Rais Bhuiyan, the victim of a hate crime in the wake of 9/11 and an outspoken advocate for death penalty abolition, spoke with Amnesty supporters via a Facebook chat about his decision to try to save his assailant from the death penalty. Joining him was Brian Evans, Amnesty’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaigner, who answered general questions about the death penalty.
Amnesty: Getting ready for our live Facebook chat today with Rais Bhuiyan and Amnesty's death penalty campaigner Brian Evans. Read more about Rais' powerful story from NPR. Then join us on our Facebook Wall at 1pm EST.
Brian Evans: I'm looking forward to chatting with you all, and with Rais Bhuiyan about his campaign to stop the execution of the man who attacked him.
Rais Bhuiyan: Rais here, thank you for coming to the chat and I look forward to taking your questions.
QUESTION: Rais, thanks for being here, what you've done is incredibly brave and moving! I'm wondering, are your family and friends supportive of your campaign against the death penalty for your attacker? Were you able to convince them it was the right thing to do, and if so, what kind of arguments did you make?
ANSWER/Rais: Yes, I have spoken with my friends and family and they are very much supportive. Once I explained what I am trying to do with human life, my family and friends were right away in support of me. I didn’t need to use any further argument.
Q: Hi Rais -- when and how did you make the decision to not only forgive Stroman, but decide to fight for his survival?
A/Rais: Over the past several years, I grew mentally and spiritually. After I came back from my pilgrimage to Mecca in 2009, I was more focused and I thought about doing something. At the end of last year I decided it was the time to move forward and start the campaign to save Mark Stroman's life.
Amnesty: Our Facebook chat is kicking off NOW! Great first question from Heidi Blobaum who asks if Rais' family and friends are supportive of his campaign against the death penalty for his attacker. Got questions for Rais or our death penalty campaigner Brian? Ask away on our Wall: https://www.facebook.com/amnestyusa
Q: Rais, I can understand how hard this must be for you to be dealing with. Have you spoken with Mark about what happened? If you have how does he feel about you trying to save him?
A/Rais: I haven’t talked to him directly but he his attorney informed him about my campaign and as soon as he heard he was reduced to tears.
A/Brian: You can take action for Mark at: www.amnestyusa.org/stopthecycle
Q: Rais, how much support or dissent is there with your stance in your local community in Texas?
A/Rais: I have great support from all different communities within Texas. I have encountered very supportive people, no disagreement at all about what I am trying to do
Q: Brian, do you think it will ever be possible to repeal the death penalty in Texas? And if so, what will it take? Is it something that can happen at a grassroots level?
A/Brian: It will happen; it will require grassroots action to constantly educate legislators about all the unfixable flaws in the system ... the public is already on board somewhat, as death sentences are down in Texas to historic lows ... we need the politicians to follow ...
A/Amnesty: You can help by getting involved in our campaign to abolish the death penalty: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/campaigns/abolish-the-death-penalty
Q: Hey Rais! It saddens & disgusts me how we can’t all just live as one. Of course we all have our differences... cultures, looks, beliefs, etc but we are all human beings. I pray you are doing well with your recovery & I only wish I had half the forgiveness as you do. I would let him pay as the court seems fit.
A/Brian: Human rights exist to prevent us from being caught up in an endless cycle of violence ... Rais' campaign is the embodiment of that ..
Q: I understand & I sincerely admire him for that. it takes a big heart & a lot of understanding & forgiveness to do what Rais is doing. I was victimized back in 1995... not a hate crime, but still a crime. I JUST recently let go of the resentment I had towards the person. I only wish he at least ended up in jail.
A/Brian: I am sorry to hear that, and glad you have let go ... victims of crime have every right to expect the perpetrator to be brought to justice.
Q: Hi Rais! I don't believe in prisons, arrests, or coercive punishments especially death penalty etc. Yet there are people, like Mark, who are doing violence against others and infringing on their rights; we have to respond and address and I have no idea how to approach this. From your experience, do you have thoughts about a better way to redress and address racialized, gendered, and other violence without the use of prisons, etc?
A/Rais: I think educating people is the best way. Because this crime was committed based on hate and this person was not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, I believe we can reduce crime and violence by raising awareness and educating people.
A/Brian: In the case of Mark Stroman, there is a history of child abuse and neglect in his childhood ... this is true of most folks who end up on death row, so a great place to start is be eliminating the abuse people face as children ...
Q: The effects of abuse and violence in one's childhood are life-long and lead to one becoming violent and abusive oneself. Also abuse is disproportionately experienced by people who experience other axes of oppression too. These oppressions re...produce each other.. For example we should think about what percentage of people on death row come from low-income backgrounds, are racialized, etc. Does anyone have stats on this?
