Stop Robert Garza’s execution by association in Texas

by Joan Braune and Amanda Lusky
Re-posted from WagingNonviolence by permission of authors

Robert Garza is scheduled to die on September 19. The state of Texas has not attempted to prove that he killed anyone. When a young Latino male in the Rio Grande Valley — the long-impoverished, southernmost tip of the state — is accused of gang involvement, the question of who actually pulled the trigger does not give pause to Texas’ well-oiled killing machine.

Garza was convicted of involvement in the shooting of four immigrant women in a car in Donna, Texas, 11 years ago. The killings were carried out by members of the gang to which Garza belonged, allegedly to protect the gang from criminal charges from a witness to a previous crime. He was convicted under a controversial law in the state known as the Law of Parties, which does not require the prosecution to prove that the defendant killed anyone, or even intended to kill, but only that she or he had a certain level of involvement in a felony that led to a murder. Under this law, for example, someone who drives a culprit to a convenience store and waits outside, intending to drive the get-away car after an armed robbery, can be charged with murder if the other person kills someone inside the store.

In 2007, Kenneth Foster, Jr., was facing execution in Texas under the Law of Parties, and his case had been subject to much media attention and protest. Just hours before his execution, Foster’s sentence was commuted by Governor Rick Perry — who is not known for skepticism about capital punishment — from death to life imprisonment. Following the commutation of Foster’s sentence, a bill was proposed in the state legislature to remove the application of the death penalty to Law of Parties cases; the bill failed to pass, however, and it is still possible to receive a death sentence under the Law of Parties.

Garza contends that he did not participate in shooting the women whose murder has landed him on death row, and that he was not even at the scene of the crime. However, he does not eschew all blame for the deaths of the four women that day in 2002; he admits that he knew the crime was going to occur and that he did not act to prevent the killings. But after 11 years of incarceration, he speaks of repentance, of having become a devoted Christian. He now deeply regrets his involvement in gang activity and wants to speak out against gang violence. (Garza’s mother, Sylvia Garza, has also become an active advocate of an end to gang violence.) This is a long journey from Garza’s troubled youth. He left school after eighth grade, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and he spent time in the juvenile corrections system while still a teenager.

Supporters of Garza have created a Facebook event with further information for those who wish to contact the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the execution. Letters to decision-makers can also be found here and here.

Very little public discussion has drawn the connection between the Law of Parties and Garza’s fast-approaching execution date. In fact, a local television news interview earlier this summer focused instead on a prosecutor’s claim that Garza was involved in the infamous “Edinburg massacre,” which occurred months after the crime for which Garza was convicted. Garza was not tried for involvement in the Edinburg killings, but the report focused on that crime instead and on the mother of two of the Edinburg shooting victims, who wants to be present at Garza’s execution.

Like the “stand your ground” laws that have garnered much press of late in relation to the George Zimmerman trial, the Law of Parties is not neutral with regard to race, class and other power differentials because of how it treats members of so-called gangs.

A gang, like a corporation, is a group of people organized in a particular way. Unlike a gang, however, corporations have recognition as legal persons, and members and shareholders in a corporation are largely protected from criminal liability when the corporation engages in illegal activity. The members of a gang, however — often younger and generally darker-skinned than corporate CEOs — tend to be held criminally liable for each other’s actions under legislation such as the Law of Parties. Although one might object that gangs have an explicitly violent aim while corporations do not, that is much too simple. It is well known, for example, that some gangs in U.S. history have played roles in social justice movements; “CRIPS,” for example, stands for Citizens Revolution in Progress. The Latin Kings gang in New York has been reconfiguring itself into a nonviolent organization against police brutality and for basic liberties, as detailed in the documentary Black and Gold. Although Robert Garza’s own gang, the Tri-City Bombers, has been involved in multiple murders and can hardly be considered an nonviolent advocacy organization, the difference in treatment between the Bombers and, say, Union Carbide is puzzling.

