Rev. Erik Carlson, MDiv '09, published a statement as a co-chair of Religious Leaders' Caucus of Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH) in Wisconsin, calling out blatant disregard for inherent human dignity that Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth expressed at a press conference last week.
We, members of the Religious Leaders’ Caucus of Congregations United to Serve Humanity, are here to stand in opposition to the remarks made by Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth in his press conference Jan. 25.
And though we were initially pleased with Beth’s decision to issue an apology, we have found the content of that apology to be lacking in both sincerity and depth.
Of particular concern to us as faith leaders in Kenosha County are Beth’s assertions that there are people “not worth saving,” that certain criminals, once convicted, should be denied access to recreational time, and that there are segments of the population who should simply “go away.”
To the first point, we are united in the affirmation that every life is worth saving and every person, however troubled or felonious, is deserving of dignity.
To the second issue of restricting or eliminating recreational time for inmates, we point to the numerous federal court decisions, including but not limited to Anderson v the Colorado Department of Corrections in 2012 and Spain v Procunier of 1979, which equate even restrictive recreational access with “cruel and unusual punishment” of prisoners — which is forbidden by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Finally, several times in his statements of Jan. 25, Beth referred to “warehousing” criminals and “locking them up and throwing away the key.”
Beth was correct when he said that other countries have lower crime rates than ours. But, he was absolutely wrong in saying that they treat people convicted of crime more harshly. This country has, by a wide margin, the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Wisconsin's rate of incarceration for African-American and Native American men is the highest in the nation.
"Warehousing" of people convicted of crime — especially people of color and poor people — has not worked and is not the solution.
Studies have shown that overuse of incarceration actually INCREASES crime. While accountability is essential, we are safer when we put our energy and money into rehabilitation, education and opportunity that creat a path to a productive place in the community. Warehousing is not only morally repugnant and in opposition to every one of our faith traditions' emphasis on respect for human dignity; it is also bad public policy.
Beth’s apology of Monday said only that his comments “did not necessarily live up to even my own expectations for my office” but did not refute or qualify a single thing expressed in the press conference.
We, therefore, invite Beth to revisit his statements of Jan. 25 to clarify, on the record, his true feelings on these matters. We also invite him and the whole of the sheriff’s department into an open dialogue with concerned community leaders including but not limited to the lay leaders and clergy of CUSH.
In addition, we also encourage all concerned citizens to attend the Kenosha County Board General Meeting, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and the Kenosha County Judiciary and Law Committee Meeting Feb 7 at 6:30 p.m., both at the Kenosha County Administrative Building.
We continue to appreciate and support the work of all the organizations working towards criminal justice reform in Wisconsin, including the Unity Coalition, the NAACP, the Coalition for Dismantling Racism, WISDOM and its affiliates around the state.
It is our hope and indeed our prayer, that by involving the community in law enforcement as well as the process of reintegrating former offenders to society, we will continue to make Kenosha more safe, more loving and more whole.
Erik is a life-long UU who has held leadership positions at every level of our Association, including the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the Central Midwest District and the UUA Board of Trustees. After graduating from MLTS in 2009, he served from 2010 to 2016 as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, IL. Erik is serving Bradford UU's settled minister since 2016, following a unanimous congregational vote.Read more