NEW YORK — September 21, 2011. Today is the International Day of Peace.
The state of Georgia has opted to observe this day by killing a man in its custody.
Troy Anthony Davis is an African-American man who was convicted of killing a white police officer 19 years ago based on the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom have recanted. There is no other evidence in this case. Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. tonight, September 21, 2011.
Over 660,000 people signed a petition calling for clemency in the Davis case, including, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory, William Sessions (former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation), President Jimmy Carter, representatives for the European Parliament, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Yesterday, the clemency request was denied by the Georgia Parole Board.
The New York Times is reporting that, “This is the fourth time Mr. Davis has faced the death penalty. The state parole board granted him a stay in 2007 as he was preparing for his final hours, saying the execution should not proceed unless its members ‘are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.’ The board has since added three new members.”
The three new members, like their predecessors, were appointed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal.
During his tenure as a Republican congressman, Deal:
• Voted NO on enforcing laws against anti-gay hate crimes.
• Voted NO on expanding services for offendors’ re-entry into society.
• Voted NO on funding for alternative sentencing instead of more prisons.
• Voted NO on maintaining right of habeas corpus in Death Penalty Appeals.
• Voted YES on making federal death penalty appeals harder.
• Vote on a bill to make it harder for prisoners who have been given the death penalty in state courts to appeal the decision on constitutional grounds in the federal courts.
• Voted NO on replacing death penalty with life imprisonment.
The decision by the state of Georgia to execute a man whose trial embodies reasonable doubt is disturbing.
Whether the decision is motivated by the personal views of those responsible, by some obscure legal reasoning, or from a desire to pander to biases held by segments of the population it is nonetheless reminiscient of the Jim Crow period of Georgia’s history.
My neighbor, a middleaged white woman, solidly middle class and non-political, commented to me in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Just look how far we’ve come.”
With seven of nine witnesses recanting and no other evidence; a former President (himself a former governor of Georgia), a former FBI director and the Pope petitioning for basic human decency — one would think that the responsible parties might pause to reflect on the character of what they have set in motion.
Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed today, the International Day of Peace, at 7 p.m.
Author Shirley Jackson once described a fictional public stoning taking place in a modern setting — townspeople turning on another who was randomly selected via a lottery. With relief and perhaps blood lust, the crowd stoned this person to death as she begged for mercy.
Just look how far we’ve come.
The NY Times reported that Governor Deal recently added three new members to the Parole Board.
None dare call it packing the board.
The irrefutable argument against the death penalty is that if the verdict is wrong, if it is overturned, there is no way to reverse an execution. Saying, “I’m sorry, we’re all human, we made a mistake,” just doesn’t right the wrong. Convictions are overturned on a regular basis: police and district attorneys have an unfortunate tendency to withhold evidence, new evidence comes to light, DNA testing clears a suspect, aging or dying criminals confess to a crime another was convicted of, etc. An imprisoned man can be set free and his name cleared. Restitution can be attempted. What can be done for the innocent victim of a wrongful execution?
The New York Times is calling the impending Troy Davis execution “a grievous wrong.”
None dare call it racism.
When a sociopath kills it is called murder. When the state does it, it is called justice.
Given the all too human propensity for error it seems clear that the death penalty is ill-advised. Nathan Deal is an unrelenting advocate of the death penalty.
When the state executes an innocent person, based on the ideology, political aspirations, or simple ignorance of its governor, is that an act of murder?
When an elected official executes more than one innocent person does that make him or her a serial killer?