There are a myriad of reasons that people oppose the death penalty across the board, from holistic commitments to nonviolence to concerns about racial and economic disparities and the false convictions of innocent people. But Robert Garza’s case is not simply a case about the death penalty. It forces us to ask whether we are willing, as a society, to inflict execution upon people whom we acknowledge did not intentionally or directly participate in the killing of anyone.

The British common law tradition, out of which our legal system largely emerged, linked murder to “malice aforethought” — premeditated evil, with full intent to kill. The Law of Parties, in a rush to place harsher sentences on people involved in gang-type criminal activities, cuts away at this tradition and privileges punishment over basic justice. Blaming gang members for the entire collective’s actions does not necessarily stop the gang; loyalty and the sacrifice of a few might strengthen them all.

Garza’s case represents a missed opportunity that we still have time to rectify. We should be improving community support and education so young people have some place besides gangs to turn to. Rather than trying to put more people in prison and on death row, we can strive to run out of prisoners instead. Achieving this goal will only happen if we critically re-evaluate our current conceptions of justice. Garza’s life could represent a starting point for dialogue about these difficult topics. Silencing Garza by executing him not only stops his story from becoming a powerful message of hope — it makes our own silence deafening.


Joan Braune is assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisc. Amanda Lusky is an M.A. in philosophy. She is currently finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky on pragmatism and innovative democracy.

A Humble Plea from Wendy Darling: Come to the Texas Capitol

People call me Wendy Darling. I am a special needs fat person, and I am a non-violent activist. I am also a woman from Texas. I was born here, in a small town. Into a family and community that will never really be able to understand me. Our lives are so different, we don’t enjoy the same activities or music or…much of anything. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my family, or that I can’t have compassion for my fellow man. It’s just difficult to be around each other sometimes because of our lack of understanding of each others’ ways. I wish we were able to forgive each other for our differences sometimes and just agree to disagree without making each other feel like pariahs for having an opposing viewpoint. I’m willing to admit my own failure in this area.

These days, no matter what your political views, or lack thereof, everybody complains about how corrupt the government is in some way or another. I hear the Constitution, and the rules argued back and forth by all sides on every issue. Well, what I viewed with over 100,000 other people via the live-stream of the Texas Senate special session this past Tuesday – Wednesday morning was a group of underdogs, who came prepared, and banded together to represent the people who elected them. I do not represent the Democratic party, but I watched them doing their JOBS, and the people who came to offer their support cheering them on. These Texas Senators played hard, but they played by the rules, and they WON fair and square.

From their opposing side, I saw a man take advantage of a woman’s absence due to the funeral of her father to sneak in and try to steal the floor away, and throw out the rulebooks completely. I saw men with friends in high places try to cheat the system.

I don’t care what you believe regarding this bill. We live in the United States of America, where we have a bunch of annoying, boring rules set in place to which our elected officials must follow while representing their constituents to the best of their ability. We have to trust them to do what they say they’ll do.

Well those Democratic Texas State Senators followed rules, and they had the blessing of the people.

Don’t believe what Rick Perry says. He is a slick snake, and a liar that doesn’t care WHAT happens to Texas women or babies. Perry and his camp use fear tactic words like “unruly mob” and “terrorists” to describe aunts, mothers, sisters, friends, brothers, husbands, grandmothers, wives, sons and daughters. He doesn’t care if this bill passes or not. What he cares about is doing whatever it takes to keep his wallet full. He is a laughingstock, and he an embarrassment. He makes Texas look stupid and ignorant to the rest of the ENTIRE WORLD. They laugh at us for continuing to elect such a moron. That saddens me because I LOVE TEXAS.

I want Texas to be the place I can be proud to call mine. The place they taught us about in elementary school. The Texas written about in the lyrics of our state song. Texas, our Texas. The state with that unforgettable shape. The Lone Star on the flag that is the only state flag allowed to fly at the same height as the United States flag. The state that has beaches, and prairies and mountains and coastal plains. My favorite land in the U.S.A. Where my spirit knows it is home.

