Thursday, September 22, 2011

Put To Death

A lot of people have written about the last days of Troy Davis, many of them very powerful pleas for clemency while doubt was raised about his guilt. A lot of people from all sorts of places — everyone from the Pope to a former head of the FBI — tried to appeal to the authorities in the state who could grant clemency or a re-examination of the evidence. But it all ended last night after the United States Supreme Court denied the last attempt at a stay.

I have always been against the death penalty. It is a vengeful sentence; there is a visceral element to tying a man to a gurney and killing him. But that doesn’t make it justice. The law is supposed to be dispassionate; there should not be an element of revenge or blood lust in it, and the punishment should both teach a lesson to the criminal and restore balance. But you can’t teach a lesson to a corpse nor does an execution seem to prevent more crime, and a second death does not balance the scales. And if, in the course of a human endeavor that is so adversarial and complicated, the justice system is misapplied and an innocent person is put to death, there is no going back. There are very few absolutes in life and in justice, but in having the death penalty, we make it very possible to be absolutely wrong.

Another execution took place yesterday in Texas. One of the men convicted of the horrific dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, in 1998 was executed. There is nothing in common between this case and the case of Troy Davis except that the day after, we have two more dead men, both put to death by the state. Somehow that does not fit within the definition of equal justice under the law.