Death of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez to be remembered this Friday in Dallas cemetery

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: July 23, 2015

Family and friends will gather this Friday morning to quietly honor the life of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez, who was killed by a Dallas police officer 42 years ago. The boy’s mother and others will gather for prayer and flowers at his grave in Oakland Cemetery at 9 a.m. just south of downtown.

“It seems like it happened yesterday,” said Bessie Rodriguez, his 71-year-old mother. “Poor thing, just a kid. I have dreams of him pleading for his life.”

The mother loves Elvis, the son loved Santana. The son told her he’d always protect her, the mother says. Memories like that give some balance to the brutality around her boy’s death. READ MORE

10-day SMU trip reveals Wild West myths that obscure ‘theft, deception & genocide’ for Native Americans

DALLAS (SMU) — Thirteen SMU students, faculty and staff members are traveling the American West to better understand past and present struggles of our country’s “too often-forgotten indigenous people,” says Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin, who is leading the June 2-12 trip.

During the 10-day journey through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the group will visit Native American sites of what Halperin describes as “brutal military and socio-economic strife as well as cultural resilience,” including the Pine Ridge Reservation and Wounded Knee area of South Dakota and the Battle of Little Bighorn site in Montana.

“Native American justice is perhaps the most fundamental – and most overlooked – human rights issue in the United States,” adds Embrey Human Rights Assistant Director Brad Klein. “This trip will raise awareness of how myths about the taming of the ‘Wild West’ obscure a history of theft, deception and genocide.”

Trip participants also will see how Native Americans are still fighting to better their communities and build a better world for the next generation, Klein says. READ MORE

American West Human Rights 2015

Thirteen SMU students and faculty and staff members will travel the American West June 2–12 to visit Native American reservations and historic sites “to study past and present struggles of our country’s indigenous people – all too often our forgotten people,” says Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, sponsoring the trip for the first time. While visiting Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska the group will visit such places as the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana. READ MORE

Grad Ketetha Olengue: A heart-felt mission to help others

Ketetha-OlengueFor SMU graduating senior Ketetha Olengue, wearing a pacemaker isn’t a hindrance. It’s what spurs her desire to help people battling both heart conditions and “the human condition,” she says.

On Saturday, Ketetha will earn two degrees that will send her on her way to becoming a cardiologist: a B.S. in computer science from the Lyle School of Engineering and a B.A. in biology from Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences. After four successful years as a SMU President’s Scholar (a merit-based scholarship paying full-tuition and fees), Ketetha can now celebrate her acceptance into the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she’ll receive a full-tuition scholarship.

Ketetha traces her physical and emotional strength to one of her life’s lowest moments, when, at age 9, the first of three pacemaker surgeries left her with a significant scar. Her maternal grandmother, in Burkina Faso, Africa, told her, “Do not cry. It is a souvenir.” From then on Ketetha would see her congenital heart condition “as what makes me different,” she says, “and what will help me make a difference in the lives of others.” READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights Program, quoted in Chronicle of Higher Education about the history of student hunger strikes

Chronicle of Higher Education

The History — and Health Implications — of Student Hunger Strikes

A hunger strike at Tufts University stretched into its sixth day on Friday, with five students refusing to eat until the administration reverses a decision to lay off 20 janitors. Tufts officials say the strikers, and a larger group of students who are camping on the university quad, are free to remain as long as they comply with the Massachusetts institution’s policies.

By choosing to fast, the students have joined a long tradition of campus activism: Hunger strikes have always been part of the repertoire of nonviolent protesters, at colleges and elsewhere. The strikes can be uniquely difficult for colleges to deal with, both because of concerns over participants’ health and because there’s no playbook pointing to a clear response. Here are answers to some key questions about campus hunger strikes. READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights, holocaust survivors shared stories last month at SMU