I choose my battles carefully. I have to because as a disabled woman, I fight a daily internal fight against multiple illnesses that rob me of my energy and ability to live pain-free. I can’t sit idlely by while these gladiators go back into the lion’s den. I must go and offer my presence, and possibly my voice to honor their loyalty to the task put before them. If they have to go back and do battle against this same bill, I want to be one of the people there to give them the courage to push forward. I want to witness what will surely be a great struggle for truth, justice, and the American way.

I started writing this several hours ago, and now I get to my point. There are people fighting all over this land and the world for their rights against governments that have completely turned on them. Now, I have seen with my eyes, time after time, the government in my own backyard acting directly against the people. DIRECTLY AGAINST WOMEN.

I am sending out a humble plea.

Join us at the Texas State Capitol on July 1st to hold witness this special session. Come out from every corner of Texas and stand up and be counted. If you are an ally of freedom anywhere on this country, drop what you are doing and get here. We need you. We need your presence. We need your strength.

As you stand with us on behalf of Texas women, you stand symbolically against whatever injustices are happening in your own neighborhood and around the world. The people united can never be divided.

If positive change can happen in Texas, it can happen anywhere.

In the event I am arrested on July 1st, or something else happens to me, I would like for my family and friends and the rest of the world to know.

Ramsey Muniz Prays for Freedom Now!

Letter from federal prisoner Ramsey Muniz:

For the first time in twenty years I have begun to pray and ask God for my freedom now! I have told God that I have suffered more than any other human being in the prisons of America, and that I feel the essence and pain of my beloved brother, Nelson Mandela. He was confined in the prisons and dungeons of Africa for over 20 years, and at this very moment he is fighting for his life. I prayed and cried for Nelson Mandela, and I ask our brothers and sisters to please take the time and go to a church and light a candle for him. Ask God to keep him alive for we need him at this very moment in our lives.

I demand my freedom now! I want my freedom now! Twenty years of suffering for an unjust incarceration is beyond the constitutional definition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” How much more must I suffer for something I did not do, and why?

I demand my freedom now and I ask that my brothers and sisters not ask or request, but begin to demand that I be a free man now! During the last 20 years I never even asked God to help bring about my freedom. For the first time throughout the morning, I felt as if God wanted for me to ask for my freedom, because the time has come for me to be a free man once again.

The message received is that we as Hispanics, Latinos, Mexican Americans, and Chicanos, are now in a strong political position to tell the Untied States government that justice needs to be addressed in the death sentence unjustly imposed on Ramiro “Ramsey” Muiz. We cannot allow this injustice to continue, for I do not want to die inside the prisons of America. My brother, Nelson Mandela, who struggled for his freedom and for his people, knows how it feels.

It is all about freedom, justice, and love, I demand my freedom now! I want to be a free man in this world once again.

We will share this sense of urgency with religious institutions, civil rights organizations, as well as national Hispanic, Latino, African American, and women organizations.

I continue to be strong spiritually, just as my brother Nelson Mandela has been to this very hour and minute, for I can feel the essence of his love and freedom.


News Alert: Mexican Border Officials Deport U.S. Citizens on Eve of Obama’s Visit

Students, faith leaders, and community members caught in border conflict

Minutes after midnight on April 28th, eight U.S. citizens from Austin, Texas, were deported from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, a Mexican border town opposite Del Rio, Texas. The Mexican government’s action comes a few days before President Obama’s visit to Mexico on Thursday to redefine the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

“We have organized these tours for 14 years and have never experienced anything like this. We are shocked and outraged,” said Judith Rosenberg, board president of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (Austin So Close to the Border), a local non-profit.

The deported citizens were on an educational tour organized by ATCF to Ciudad Acuña to visit the offices of the CFO (Border Workers Committee), a community-based organization that defends worker and women’s rights on the Mexican side of the border.