A/Amnesty: Nick, we have some interesting death penalty facts on our website you may be interested in reading: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty... Thanks for your thoughtful question!
Q: Rais, how did the families of the two people who were killed react to your Campaign?
A/Rais: They are aware of my campaign and I keep them informed and I am still in touch with them. One of the families came forward writing letters to the DA's office and has joined me in press conferences.
Q: Rais, you are very brave for standing up for what you believe in. Have you felt worried about how some people might respond to you saving Mark Stroman?
A/Rais: Yes i have thought about this, but I wasn’t worried about it because this is a great cause, trying to save a human life and I shouldn’t take opposition personally.
Q: What about if someone were to act violently?
A/Rais: I knew from day 1 that people might respond badly to me running this campaign. I have received hate mail, but I just need to have thick skin and stand by my decision to stop Mark Stroman from being executed.
Q: Hello Rais. Thank you so much for being here. Do you know if Mark has expressed any regret, repentance or change of heart since being in prison?
A/Rais: Yes he has. He wrote letters to Dr. Rick Halperin and the people who met him in jail and later the documentary filmmakers who told me that he feels guilty every single day. Recently he wrote a personal letter to me expressing how much he regrets his actions every single day and that letter expresses how he is changed and is a different person.
Q: What documentary are you referring to?
A/Brian: There were filmmakers working on a documentary about the Stroman case, but I don't believe it has been finished ... I think its working title was The Execution Chronicles ...
Q: Prior to the attack by Mark Stroman, had you experienced discrimination or been targeted verbally/physically for your faith/appearance/culture?
A/Rais: Well no, not really. I was in New York City before I moved to Texas.
Q: I completely understand your view on hate crimes and agree 100%. What you are doing is amazing. You are making such a big impact on how hate crimes are being handled. Once all this is over and Mark Stroman is in jail (and not dead) will you continue to fight for what's a right punishment for hate crimes? I hope you do.
A/Rais: Yes, I believe, absolutely.
Q: Hi Rais, what would be the best way for high school groups to get involved?
A/Brian: High school groups can take the action on the website, circulate the petition among their friends to get as many signatures as possible, and get their parents involved too! The petition is here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/stromanpetition.pdf
A/Amnesty: Hi Nico, you can also sign and circulate our online petition: www.amnestyusa.org/stopthecycle To find out more ways to get involved with our campaign to abolish the death penalty visit: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty
Q: Rais, I was speechless after reading your story -- you have such unbelievable compassion and humility; we could all stand to learn from you. Throughout this entire experience, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
A/Rais: Well that’s a good question. Biggest challenge? at the beginning it was hard to get people on board with exactly what I was trying to do. Over time gaining support has been easier
Q: Hi Rais, you are a strong person to not be vengeful, and to see the larger effect of killing. Clearly you're not seeing this as simply a personal issue, and have not allowed strong emotions to rule you, but rather strong principles. What emotions have you felt about the attack? What would you hope to teach others?
A/Rais: Hate doesn’t bring any lasting solution to any solution, it only brings fear, misery and disaster to human life. Hate is not a solution.
Q: Rais, first of all I applaud your courage, and I'm humbled by your great heart. Second, I wonder if you have met Mark Stroman since the crime or entered into any type of direct dialogue with him? Thank you for your time, and once again: I wish you all the best.
Q: PS I see from below that you spoke with him (apologies, somehow I missed that one). Can you tell any more about your interchange with him? Was it helpful to you?
A/Rais: I have not talked to Mark Stroman directly but I know he has been through a healing process and he got the chance to look back at what he did and saw how much pain and suffering he inflicted. his change of heart makes me want to work harder to save his life, it gives him the new chance to tell his story and to speak out against hate crimes.
Q: Who is the most influential person or role model in your life?
A/Rais: My mother and prophet Muhammed.
Q: Rais you're an inspiration to all humanity! I wish I had a tenth of the compassion and strength you do! I wish you and your family all the best in life. My question would be how has your family reacted to your fight?
A/Rais: They are very much supportive and in a matter of fact my family is praying for me on a regular basis.
Q: I live in a very small town, which is not very open minded. Some people who live here commit what I call 'Silent hate crimes'. They hate people who differ from them in any way. I have shared your story with some people and they were appalled. They think Mark deserves to die. Since I got that reaction I am trying to start an Amnesty club in my middle school. I have to find the courage to speak out about what I believe in like you. The amount of bravery you posses is amazing. I'm going to have to find that within me to even speak out about what I believe in, let alone act on it. I guess what I’m saying is how did you find all that courage and bravery to act on what you believe in?
A/Rais: Since all the teachings of my parents and the example of peace, mercy, and forgiveness set forth by Muhammed.
