Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Lesson After Dying?

"I am innocent. May God have mercy on your souls." These were the last words of Troy Davis before the state of Georgia killed him by administering a lethal injection.


Davis had been convicted of killing a police man, Mark McPhail in 1989. For the past 22 years, Davis has sat on death row, appealing his conviction and the death sentence he received. While there was some limited physical evidence at the crime scene, prosecutors admitted that the most compelling evidence to the jury was the testimony of nine witnesses who testified that Davis was the shooter.

Since Davis's conviction, however, 7 of those 9 "eyewitnesses" have since recanted, swearing that their previous testimony was coerced by police eager for a conviction. Yet no court ever heard their revised testimony. Despite petitions signed by over one million people and pleas from former president Jimmy Carter, Rep. John Lewis (a civil rights pioneer who worked closely with Dr. King), former FBI director William Sessions, and even the Pope, Davis was executed without a new trial. 

96% of the nations of the world have abolished the death penalty, but it remains a form of "justice" in the United States. The United States, along with China, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and North Korea — countries we regularly condemn for heinous human rights violations — remain the countries that execute most frequently. Why do we equate murder with justice? 

On the same day that Davis was killed, Lawrence Brewer a white supremacist whose body was covered in KKK symbols, was also killed. Brewer was a racist thug who tied a black man, James Byrd, to the back of a truck in 1998 and dragged him to his death. Brewer's final words, in contrast to Davis's, were, "I'd do it all over again."

According to Ross Douthat, writing in The New York Times, nearly two thirds of Americans favor the death penalty because people "want to believe our criminal justice system is just and not merely a mechanism for quarantining the dangerous in order to keep the law-abiding safe."

Is this sort of justice merely a story we tell ourselves to feel good about our society? Illinois, for example, has enacted a moratorium on executions ever since 13 men on death row were proven to be innocent.

For some, like former President Jimmy Carter, "the injustice of murdering an innocent man is too grave" to allow capital punishment to continue. To others, like the eloquent Sister Helen Prejean, the question is not whether these men should be put to death but whether we have the right to kill.

19 comments:

Katie C. said...

I was taken aback to see the US's name in such close proximity to that of China, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and North Korea. It is true--we condemn these countries probably on a daily basis for the crimes they commit against their people. However, why do we also share a similarity on our justice system? That's a tad bit messed up. Regardless of stance on execution, I think the US should strive to not end up on any lists with these countries.

Chelsea B said...

I believe the death penalty is a cruel form of punishment. Not only does it not promote justice, it instead continues the cycle of violence. When one person is sentenced to death, while the people who received brutality from the convicted may feel better, the family of the claimed murderer will then feel the pain of their loved one dying. And that accounts for a lot of gang violence in the U.S.

AbbeyR said...

I agree with Chelsea' statement above. The death penalty is contradicting our society's beliefs. People get punished by law if they hurt another human being because that is unjust and illegal. If we (our society) kill the criminals, then we are essentially doing the exact same thing as them. Our society is becoming the criminal.

becky.h said...

I completely agree with Chelsea saying that the death penalty just continues the cycle of violence. We have the death penalty to try and scare and intimidate people from murdering other people. How do we teach them how to do that? We murder people. It does not make any sense to me.

Allison M. said...

I agree with Becky. It seems backwards that we murder with murder. It seems like an awful form of retribution. I think maintaining the death penalty is a way Americans attempt to show power and strenth; a way to intimidate. It is a story. Yet, all we are getting out of this reasoning is possibly innocent men put to their deaths. Is that worth it? We should not have this right. In America, we feel better about our justice system by "getting rid" of the murderers, and telling ourselves this is the only way to protect our nation. But then why have most countries abolished it? To me, the last words of Davis are a chilling reminder to the mistakes America could be making.

layne said...

This is just more testament to how backwards it is that America uses eye-for-an-eye logic with no other crimes besides murder. How savage and sick would it be if we had the state rape every rapist it held in its' prisons? I feel weird even typing that out. But that's the logic we use when it comes to murder. Why is that?

questions the opposition would ask:
1) Why would we 'waste' tax dollars on someone who's in prison for the rest of their life to begin with?
2) Is there any part of you that would want the man who (hypothetically) murdered your wife dead? Would knowing he was alive (in prison, obviously) be hard on you?