As they were sitting down to have lunch, the delegation was surrounded by armed police, taken to the Mexican immigration office, detained and questioned for 9 hours, then deported to Del Rio. “We were never given a clear explanation of what charges and penalties we faced. We were not provided a legal translator and were pressured to sign some document under threat of being detained for up to 90 days in Saltillo, Coahuila,” said one deportee, a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We got a different kind of educational experience than we expected” said one of the other deportees, Reverend Kate Rohde of Wildflower Church in Austin. “If the Mexican Government is putting this kind of pressure on church ladies and students from the U.S., just for listening to workers, it is obvious that the Mexican workers we met receive much worse treatment from their government when they ask for humane working conditions and wages. We hope that President Obama will raise the issue of worker justice and independent unions when he meets with Mexico’s President.”

The group sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama asking for their assistance in this matter.

[Source: press release from trusted source, contact Josefina Castillo @]

American Christianity Tested by ''Illegals''

Re-posted in loving memory of Jay, who passed away last Friday at the age of 66.–gm

A guest Sunday Sermon

Inside the Checkpoints
By Jay Johnson-Castro

As a child raised in this great country, I was taught to believe in a loving God, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth. I was also taught that, while under human rule, America was the one place on Earth that protected the precious freedoms with which our Creator endowed us.

From childhood on, I was taught the highest of all principles were based on Love. Love of God, love of our neighbor, love of family and even love of our enemy. As citizens of a modern country that banners liberty, we have matured in some senses, and degenerated in other aspects. As Americans, we should realize that freedom of worship guarantees and protects religious along with ethnic and cultural diversity.

As a country, we can no longer rightfully call the United States of America a Christian nation if, as a country, it does not live by the most basic of Christian values. At the same time, if we are true to our American values, the many thousands of religions that exist on this planet are equally protected in this country.

In this millennium, this century, this decade and especially in this year, American Christianity is being intensely tested. For those of us Americans who believe in a loving God, we of all people must realize that we are under such a major testing. It is not a test of whether there is a separation of the church of our choice and the American political arena. We know that you cannot take the faith out of the minds and hearts of elected officials. Nor is the test whether our nation subscribes to fundamental Christian values. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights well outline the role of God and Christian values in the founding of this country. We Americans who claim to be Christian are being tested as to whether or not we as a people of faith apply those lofty values in our everyday American lives. And, if we do apply them, we are being tested as to how well we apply them.

As a people of faith in the laws of God, in the light of “love your enemy as yourself”, we could and perhaps should test ourselves on our attitude about the war and the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. We could ask if such warlike commitment is a display of “love of neighbor” or “love of our enemies”. We could use torture and torture camps to test the depth of our American and Christian values and resolve. We could test our attitude, our level of concern or even our level of tolerance with regard to the wanton lies, perversion and corruption being committed by the elected officials in America who make decisions and laws on our behalf.

Yet, there is almost an ideal test of our American and Christian values. It involves a basic issue facing our country. “Illegal” immigration. Let’s take the test.

As American Christians, in our minds and hearts, how do we deal with the “illegal” immigrant problem? Is it justifiable to our American values and our Christianity that men, women, even children, are being arrested as a criminals, simply because they traverse hundreds or thousands of miles to enter our country without documentation in their quest to find a job to support their family and to pursue liberty? Applying the law of “Love thy neighbor as yourself”, how are we doing as Americans, and Christians. Do we justify or even approve of the imprisonment of these people? How about the Golden Rule given by the Lord in his Sermon on the Mount? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Is criminalizing a starving refugee in harmony with our professed Christian faith?

If an American Christian, who says he believes that “all men are created equal”, and at the same time is a racist, supremacist, nativist or xenophobic, is he true to the highest American or Christian values?

The founding fathers believed that we are all endowed by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those Christian founders believed that we were all born with those “certain” and “unalienable” rights. They did not believe that you had to be an American citizen to enjoy them. On the contrary, they established a country and a government, here in America where such freedoms would be offered, guaranteed, experienced and protected. All one had to do was get here.

How about us individually? Do we see the lowly immigrant as a threat to OUR America. If so, how does that harmonize with “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Which law is higher? The convoluted and unjust immigration laws of this country, or God’s laws? Whose laws will we obey? God’s or man’s?