A/Amnesty International USA Youth and Student Program: Hey Sean-- it's awesome that you want to start a group at your school! Please check out the Youth Program facebook page, and e-mail email@example.com for any help with starting a group! You can also check out this website:
A/Brian: Thank you Sean ... please contact me if you would like some support in starting your Amnesty group ...
Q: Rais, don't you think that if death penalty is repealed, people will be committing murder with impunity, knowing that sooner or later they'll be off the hook? So, what in your opinion is an adequate deterrence measure against murder and other capital offences?
A/Rais: All killing is wrong - murder and death penalty. Can we work together to educate people to not kill in the first instance? We need to find the cause of violence, executing people is just addressing a symptom.
A/Brian: There's no evidence that the death penalty deters murder more than any other punishment like life in prison. Life in prison is certainly not getting "off the hook". In fact one of the reasons that death sentences are dropping in the USA is because roughly half the public prefers the sentence of life without parole to the sentence of death.
A/Amnesty: Here is our fact sheet about the death penalty as a deterrence: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty... A September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.
Q: Actually, I don't support violence or bloodshed in whatever garb, as a matter of fact, I look forward to a world where people will live and let others live. However, as it relates to human being co-exist, the tendency for murder is always high, many people will go to any length to kill others for reasons, ranging from hatred, greed, revenge, war, self-defense… mistake, mercy kill, or by death penalty. So let’s set aside the issue of death penalty in particular, how do we put an end to murder generally as relate human co-existence?
A/Amnesty: That's a huge question, and there are probably many possible answers! But if you want to take action now to support human rights, you can always visit our online Action Center: http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now
Q: Rais, you clearly have a profound relationship with God. From your answers here, it sounds like the traumas inflicted on you and your family have actually been a source of spiritual enlightenment. How do you think your life would have been different if Mark had never come into the store hat day?
A/Rais: Definitely it would be different in many ways. well, first of all, i would not be here today talking to you. second, i would not have gone through the pain and suffering i went through in the past few years. however, that experience made me... more humble and more compassionate to those undergoing pain and suffering. now i feel more for the people who are poor, needy, and deprived, and it gives me strength that i can fight for them.
Q: So, in your experience, suffering has strengthened you?
A/Rais: No one wants to go through bad experiences, but the best thing to do is to look on the brighter side rather than feel sorry and miserable for yourself. I had to learn a lesson and move on.
Q: Rais, I know we have different religions (I am a Catholic Christian, BTW), but I know that we all oppose the death penalty. As I know, too many innocent people, juvenile offenders, and/or those with mental disabilities are being killed by U.S. states in defiance of laws that forbid them from doing so. Yet my heart breaks for families of victims and of death row inmates, and so I pray for them all. (cont.)
Q: BTW, prosecutors are deceiving victims' families into believing that the death penalty "justifies human rights and brings justice, peace, and closure". Even many people honor the lives of the murder victims with the death of their killers,... and, as Bill Maher says, if you celebrate the executions of criminals and of those who are believed to be innocent, you are not really a Christian. Don't blame it on victims' families, but blame it rather on prosecutors and on those who believe winning is all. I am staying strong in spite of the lies and hurt that get in my way, and hope you stay strong and feel the same way too. God bless you, Rais. :)
A/Rais: We may have different faiths, but all go back to the same root of peace and tolerance.
A/Brian: Murder victim family members respond differently to the loss of their loved one, but in general what they all want is to be assured that the perpetrator will be punished. This can be accomplished (and for over 90% of murders is accomplished) without the death penalty.
Q: Rais, do you have any plans or ideas for future advocacy work for this or other human rights issues after the fate of Mark Stroman's is decided? You clearly have a strong capacity to inspire others.
A/Rais: I made a promise to God on my death bed that if I got better I would use my life to serve others. I renewed this commitment while at Mecca. Since He gave me my life back I would give my life for His work. I asked for 3 things: mental strength, physical strength, and sufficient finance to use to help others.
Q: Hi Rais - I'm not sure if this question has been asked or not yet, however- how do you see your forgiveness and reconciliation as a tool to engage communities in dialogue around counter terrorism and cross-cultural understanding?
A/Rais: Yes, that is a part of this campaign, to raise awareness and educate people about hate crimes. I would be very happy if I can reach out to people and overcome ignorance. In order to overcome this ignorance we must educate people that differences among people should not be a source of division.
Q: Thank you so much for answering my questions. I have a feeling you will become a world speaker and always speak out about what you believe in. I will be watching and waiting for you to keep making big differences.
Amnesty: Thank you to everyone who participated in our Facebook chat today. Rais Bhuiyan's courage and dedication to stopping the cycle of violence is inspiring. Join him in taking action now to stop the execution of Mark Stroman.
Brian: Thank you all!
Rais: Thank you all so much for your questions, they were all very insightful! Any further questions should be directed to my website www.worldwithouthate.org