Jason L. said...

I feel that the death penalty is good in most circumstances. Although it may be a bit overused in this country, I don't feel that we should rule it out due to a few gravely unfortunate people who were proven innocent after being executed. For people like Troy Davis, whose trials are not clear and whose witnesses are not reliable, I feel like execution should not be administered or should at least be delayed until complete certainty is attained. But for people like Lawrence Brewer, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish and many other sick degenerates, it is the best punishment.

Jordan said...

I agree with what has been said already. What message is the United States government sending by imposing the death penalty to teach people not to kill others? It is extremely hypocritical.

Layne brings up an two interesting arguments that supporters of the death penalty often make. What many people do not seem to realize, however, is that inflicting the death penalty is significantly more expensive than a life in prison. This is because death penalty cases undergo years of trials and appeals, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars more, to be sure that the convicted murderer is guilty. Troy Davis appealed his case for 22 years and still, we are not 100 percent sure that he actually killed Mark MacPhail.

Mark MacPhail's mom, Anneliese MacPhail said, "I have understandings that if they are against the death penalty that's they're privilege, but don't under-rate my character and what I've been through because they don't know we've been through." This relates back to Layne's second question. Mark's family is searching for a sense of closure, and feels that Troy Davis's execution will bring them some sort peace of mind. However, Mrs. Macphail says herself that "they don't know what we've been through", so why would she want to put another family through that same feeling of losing a son?

I truly do not understand why our government, who, as Katie touched on, prides itself on being so developed, continues to support this inhumane form of punishment. Did the government in Georgia feel that it was proving justice by executing a man without one last trial? Was anything really accomplished by killing another human being?

Ross W. said...

I agree with what Jason said. The death penalty can be useful to scare people away from crimes, and it is definitely the best punishment for the insane murderers like Lawrence Brewer. With that said, I think all people on death row deserve another trial to appeal their sentence if they feel they are innocent. I believe that another trial could've saved Troy Davis' life, who is seemingly innocent to people. So, while I believe that the government does have the right to execute the death penalty on the craziest people who admit to murder and see nothing wrong with it, I think that all deserve a right to a new trial before being executed.

BMurdoch said...

I find Layne's comment really interesting. I've been indifferent towards the death penalty for a long time, but I do see how odd it is that our "eye for an eye" form of justice only applies to murder.
It's so easy for me to look at something critically when I'm the one questioning the norm, but it's now very difficult to analyze something that I've always been told to accept. If my brother punched me, I was allowed to punch him back. How counterproductive is that?! Two children have successfully punched each other, and whatever dispute they had before (that induced the punching in the 1st place...) is probably still unsolved!
I've heard the saying "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" close to a million times, but it honestly took me until now the see how logical that saying is. WHOO! Thinking about stuff is fun. :)

Elise H. said...

I don’t think being able to decide one way or the other on this issue is as clear cut as the other commentators seem to suggest. My initial response to this post was that I am totally, 100 % against the death penalty in every way. But Layne posed a question that really made me reconsider my original conclusion. I thought about if, hypothetically, someone in my immediate family was a murder victim, how I would feel. I was surprised at how quickly my opinions changed on the subject of capital punishment. With an act of violence as severe as murder against someone I was close to, I don’t think I would be able to live knowing that the person who caused such harm was still living. The death penalty sounds horrible and inhumane in theory, but when you have a personal relationship with the victim, I believe that that would change most people’s prior beliefs.

David K. said...

In my opinion, the biggest problem with the death penalty is that people can get wrongfully executed. In many parts of the country, there is a racial bias in the courtroom that often results in black people being wrongfully killed. But at the same time, I'm convinced that the death penalty is necessary for public safety. The death penalty deters people from committing crimes because people who consider criminal activity get frightened by the possibility of death.

Also, I think that the death penalty is necessary for justice to be served. I'm under the belief that some awful people simply don't deserve to live. Is anybody really willing to argue that, say, a gunmen who shot 10 kids in a classroom deserves to live? And what about Anders Breivic, the man who killed over 80 people in Norway? In my opinion, people can't be excused from such despicable crimes by being granted the privilege or life. I'm with Jason on this one.

