Reflections of an Ex-Catholic

Pamela Pizarro

We are all looking for a sense of community and somewhere to belong, but I won’t belong to a church that believes that I have no rights.

As a former Catholic, I still carry around a lot of “Catholic Guilt.” You know — the feeling that strikes you when you think dirty thoughts or maybe have sex with your partner. It’s there – forever and always – whether you are still a Catholic or not. That “all-seeing, all-knowing” God is always there.

Growing up I attended Catholic school and went to church occasionally with my parents. I remember that our sexual education in junior high was to copy down the “Hail Mary”; we were instructed to recite it when we had "impure" thoughts. We were told that we would be punished for masturbating and recruited to participate in Right to Life marches. I remember vividly a conversation with our high school chaplain about abortion, and how I felt that under certain circumstances a woman should have the right to choose (I now feel that no matter the circumstance, the woman has the right to choose). Obviously he did not agree and I got an earful about the importance of life and the sacredness of sex. Meanwhile, half my friends were losing their virginity (or at least trying to) and we were not educated about contraception or at the very least about how not to feel pressured into having sex.

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I occasionally reflect on why I left the church and now consider myself an ex-Catholic. As many former members of the church would agree, the church needs to modernize. Their stance on sexuality is no longer just laughable — it is costing men and women their lives all over the world. Preaching against the use of contraception leaves people vulnerable to disease and unwanted pregnancies. I also do not support the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. The teachings of the early church were to love everyone, and accept people for who they are, not to turn your back on people may have a different sexuality than you. The stance of the church on women’s rights and their role in the family is also exasperating.

People do a lot of strange things in the name of God, Catholic or not. My parents come from South America, where the church still wields a great deal of power over national policies. For example, recently in Chile the Constitutional Court halted a national program that distributed free emergency contraception to women as young as fourteen due to pressure from politicians who claimed that “emergency contraception constitutes abortion." Abortion in Chile is illegal under all circumstances. Enough propaganda and myths have been propagated by the church about emergency contraception that they are still believed.

It’s time for Catholics to take back their religion and make the changes necessary to keep progressive people like myself in the church. We are all looking for a sense of community and somewhere to belong, but I won’t belong to a church that believes that I have no rights.

News Human Rights

Number of People Dying in Texas Police Custody ‘Really Jarring’

Teddy Wilson

“I think this story is really a story that we’ve known for a long time which is that too many people are incarcerated,” said Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral legal fellow and Texas Justice Initiative project director. “The other story that is emerging is that a lot of folks have known for some time too, which is that too many people are incarcerated pre-conviction.”

Nearly 7,000 people have died over the past decade while in police custody in Texas, according to a report by the Texas Justice Initiative (TJI). About 1,900 of those people had not been convicted of a crime. 

Many had not even been charged with a crime.

The TJI report analyzed data collected and published as part of a project by the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin.

Unlike people who are executed by the state, which the report notes is “painstakingly documented,” the accounts of those who die while in custody are not widely known. “They occur at every point and phase of our criminal justice system, in a manner that remains largely untracked and unexamined,” the report’s authors wrote. 

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From 2005-2015, there were 6,913 people who died while in police custody in Texas. The number of deaths in police custody has increased over the years. There were 683 in 2015, the highest number of deaths in a single year during the ten-year span, during which there was an average of 623 deaths per year.

Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral legal fellow and TJI project director, told Rewire that the sheer number of people who have died in custody in Texas has been “really jarring for people,” and that the data shines a light on Texas’ incarceral state. 

“I think this story is really a story that we’ve known for a long time which is that too many people are incarcerated,” Woog said. “The other story that is emerging is that a lot of folks have known for some time too, which is that too many people are incarcerated pre-conviction.”

The report found that racial disparities present in the state’s criminal justice system “generally translate into racial disparities in custodial mortality.”

While Black people comprise 12 percent of the Texas population, they account for 30 percent of custodial deaths. Forty-two percent (2,872) of those who died in custody were white, 28 percent (1,915) were Hispanic and 1 percent (66) were from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The different categories of deaths while in custody mirror the categories used in the custodial death report.

Under Texas law, when a person dies in police custody, in jail or prison, or as the result of a police officer’s use of force, it is required that the law enforcement agency “file a written report of the cause of death” to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

The attorney general’s office has collected the information contained in those reports and published the results in a single database since 2005. The overwhelming majority of deaths were reported as natural causes.

Wong told the Texas Tribune that if the 4,870 deaths reported from natural causes were examined further, the explanation of those deaths may change how they would be categorized.

“If someone wasn’t charged, then maybe the person filling out the form didn’t think they could say that a homicide had occurred,” Woog said. “But the injuries might be consistent with someone having been attacked.” 

There were 772 (11 percent) deaths due to suicide, 573 (8 percent) people who died due to “justifiable homicide,” 275 (4 percent) who died from alcohol or drug intoxication, 255 (4 percent) who died for other reasons, and 168 (2 percent) who died from an accidental injury.

Maya Schenwar, editor in chief of Truthout and the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, told Rewire that the number of in-custody deaths in Texas “does seem like a high number.”

“One of the things that this documents, and is so important to recognize, is that this is not just people going [into prison] and dying of natural causes,” Schenwar said. People who are incarcerated “are more likely to die in a situation that a is result of [medical] neglect or suicide or than they are on the outside.”