Texas Jewish Post

Originally Posted: April 30, 2015

DALLAS — Rosa Blum and Bernhard Storch recounted their nightmarish World War II experiences in great detail before a packed Southern Methodist University audience last week.
Blum, 86, of Dallas, is an Auschwitz survivor. Storch, 93, of New York, was imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp before becoming a death camp liberator in the Polish army.
These April 23 presentations in SMU’s Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall comprised the “Reflections from Survivors & Liberators of Nazi Death Camps” event — held in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps at the end of World War II.
The evening was sponsored by the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance and SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.
After Storch and Blum discussed their respective histories at length, there was no disputing the respect and wonder they had earned from their audience. It led to a standing ovation, numerous handshakes, many, many hugs — and even autograph requests.
Earlier in the evening, Mary Pat Higgins, CEO and president of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, effectively commenced the proceedings by introducing Embrey Human Rights Director Rick Halperin.
Halperin told the audience they were being afforded the rare opportunity to learn about the Holocaust firsthand from the very last generation of people to have experienced it.
Halperin went so far as to urge audience members to offer hugs to Storch and Blum after they had shared their memories of the Holocaust.
Answering a question from the audience, Blum explained how she refused to return to the place where she had faced Holocaust horrors — even at the expense of property and belongings she might have claimed on behalf of her wealthy family.
“I never went back,” she said. “I could never face that emptiness. … There is nothing, nobody there for me or my family. I know many people who went there and came back hurt. I never wanted to see that blankness. That would be the wrong thing for me. … So I never went back and I never claimed anything. I wanted to live my life the way I wanted to live it.” READ MORE

Nazi death camps survivor & liberator to discuss Holocaust experiences for 70th anniversary commemoration at SMU on April 23


Polish Army veteran Bernhard Storch visited Auschwitz in 2012 to commemorate the anniversary of its liberation. Credit: Wall Street Journal
Polish Army veteran Bernhard Storch visited Auschwitz in 2012 to commemorate the anniversary of its liberation. Credit: Wall Street Journal

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps at the end of World War II, SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program will sponsor “Reflections from Survivors & Liberators of Nazi Death Camps” on Thursday, April 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall, 5901 Bishop Blvd., on the SMU campus.

The free public event, co-sponsored by the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, will feature Holocaust survivor Rosa Blum, 86, of Dallas, and liberator Bernhard Storch, 93, of New York.

“This is an increasingly rare opportunity to hear first-hand about the Holocaust from the last generation of its survivors,” says Embrey Human Rights Director Rick Halperin. “It’s most unusual to get the perspective of a liberator who accompanied Soviet forces through areas never seen by American or British armies.”

During the Holocaust (1933 to 1945), 11 million people, including six million Jews and five million others, were killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators who engaged in ethnic, political and social “cleansing.”

Blum was deported from her native Romania to Auschwitz in Poland when she was 15. She still bears mental and physical scars — the latter delivered by Dr. Josef Mengele. During the “selection” process that sorted prisoners for work or execution, the “Angel of Death” beat Blum for the emotional outburst she showed when he decided her mother should die and she should live. They were torn from each other’s arms. Blum ultimately would be forced to work as an assistant in the same hospital where Mengele conducted his ghastly “research.”

The horrific acts of cruelty she witnessed destroyed her. “I was not the same anymore,” Blum has said.

Blum was later shipped to the Dachau camp in Germany, where she was during its liberation by U.S. Army forces on April 29, 1945. In 1950 she moved to the U.S. and started a family.

Storch was a teen-ager in 1939 when both Germany and the Soviet Union invaded his native Poland. While trying to escape to safety, Storch was captured by Soviet forces and sent to work in a Siberian labor camp, where he remained until the Soviet Union declared war on Germany in 1941 and as part of a treaty with allies U.S. and Great Britain, Polish citizens were freed from Russian slave labor camps. Storch returned home to fight with the resistance and ultimately helped liberate the Nazi death camps Sobibor, Majdanek and Chelmno.

“In Majdanek, we saw a mountain of human ash, with human bones scattered in between. The feeling I had is still with me; it’s just indescribable … complete shock. There were warehouses with hundreds of thousands of shoes sorted out,” Storch recalled. “The irony of the thing was that Polish people were living outside the camp, farming, as if nothing were happening.”

After discovering his entire family had been killed by the Nazis, Storch and his wife, Ruth, also a Holocaust survivor, emigrated to the U.S. in 1947.

“For 25 years I did not discuss the Holocaust; it was just too painful. Eventually I opened up and now lecture at schools, emphasizing Jewish armed resistance in World War II.”

Storch is author of the 2012 book, World War II Warriors: My Own Recollections of World War II. (For a “Voice of Russia” interview with Storch in English, visit

For more details about SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, which conducts an annual two-week Holocaust study pilgrimage to Poland each December and also hosts Holocaust-focused trips to other countries, contact or 214-768-8347.

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights Program, in USA Today


April 8, 2015

Supreme Court gives new life to death penalty debate

WASHINGTON — The state that plans to kill Kent Sprouse on Thursday recently received a new supply of pentobarbital, the drug of choice for executioners in a country fast running out of humane ways to perform lethal injections.

