American Bloodlust

Next Left Notes photographer Bud Korotzer, har...

"I am Troy Davis." Frighteningly, any one of us could be.

Troy Davis is dead.

He was murdered last night, and unlike Davis, his murderers will not be charged with any crime.  According to the law, they are innocent and he is not, when the reality is exactly the opposite.  As everyone now likely knows, Troy Davis was convicted for the murder of an off-duty police officer more than twenty years ago, and last night he was executed by the State of Georgia.  The twist here, however, is that Davis was innocent.

The details of his alleged crime, trial, and numerous appeals have been documented many places (including here, in an article at Mother Jones), but here is a quick recap.  An off-duty police officer named Mark MacPhail was shot and killed after attempting to break up a fight between two men.  Davis and a friend saw the fight, and were nearby when the officer was shot.  One of the men in the fight fingered Davis for the murder, and he was arrested.  Despite no evidence linking him to the crime other than eyewitness testimony, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death.  In the ensuing years, most of the eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, alleging that they were pressured by the police into making false statements.  Many even claimed that Redd Coles, the man who originally led the police to Davis, was the actual killer.  But, despite these new developments, Davis remained on Death Row, until he was executed last night.  Crowds assembled to protest, famous voices lent their support (including the Pope and two former Presidents), and last-ditch pleas for clemency were sent to anyone who could possibly help, finally reaching the US Supreme Court.  But, it was all for naught, as Georgia officials were determined to execute Davis.  And, at 11:08pm, they got their wish.

This case has gotten a large amount of attention, especially among liberal bloggers.  Most of the attention focuses on the likelihood that Georgia has just killed a man that was not actually guilty of any crime.  This is an outrage, yes, but I would argue that any death is an outrage.  Another man, Lawrence Brewer, was executed last night, this time in Texas, and though he was undeniably guilty and showed no remorse for his crime, his death is just as heinous.  Every life taken by human hands is a tragedy, and what makes them all even more tragic is that every one of them can so easily be prevented.  There is no law that says we have to execute criminals.  This was a decision that was made by people who believe in the Old Testament justice of “an eye for an eye.”  But, is this justice?

Capital punishment is surprisingly popular, with 2 out of 3 Americans saying that they’re in favor of the death penalty.  And, don’t forget the cheers for Rick Perry at the GOP debate when he touted his record of executions in Texas (234 at the time, but now up to 236 just weeks later).  Strangely, the people who most strongly support it seem to be white Christians.  One would think that followers of a religion that preaches love, compassion, and forgiveness would be most willing to put those beliefs into practice.  And, these are also the same people who most adamantly oppose abortion, repeating their mantra that every life is sacred, and that life should be preserved at all costs.  The hypocrisy here may seem obvious, but it is lost on the true believers.  Of course, on second glance, the fact that capital punishment is disproportionately assigned to minorities may help explain why white morally-superior Christians may be in favor of it–because they don’t think that it will ever affect them directly.  It is much easier to call it justice when someone else is dying.

But, who are they to call for justice anyway?  Have these politicians and pundits been wronged?  Or are they just thirsty for blood?  One of the most vocal supporters of Troy Davis’ execution was the despicable Ann Coulter.  In addition to an article where she makes the ridiculous claim that “There is more credible evidence that space aliens have walked among us than that an innocent person has been executed in this country in the past 60 years,” she also tweeted disgusting things like, “ONE TROY DAVIS, FLAME-BROILED, PLEASE,” and “HOLD THE PICKLE, HOLD THE LETTUCE, FRYING KILLERS WON’T UPSET US.”  Aside from the tactless act of mocking a man who is about to be killed (and apparently thinking that he is going to be “flame-broiled” instead of being killed by lethal injection), she is misinformed about the alleged guilt of all the victims of the death penalty.  Perhaps she needs to be reminded of the case of Cameron Willingham, who was executed after being found guilty of burning his house down and killing his three children, only to later have it discovered that he was not responsible for starting the fire, and was in fact not guilty of anything at all.  Of course, he was not able to be acquitted of this crime, because he had already been killed.  And, it should also be noted that Rick Perry (yes, of course this happened in Texas) went to great lengths to make sure that any new evidence exonerating Willingham was never brought to light.

The fallibility of the judicial system is something that must be acknowledged.  There have been a shockingly large number of cases where a person has been found guilty and sentenced to death, only to later have that sentence overturned (this site lists 138 such cases in the United States through 2010).  In fact, these cases are so common that the state of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions more than eleven years ago, because then-Governor George H. Ryan had, “grave concerns about our state’s shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row.”  Ryan (a Republican, surprisingly) should be commended for putting politics aside and trying to protect the innocent before it’s too late, because acquittals mean little to men that have already been killed.  For people in other states with the death penalty, however, this means there remains the chance that innocent people will be executed.

One of the most popular justifications for the death penalty is the fact that it supposedly provides closure for the family and friends of murder victims.  There is a theory that by killing a killer, justice is served, and people can put the entire horrible episode behind them.  This is ludicrous.  Will the family of a murder victim miss them any less the day after the killer is executed?  Will it hurt any less to be without their loved one?  For perspective on this, we can look to a recent horrific murder in Mississippi.  James Anderson, a black man, was killed after being beaten and run over by a group of white teenagers.  Anderson’s family sent a letter to the prosecutor in the case, asking that the killers not be sentenced to death.  They cited their religious beliefs for this decision, in an interesting contradiction to the blood lust of many Conservative Christians.  But, they also gave a second reason, stating, “We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites.  Executing James’ killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.”

This, to me, reaches the true heart of the argument.  Killing killers does not balance the scales, because nothing can.  The death penalty does not bring back any victims.  It only adds to their number.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two tragedies don’t cancel each other out.  Capital punishment is murder, plain and simple.  And, everyone that supports it or participates in it is complicit in the death of every single person that has been executed in the name of justice.  Innocent or not, there is no justice in execution.  Capital punishment must be abolished, and it must happen now.  Troy Davis is dead, but if his death can help us to see the error of our ways, he will not have died in vain.


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