Naomi said...

I agree with what David said about how the death penalty often kills innocent people, which in my opinion is bad. The question he poses, does a gunmen who shot 10 kids in a classroom deserve to live, is one that I believe truly taps into our beliefs on whether or not the death penalty is just. It deals with REDEMPTION. Regardless of Davis being innocent or guilty, the jury should have examined their own beliefs on redemption. I personally believe that life is sacred, and everyone deserves redemption or a second chance. The judge and jury that sentenced Davis to death must not have believed in redemption, and therefore decided that he should die for his sin.

Betsy P said...

“They sentence you to death because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof that you had anything at all to do with the crime other than being there when it happened. Yet six months later they come and unlock your cage and tell you, we, us, white folks all, have decided it’s time for you to die, because that is the convenient date and time” (158).

This is a quote from Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying.

I found it interesting how the title of the post “A Lesson After Dying?” alludes to the book “A Lesson Before Dying.” In the novel, Jefferson, a 1940’s African American, is wrongly sentenced to death by electrocution for robbery and first-degree murder, crimes a jury of solely white men convict him of.

It’s one thing to debate whether or not we have the right to kill. But I believe the relation between the two titles brings up another controversial topic concerning capitol punishment: race.

According to “Beyond Troy Davis: How Race Colors Death Row ‘Justice’” (found here: http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/09/american_punishment_in_life_and_death.html). “People of color often receive more harsh sentences for the same crimes as whites, especially when the victim is white” Why is it that so many African Americas are put on death row?

aidanl. said...

The topic of the death penalty is tricky because it has major benefits and major issues, and one doesn't seem to outweigh the other. Yes there are people who deserve death, jeffrey dahmer, albert fish, ted bundy, you get the picture. Also as Layne pointed out, Americans pay for killers life in prison through tax dollars. Also, in some cases, criminals and dangerous people have been set back on the streets because there is simply no room for them. Furthermore, some believe that a life in prison is crueler than death. Think about living out the rest of your life in prison, 25, 50 or maybe even 75 years in a cage with no visitors, in that situation, I think many would prefer death. However, the reality is, mistakes can be and are made, and many have paid an eternal price for the justice systems mistakes. "Columbia University researchers tracked all capital convictions from 1973 to 1995, nearly 5,800 cases. They found serious errors in 68 percent." (CBS News) Troy Davis is just one of the stories that have people in uproar, people have been executed and later proved innocent many times, you can read about these other instances in this article http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/06/12/deathpenalty/main204759.shtml

Thus I believe in very special cases, the death penalty is needed so it shouldn't be abolished all together, however there should be a serious reconsideration and more guidelines should be set.

Anna K. said...

Although David makes some valid points, I have to disagree with his statement, "the death penalty deters people from committing crimes because people who consider criminal activity get frightened by the possibility of death." In my opinion, if someone hypothetically decided that they wanted to kill someone, they might not consider it if that meant they were going to be in jail for the rest of their life. The death penalty is like an easy way out for them because then they don't have to live out the rest of their life knowing they killed someone. Also, if a person is sick and twisted enough to go and kill someone, you start to wonder how much else they really want out of life, and in most cases they probably have nothing much to live for, which is why they are killing someone. If they weren't living for much in the first place, how much of a penalty is death really? For some, it could be like a reward. So for me, I don't believe that the death penalty is always the best option.

TimP. said...

One quick question, can anyone find that Jimmy Carter quote in the last paragraph? I think is is a very powerful quote, but I just can't find it.

OC said...

The Carter quote came from a wire service news source that quoted the Carter Center. This is the closest near-quote I could find quickly: http://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/clemency_troy_davis.html

Davidr said...

After reading up on the topic, I am completely against the death penalty. It is inhumane and it is also too finalizing of a punishment. Once someone is put to death, that is the end. Why not put someone in jail for life? It is cheaper and if there is evidence later that the person accused is innocent, the state can compensate him and release him. Also there have been too many cases of someone being put to death and then later being found innocent. Because of this, I believe that we can't execute people for the chance that new evidence will show up in the future.