Why is it a crime in this country for even an American citizen, in many cases a Christian, to help or give safe haven to a starving, thirsty or even dying immigrant that has traversed hundreds of treacherous miles over extremely cold or hot wilderness? Why is a refugee arrested like a violent criminal? Why is that person, perhaps a woman, an elderly person, even a child, imprisoned in private “for profit” internment camps, without rights or due process?

Why would Christians build walls to divide people? Is that American? Is that Christian? Is that “love of neighbor”? Would Jesus do such a thing? Would he approve of such treatment of the lowly and innocent?

This is why the American Christian is being tested. If someone declares that what the immigrant is doing is “illegal”, does that justify the cruel and inhumane treatment committed by Americans who profess a Christian faith? What are we protecting by such bigoted conduct? America? Christian values? The vast majority of people that enter our country through our southern borders are themselves Christians. Is that how Christian brothers and sisters are to treat one another?

Indeed, loving our neighbor as ourselves is a great test of not only our national values but our personal and moral values as well. What if is was the other way around, and what if it was one of us that was desperately seeking a job or freedom from poverty or tyranny? How would we want to be treated? Would we want to be chased down like a criminal and thrown on the desert floor? Would we want to be cuffed and thrown into a “holding pen” and then an internment camp? Would we want our women and children locked up in cold prison cells?

If anyone takes the position that he or she would never stoop to breaking the law and entering another country illegally, they betray their most basic American and Christian values. Such an attitude belies arrogance and an attitude of superiority and prejudice. It was not God who created political boundaries. Christ never taught that “love of neighbor” had political or national limitations. Wasn’t that the lesson in his story about the Good Samaritan, a stranger, a foreigner…who helped a suffering fellow human that had been beaten, robbed and left to die?

Some “Americans”, who profess Christianity, are the very ones who treat immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in such a dehumanizing un-American and un-Christian way. In our own country some Americans who claim to be Christians get paid handsome salaries and are given high-tech and lethal equipment to hunt down, arrest and victimize immigrants who are simply members of our human family. Other “Americans”, who also call themselves Christians, own companies or invest heavily in corporate stock in companies that profit off of the imprisonment of these humble people whose only crime is that they want to work, enjoy freedom and to provide for their families.

“Americans” who call themselves Christians exploit these people in our country as well as in the countries of the immigrants for the “love of money” and greedy corporate gain. They can do so “legally” because they have successfully passed laws that favor corporate greed, laws that are pushed through by corrupt lobbyists and passed by morally ca
lloused politicians. Such laws which allows for the victimization and mistreatment of the immigrant that is too poor to follow the rules of immigration and citizenship.

So, when does the Christianity of such political and corporate officials ever get applied? When do these rich and powerful self-proclaimed “American Christians” ever apply the law of God in their quest for more power and money? When do they treat their neighbor as themselves? They don’t! They have continually failed the test of upholding the high moral values on which this country was founded. Additionally, they have certainly betrayed the laws of the God they profess to worship. If one believes the scriptures, they more likely resemble the category of what Christ called “hypocrites”, “blind guides”,” and “whitewashed graves” who “disregarded the weightier things of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness”.

It is up to “We the People of the United States” to apply and uphold the lofty and fundamental values on which this country is founded. It is up to each individual who professes faith in God to live by the highest laws in the universe known to man.

If we are to pass the test of American Christianity, we would uphold the most American of values and the highest of Christian principles. If we love God and we love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we will eagerly and willingly extend to all mankind the opportunity to experience the “liberty” we cherish. We would reject any form of enslavement, imprisonment of innocence without due process.

If we pass the test of American Christianity, regardless of any human law, we would reject any form of mistreatment of any member of God’s children. We would do all we can to prevent any mistreat the “alien residents”. We would not allow the vilification or victimization of the immigrant that cannot gain citizenship by normal means. We would not consider it “illegal” to share in the freedoms we enjoy. We would lay our lives on the line to love the immigrant as ourselves. In so doing, we pass a crucial test, that of being a Christian in America.

(March 24, 2008)