The TJI report highlights the number of those who have died while in custody without being convicted of a crime. Many had not been charged with any crime.

Pretrial and bail policies have resulted in tens of thousands of people spending time in Texas jails without being convicted of a crime. Of the 63,989 inmates being held in Texas county jails in 2014, 38,745 inmates (60.55 percent) were being detained pre-trial, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards annual report

The report found that 76 percent of 1,111 deaths in local jails were people not convicted of a crime and 16 percent of those people had yet to even be charged with a crime. 

The number of people who have died prior to booking or in the process of an arrest increased by 84 percent over the last ten years, from 83 deaths in 2005 to 153 deaths in 2015.

Woog told Rewire that the 573 reports of “justifiable homicides” over the past ten years present a challenge to analyzing the data because the state does not define the term in the individual reports.

“It is a term that I think we need to move past, at least when we’re talking about data collection for police involved shootings,” Woog said. “It’s kind of turned into a proxy term in reporting for ‘officer involved shootings,’ but from a data collection point of view it’s not a perfect proxy by any means.”   

As noted by the report’s authors, the term “justifiable homicide” “appears conclusory when it is not clear who made the decision that it was justifiable.” The term is both “under inclusive and over inclusive with respect to officer-involved shootings.” 

Nearly all of the incidents of so-called justifiable homicide occurred prior to booking and without any charges filed: 562 (98 percent) of deaths that were deemed “justifiable homicides” occurred prior to booking and 530 (92 percent) of justifiable homicides happened to people who had not been charged with a crime.

There were two justifiable homicides in prisons and nine justifiable homicides in jails. There were three justifiable homicides of people who had been convicted of a crime, six justifiable homicides of those who were on parole, and 34 justifiable homicides of individuals who were the subject of criminal charges.

Schenwar told Rewire that the report highlights something that is “very pervasive in the system,” and that there is a need to examine the problem of medical and mental health neglect in jails and prisons. 

“Prison causes death in so many different ways and a lot of them are ways in which we might not be able to directly document,” Schenwar said. “Looking at these data sets you might not be able to say that ‘prison killed this person,’ but you can start looking at them and realize that they might be much more likely to die while incarcerate because of these reasons that can’t be connected dot to dot.”

Woog told the Texas Tribune that information will help inform the public discussion on police brutality and violence within the criminal justice system.

“We can’t have an informed conversation about who’s dying at the hands of police or who’s dying in jails if we don’t literally know who’s dying and how they’re dying,” Woog told the Tribune. “I think this information can help us get to the bottom causes of mortality in the criminal justice system and with that lead us to solutions.”

News Politics

Rep. Steve King: What Have People Of Color Contributed to Civilization?

Ally Boguhn

King came under fire this month after local news station KCAU aired footage showing that the Iowa representative keeps a Confederate flag displayed on his desk.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on Monday questioned what “contributions” people of color have made to civilization while appearing on an MSNBC panel during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

King’s comments came during a discussion on racial diversity within the Republican Party in which fellow panelist Charles P. Pierce said, “If you’re really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that old white people would command the Republican Party’s attention, its platform, its public face.”

“That [convention] hall is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people,” Pierce added.

“This ‘old white people’ business though does get a little tired, Charlie,” King responded. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

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“Than white people,” Hayes attempted to clarify.

“Than Western civilization itself,” King said. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

Another panelist, reporter April Ryan, countered “What about Asia? What about Africa?” before the panel broke out into disarray. Hayes moved to cut off the group, telling them, “We’re not going to argue the history of civilization.”

“Let me note for the record that if you’re looking at the ledger of Western civilization, for every flourishing democracy you’ve got Hitler and Stalin as well,” Hayes said. “So there’s a lot on both sides.”

Hayes justified abruptly ending the conversation about King’s comments in a series of tweets, saying that he had been “pretty taken aback by” the comments.

“The entire notion of debating which race/civilization/ ‘sub group’ contributed most or is best is as odious as it is preposterous,” Hayes tweeted. “Which is why I said ‘we’re not debating this here.’ But I hear people who think I made the wrong call in the moment. Maybe I did.”

King came under fire this month after local news station KCAU aired footage showing that the Iowa representative keeps a Confederate flag displayed on his desk. King, speaking with Iowa talk radio host Jeff Angelo, defended keeping the flag in his office.

“This is a free country and there’s freedom of speech,” King said, according to Right Wing Watch. “And, by the way, I’d encourage people to go back and read the real history of the Civil War and find out what it was about. A small part of it was about slavery, but there was a big part of it that was about states’ rights, it was about people that defended their homeland and fought next to their neighbors and their family.”

As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump explained in a report on King’s comments, “there have been a great number of non-white contributions to human civilization.”

“Civilization first arose in cities in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq and Syria. Arabic and Middle Eastern inventors and scientists brought astronomy to the world, which in turn aided innovations in navigation,” Bump wrote. “Critical innovations in mathematics and architecture originated in the same area. The Chinese contributed philosophical precepts and early monetary systems, among other things. The specific inventions that were created outside of the Western world are too many to list: the seismograph, the umbrella, gunpowder, stirrups, the compass.”

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