Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis, 1968-2011

"May God have mercy on your souls." -- Troy Davis's final words

I am opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. I do not believe any state or State should be in the business of executing anyone, for any reason. As more than enough investigations over the last three decades, including ones pursued at the university's Innocence Project, have shown, innocent people not only have been locked up for years, but have been put to death for a variety of reasons, because of serious flaws in our justice system. Claude Jones, the last person consigned to state execution by former President George W. Bush, when he was still Texas's governor in 2000, was later exonerated by DNA evidence. He is not alone in having lost his life because of shoddy prosecution, and the situation has long tended to be far worse for black men especially, but also latinos. But even in the case of people who have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty of the gravest crimes, like the avowed white supremacist whom the state of Texas killed for his role in the brutal lynching of James Byrd, I do not believe capital punishment is warranted.

Tonight the country and world witnessed a travesty of justice and  a human tragedy mirroring what Claude Jones and countless others have unfortunately suffered. Troy Anthony Davis (October 19, 1968 - September 21, 2011), who maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested through his conviction for murdering a off-duty Savannah police officer in 1989 was put to death this evening. Davis's legal team, as well as supporters across the US and the globe, had called for a new trial based on the facts that there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, he was convicted based on testimony that 7 of the 9 witnesses at his initial trial later recanted, and another man allegedly admitted to having shot the officer.  There had previously been three last-minute stays of execution, and numerous hearings before state and appellate courts, but these same courts repeatedly ruled against Davis's appeals. The US Supreme Court had earlier denied Davis's last minute petition to review the case without comment or dissent. With that non-intervention, Davis was executed beginning at 10:54 pm by lethal injection.

Putting anyone to death is wrong; getting even one of these cases wrong and thus consigning someone to prison for years, let alone death, is barbaric and unconscionable. Convicting anyone based on shoddy evidence, prosecutorial misbehavior or legal incompetence, or other mitigating factors that do not ensure a fair trial, like race and ethnicity, poverty and class status, religious background, or intellectual capacity, is wrong. Yet it happens in this country all the time, and it has to stop. It must stop and we must stop it. But it will not if we do not collectively speak out and act.  For every Claude Jones and Troy Davis, there are others who have almost no one to rally to their cause. We must speak out and act, en masse, because ending this barbarity is possible. From 1972 to 1976, capital punishment in the US was banned after having been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. It should be banned again. Troy Davis, Claude Jones, and many others will not have to chance to thank us, but there are many others who will.

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