Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis: Another Reason Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

The Troy Davis case got my attention more than any case since Shaka Sankofa.  I went to jail in Austin over Shaka's case; and my heart broke because although I never met him personally, I felt that I knew him and I was sure he was innocent.  At any rate, he was a human being – an African American man the state of Texas wanted to kill; and he wasn't going down without a fight.  It was hard to concentrate on work today.  I was thinking about Shaka; and Troy's case got me thinking about why I oppose the death penalty and why, I think, I always have.

There is not enough due process in the universe to justify capital punishment.  That, to me, is the heart of why I oppose the death penalty in all cases and for all time.  Death is final and we will never be able to eliminate all doubt in our criminal justice system, indeed we've exonerated 138 people who were convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death, yet in most cases we don't have evidence, such as DNA evidence, that would clear death row inmates to the satisfaction of authorities.  We will also never be able to ensure fairness and equity - in other words, even if we're sure someone did what they are accused of doing, the application of the punishment is likely to be arbitrary, or worse, tainted by prejudice.  The death penalty is full of both problems - I have no doubt innocent people have been executed and it is obvious that people of color, especially if their victim is white, are more likely than others to be sentenced to death.  We simply should not be killing people when we know there is a chance we will kill an innocent person or when we know that some people will be killed and others spared based on their race, their economic status, or other factors that should not affect justice.

The other major reason why I oppose the death penalty is because the state should never dole out such harsh and final punishments when it presides over such an unjust society.  If we lived in a society that was prosperous and fair, then this would be a more difficult argument.  But we live in a society where the state cuts services to the poor, cuts education, cuts mental health services yet when people commit heinous acts hurting and maybe killing others, the state jumps in with mountains of resources to prosecute, jail and sometimes execute people – maybe the people who committed the heinous act, maybe not.  And it isn't as if we just live in an unjust world but our government is doing its best and striving to work against all that.  The powerful politicians who hold the fate of people on death row, a death row full of people who are always poor and often people of color, are the same politicians who kiss corporate, Wall Street ass to ensure they can get elected again.  They care neither for justice nor fairness – those who deny clemency one day and drink champagne with corporate donors the next.

One final reason I oppose the death penalty is because of how sick it is to take someone's life when that person is not a threat to anyone.  The state has someone in its control who is breathing and who has loved ones.  The state has someone in its control who gets sleepy and falls asleep and dreams about being outside the prison walls.  The state has someone completely in its control who talks to his family, her children, his wife, or her friend since elementary school about what life might be like if their sentence is ever overturned and maybe even their conviction.  The state takes that mom, brother, lover, father, friend; that person with hopes about the future and an understanding of fate, death and eternity; and the state moves them from a secure cell to a gurney, then injects them with poison until their heart stops.  It is sick that some people justify that but scream bloody murder when doctors help women with their reproductive health needs.  It takes a really perverse person who wants to deny women reproductive freedom and support a flawed system that kills living adults yet calls himself "pro-life."

We have a lot of work to do, and I hope Troy Davis has not died in vain.  I hope that in my lifetime we abolish the disgusting state murder system and maybe even hold some of the people responsible for that system accountable in a just, humane, but decisive way.