I suspect there are people out there who would oppose the Death Penalty in any case, and those are the people I consider the most consistent. This isn’t to say they are right or wrong, but at least they don’t have the hairs to split the rest of us seem to enjoy taking an axe to in our spare time. There are those who would not oppose it as much were it only meted out justly and equally, which it is not, and those people have solid constitutional ground to stand upon. The odds of a poor black man being put to death are many times greater than that of a wealthy white man. It is a racially biased, class considered, gender centered, and arbitrary form of punishment which by its very nature is unusual if not cruel. This is the case against the Death Penalty and it is neither morally bereft, nor is it philosophically anemic.
Yet the use of execution is not necessarily punishment. The word punishment implies that through aversion therapy some behavior will be modified, in theory, and therefore we as a society have a right to impose it upon those who break the law. No one has yet to learn anything from being executed but at the same time, no one who has ever been executed has ever broken the law again either. Those who are executed have their behavior modified to the extreme and no one can deny the efficiency of execution when it comes to reducing recidivism. Theodore Bundy will never kill again. Gary Ridgeway still has that capacity as does Charles Manson. Execution would still serve the greater good in the two latter cases as well as it has the former.
But in all things human there is the problem of politics. The recent execution of Troy Davis was, in my opinion, was one purely of a political nature. No one, not the Governor, not the Board of Paroles and Pardons, not the Georgia Supreme Court and not even the SCOTUS would dare show mercy to a condemned cop killer this close to an election year. No one, not one person running for office endorsed anything but death. In a case where nearly the entire argument for conviction was based on testimony from witnesses nearly all recanted. This isn’t uncommon in such cases because it’s a popular thing for former witnesses to recant, whether it be real or not, there is no way to trust someone’s testimony who admits to lying. That said, if the testimony cannot be trusted at all from those who recanted then the only weight that can be given is to those whose story has not changed. There were witnesses who did not recant, and for reasons that escape me, the testimony of those people was not taken into consideration by those pressing for the life of Troy Davis.
This is a case where there was no murder weapon found. This is a case where the accused steadfastly maintained his innocence. Yet this is also a case where the accused, Troy Davis, was linked to an earlier shooting and the ballistics in the murder case matched those in the earlier shooting case. Davis was not, as some maintain, a victim of an overzealous police force out to pin the murder on the first person they found walking down the street. Troy Davis was no stranger to trouble with the law, and no stranger to violence.
So which way does the pressure lie? Is Troy Davis guilty of first degree murder of a law enforcement officer or simply a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, scheduled to die far too close to an election year for there to be any hope that he’ll see justice? Barring a confession from the man Davis claimed killed the officer, we may never know and we might not know then. The real question is why was Troy Davis executed and if who he was, what he was, and who he killed part of the equation.
Are those who kill law enforcement officers any worse than those who kill housewives or school teachers? If Troy Davis would have killed a meter reader would be have been executed? Again, in an election year there is no one holding office who is going to show any sort of clemency to a condemned cop killer. Davis had the ill fortune for his appeal process to grind to a halt in a partisan battle for every single vote. For my part, if we are going to send men and women into harm’s way in uniform, be it law enforcement or battle, we ought to take special measures to protect them. In this case, I would have to say who the victim was mattered very much indeed.
In the end, execution is still here and Troy Davis is dead. I think he was guilty and I think that in any other year he gets a new trial or his sentence commuted. I think it unwise for the government to execute someone with this much doubt hanging over the outcome. In all things human, politics will rear its very ugly head and the execution of Troy Davis may push the death penalty to a new low as far as those who believe it ought to be applied in some cases. The high ground is still being held by those who think it ought to be abolished in every case. But those who believe there is a place for it still hold the better part of power. These are the people who know that in an election years, putting a poor black man to death for killing a police officer is a good strategic move. The fact that they are right, and granting Troy Davis any sort of mercy at all would have been political suicide says much more about us than the execution of Troy Davis says about him.