have an epiphany of what it means to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and so I walk prayerfully.
I walk prayerfully because I am a follower of Jesus that firmly believes we are called to love all of our neighbors as our self…even our enemies. I walk prayerfully because I believe murder is wrong no matter who thrusts the needle or pulls the trigger. I walk prayerfully because I know that more pain, perpetrators and victims are created with every execution. I walk prayerfully because I know that Jesus called us to sacrifice our life not the life of someone else. I walk prayerfully because I believe in the power of prayer to heal the hearts of the victims and turn even the hardest of hearts of perpetrators to love.
I know I will not just be walking and praying with my colleagues…I know I will also be walking with Jesus who has always stood for those that no one else will.