Students set weekly protest against capital punishment

By Leia L. Hill


Rain or shine, Students Against Government Execution keep a weekly appointment on campus to protest what they consider a social injustice – capital punishment.

Their numbers at the University of the Incarnate Word fluctuate. One Thursday, senior sociology major Elizabeth Estrada was alone handing out fliers. Another time, she was with Dr. Roger Barnes, a longtime professor who chairs the Sociology Department and serves as SAGE adviser. Junior Kasia Koterba also can be seen at the gathering.

“We use a prayer service every time for SAGE,” Estrada said. “The ‘vigil’, as we call it, is at 11:45 a.m. every Thursday and we hold it at the (Jordan) Clock Tower on campus.”

The prayer service is based upon a paper titled “Prayer Service-Execution Watch: San Antonio, Texas”  (This was adapted from a Paz Christi prayer service by Sister Alice Holden and Judy Lackritz for use in interfaith services in San Antonio).

The prayer starts with a brief introduction, “On the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we began the practice of public prayer on behalf of all involved in state executions in Texas. Let us continue until……..”

While SAGE is protesting, it appears most UIW students walk by hardly noticing anything going on.

“I have heard of SAGE on campus, but have never really looked into it,” said junior Juli M. Mayhan.

SAGE has tried to get a higher profile on some occasions.

“Last semester, we brought in a guest speaker to UIW,” Estrada said. “(It was) Sam Millsap, a former D.A. for Bexar County. He used to prosecute death penalty cases a while back and since then, those people, most who were innocent, were executed.

“In fact, one person that Millsap put on death row years ago was later considered likely to be innocent. Basically, after that, it made Millsap look harder and deeper at the death penalty. Now he goes around to schools and public places and speaks against the death penalty, completely.”

Estrada said she hopes SAGE can get another guest speaker this fall.

“We really hope to educate people about the death penalty,” Estrada said. “It’s important for students to know about and understand about this awful case that goes on — not just in this nation, but in Texas.”

Estrada said she is opposed to the death penalty because “I believe the death penalty is arbitrary and doesn’t operate the way people assume it does. It’s a system operated by human beings so there is a lot of room for human error and in this case error could lead to executing someone who wasn’t guilty.

“The system is designed to decide whether or not we should take someone’s life and that should require a system that is unassailable but no such system can ever exist. I believe the justice system is broken and my goal, personally and through SAGE, is to inform people about the death penalty — just get them thinking about it. That way they can make an informed decision.”


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