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SALT Advancing Social Justice

A Northern Virginia Group hopes to raise awareness about how the minimum wage and the death penalty affect society

<bt>Minimum wage and the death penalty are two issues that affect the people of Virginia everyday. That is why many came on a Saturday morning to Our Lady Queen of Peace Church for a meeting coordinated by the organization Social Action Linking Together (SALT) to hear Bishop Walter F. Sullivan and Delegates Vincent F. Callahan and Vivian Watts and others speak on

what can be changed to make a better community.

“My concern is for the Hispanic community,” said Kevin Raymond, a member of SALT, when asked about why he was there. “However, many people live under economic hardship and that needs to be changed."

The minimum wage in Virginia is tied to the federal minimum wage, which is $5.15, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.  Virginia's minimum wage has not been increased since 1997 according to Virginia Interfaith Center’s website.

But with these numbers come people who suffer.

“People who work [for minimum wage] become less human, less passionate, less respectful of life,” said Bishop Sullivan.  “Work should allow for leisure, which is an important part of life.”

However, people who work for minimum wage make approximately $10,000 before taxes are taken out, and the poverty line for Virginia is approximately $15,000, according to Virginia Interfaith Center's website.

“People making minimum wage are far below the poverty line,” said Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39.)

“People that are poor need help to live decently,” said Irene Navatta, chair of the Arlington chapter of Pax Christi. “[Regarding] things that people need to live, they can’t live on [minimum wage], and that leads into what the young people are going to do: crime.”

“[These talks] reinforce the belief that an increase can elevate [a family’s] living situation,” said Kevin Raymond.

BUT POVERTY WAS not the only issue that concerned the speakers and listeners of the program. The death penalty was also a concern.

"Since Virginia reinstated the death penalty in 1976, only Texas has executed more people than Virginia," said Jeff Caruso, director of Virginia Catholic Conference.

The concerns about the effectiveness of the death penalty including deterrence were widely addressed.

“There are serious doubts about the fairness of the death penalty,” said Andy Rivas, Policy Advisor of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “[The fact that] innocent people are put to death is unnerving.”

A study of the application of the death penalty showed that it was unevenly applied, said Delegate Vincent Callahan (R-34) of McLean. People living in rural areas were more likely to be charged with the death penalty than those who committed the same crime but lived in urban areas. There is also the evidence that more African Americans are put on death row than whites.

“Killing the killers to show it is wrong does not deter people [from committing murder],” said Bishop Walter Sullivan, retired bishop of the Catholic diocese of Richmond. "Comprehensive studies show that using the death penalty does not make people feel safer."

“Death penalty is no longer necessary,” said John Horejsi of Vienna, coordinator of SALT. “There are different alternatives other than the death penalty.  People could be put in jail without possibility of parole, for example.”

Ways to convey these concerns to others were addressed.

At the end of the program, Horejsi mentioned how the community can do their part in shedding light on these two topics. Letters sent to legislators have been proven effective, said Horejsi.

There are green cards that can be picked up from SALT that allows people to write a personal message to their legislator as to why raising the minimum wage would be beneficial to society. To find out more about the letters contact John Horejsi at Jhorejsi@cox.net or visit their website www.s-a-l-t.org.