What says the law? You will not kill.
How does it say it? By killing!
~ Victor Hugo
I wanted to write about my birthday tonight. About the beauty of fall and the wonder of balance in the equinox and the joy of having friends in all the hemispheres wishing me well as my day reaches them, well ahead of me.
But, now, I am simply overwhelmed with a dark, despairing sadness, and to speak of birthdays and lovely light, or new years and hope, all seems not only trivial but inappropriate – off color. Disconnected. Shallow.
All just a lot of semi-fancy ways to say sad.
Troy Davis was two years older than me. He had a birthday coming up too – on October 9th he would have been 43. A black man born and raised in South, I can’t say he and I had much more in common. Still, tonight, I am Troy Davis.
In August of 1989 while I was behaving rather badly and not taking care of business getting ready to head back to college for a truly unspectacular sophomore year and looking ahead to my nineteenth birthday, 20-year-old Troy Davis was arrested and charged with killing a police officer in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Georgia. He was sentenced to die.
Over the course of his two-decade stay on death row Troy Davis’ case offered up repeated and consistent doubts. No weapon was ever found. Another man, initially a witness for the prosecution, is reported to have admitted to the crime. Since the 1991 conviction, seven out of nine jurors have recanted their sworn statements, saying they were pressured by police officers into giving Davis a guilty verdict. Death penalty supporters have even come out to say, as the Twitter hashtag indicated, there was #toomuchdoubt. Specifically, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who served under President George W. Bush, urged the pardons board to grant Davis clemency because “it is clear now that the doubts plaguing his case can never be adequately addressed.” And former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr said in a letter that “even for death penalty supporters such as myself, the level of doubt inherent in this case is troubling.”
I have yet to see a death case among the dozen coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial… People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.
~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
The United States has set itself among distinguished company in the retention of the death penalty. Around the world there are only 58 countries still sentencing people to die. Among these are countries that we share so much with. Like, Afghanistan, Pakistan Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Korea, Yemen, the Sudan, China.
In 2010 the top five executioners (in order) were China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US. In the world. Only four other countries executed more people than the United States of America, the beacon of democracy, freedom and justice.
As long as we maintain the death penalty in this country, we are all Troy Davis.
That Mark MacPhail lost his life in line of duty is most certainly tragic. That is undisputable. The facts surrounding this case were disputable, however. And in Troy Davis’ death, the tragedy of Officer MacPhail’s death is not remedied, diminished or even avenged. All we have done is add to the tragedy.
The death penalty categorically and statistically does not deter violent crime. The death penalty is more costly than any other form of punishment in the nation. The implementation of the death penalty only lowers us to the place we reserve for the most barbaric, the most uncivilized, the most reprehensible places on earth. Yet we carry on.
Consider if it is the job of a society to collectively kill in response to the actions of an individual. Perhaps it is time to ask “What would [your own personal] Jesus Do?”
Tonight I go to bed sad. Sad for two men who were victims of violent crime. Sad for a nation that cheers this kind of justice. Sad for a family who in seeking “closure” will find their dreams more like those of Lady MacBeth in the end.
Tomorrow I wake up and listen to my students discuss Hammurabi’s code of law.
– Damn, he killed everybody for everything!
– It this the eye-for-an-eye guy?
– How come his empire didn’t last so long?
That… is a very good question my young friend.