That should give Texas enough of the barbiturate to execute four death row inmates at its Huntsville state penitentiary this month and maintain its status as the nation’s leader in lethal injections — more than 500 since it became the first to use that method in 1982.

But other states — and some of the prisoners they have executed of late — can’t find pharmacies willing to supply drugs that can kill reliably, without the gasps and groans the Supreme Court has indicated may violate the Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In three weeks, the justices will consider a challenge from three death row inmates to Oklahoma’s lethal injection method, one that’s used by several other states. A ruling against the use of midazolam, a sedative that lacks the knockout punch of pentobarbital, as part of a three-drug cocktail would further crimp the country’s ability to execute prisoners.

Even if the court does not rule against Oklahoma, a number of other developments are pointing toward the diminution of the death penalty in America:

• Six states — New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland — have abolished capital punishment since 2004.

• Several other states have imposed moratoriums on lethal injections because of problems, ranging from botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio to a “cloudy” drug concoction in Georgia.

• The Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities cannot be executed, while judges, juries and prosecutors have turned increasingly to life sentences without the possibility of parole.

• Just last month, both the American Pharmacists Association and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacies discouraged their members from participating in the process. The U.S. group called it “fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.”

• The difficulties involved in lethal injections are forcing states with capital punishment laws to rejuvenate backup methods once viewed as beyond the pale. Tennessee would allow electrocution, Utah death by firing squad. Now Oklahoma lawmakers are moving toward legalizing the use of nitrogen gas.

“The lethal injection issues are coming at a critical juncture,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment is declining, he notes, “judicially, legislatively and as a matter of practice – all at the same time.”


Death row inmate Richard Glossip and two others are challenging Oklahoma’s use of a controversial three-drug cocktail for lethal injections. (Photo: AP)
There is good reason to believe the Supreme Court won’t help that trend April 29 when it considers Glossip v. Gross — a case called Warner v. Gross until the justices refused to stop Charles Warner’s lethal injection in January.

Despite its rulings abolishing the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities in 2002 and for juveniles younger than 18 in 2005, the conservative-leaning court has shown little inclination to move much further. Only four votes were needed to accept the Oklahoma case. Only the use of midazolam as part of a three-drug protocol is in jeopardy.

That’s not the same three-drug protocol the court upheld in Baze v. Rees, the 2008 Kentucky case that upheld the method of lethal injection used in most states at the time. Midazolam was implicated in three botched executions last year in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, where prisoners gasped, groaned and snorted before succumbing.

Although Florida and Oklahoma used that protocol successfully in January, Texas and Missouri have had fewer problems with pentobarbital. The problem is in getting a reliable supply of any lethal injection drugs following the European Union’s export ban in 2011.

States that have turned to compounding pharmacies for their drugs are running into increased resistance — for good reason, says David Miller, executive vice president of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists.

“As a pharmacist, I was trained to take care of people,” Miller says. “This is not our business. Our business is in healing.”

The court will hear the challenge from Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, whose executions had been scheduled for January, February and March. Glossip was convicted of paying another man to kill the owner of the Oklahoma City budget motel where he worked as manager. He has long declared his innocence.

The battle lines in Oklahoma are clear. The state, which not only agreed to postpone those executions but asked the court to do so, hopes for a clear victory.

“The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said.

The best that death penalty opponents likely can hope for is a narrow decision restricting the use of midazolam.

“I do not think the court is going to open the Pandora’s box to broader discussions about the nature of lethal injection as a broad topic or the death penalty in general,” says Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program at Texas’ Southern Methodist University. READ MORE

Rick Halperin, Embrey Human Rights, reactions to new policy against selling execution drugs

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Originally Posted: March 31, 2015

AUSTIN — Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state of Texas has executed more than a third of all inmates in the nation.

But Texas and seven others that use pentobarbital — a sedative and sleep-inducing drug — to execute inmates find themselves with a short supply of the barbiturate.

To complicate matters, at their annual meeting in San Diego, the American Pharmacists Association delegates on Monday adopted a policy that makes an ethical stand against supplying such drugs to those states on grounds that the drugs they sell are for helping people, not for killing them.

“Pharmacists are health care providers and pharmacist participation in executions conflicts with the profession’s role on the patient health care team,” the association’s CEO Thomas Menighan said in a statement posted on the organization’s website. READ MORE