Troy Davis was killed by lethal injection yesterday in Georgia for possibly having been the murderer of a white police officer in 1989. Yesterday, white supremacist gang member Lawrence Russel Brewer was also killed by lethal injection in Texas for tying up James Bryd Jr., a black man, to the back of his pick- up truck and pulling him along a rough asphalt dirt road until he resembled road kill. Incidentally the officer who found his tattered remains thought he was road kill until he realized he was a decapitated, mashed up, human being.
The differences between the two cases are glaring: In the case of Troy Davis, he has over the last twenty years pleaded his innocence and asked that a fresh investigation be launched. In the absence of the murder weapon (a gun), no finger prints and no DNA evidence, the case rested purely on the testimony of eye witnesses, 7 of whom have recanted all or part of their story.
In the case of Brewer, he and the other men involved in the case were picked up and the blood of Byrd were found on all of them. He has also never ever denied that he killed Byrd.
Byrd had no final words to say to anyone, while Troy Davis told the family of the slain officer that he was sorry for their loss but he had not killed officer McPhail. He also asked his family to keep searching for the truth and he forgave those who were about to kill him and asked God to forgive them too.
I am tempted to dwell on what I perceive to be a gross miscarriage of justice in the Troy Davis case, but I think we all know this and those who have followed this case over years, as I have will no doubt be feeling hurt, angry and bitter, as I am. However I think there is a bigger issue here, which is that of state sanctioned killings. I refuse to use the term capital punishment because to my simple mind, what is the punishment in terminating a person’s life? What punishment does a dead person feel? Unless of course you are a believer in the eternal inferno called hell and you believe that sending someone to an eternity of being fried or roasted earlier than his maker planned, is the ultimate punishment, I really don’t see how killing a person is punishment for him. Punishment is for his family members maybe, who despite everything may still love and value the person. Or maybe you are also a believer in the biblical an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Or Live by the sword, die by the sword?
Whatever the case killing a person because he killed another will not bring the dead person back and while some say justice is served, for whom is justice served when the injured party is dead? No one has any way of consulting the dead guy if he wants his murderer killed so what justice are we talking about? Worse is the case where there is a possibility that the man who is killed is the wrong man. Does it matter at all that Troy Davis may have been innocent or is it a case of witnesses saying they saw a thin black man kill the officer and so it doesn’t matter which black man goes down as long as one goes? I have often heard people say all black people look alike to white people and all white people look alike to Asian people. So is it possible that there was a case of mistaken identity? That this was the wrong black man and he has become the fall guy?
My idea of punishment is keeping the person alive to serve out a jail term even if it is life in prison. Confinement is punishment, lockdown is punishment. Waking up every day to the knowledge that you are a murderer, deplorable and not fit to walk the earth freely, is punishment. Having nightmares about the person you killed is punishment. State sanctioned killing is not punishment, it is gratuitous violence, open to abuse by flawed officials and flawed institutions of justice. I am sickened by the deaths of Troy Davis and Brewer, but for different reasons:
I wish Troy Davis had lived, and that a proper investigation would have been carried out to determine whether he was guilty. Instead he was presumed guilty, convicted based on flimsy testimony, and was saddled with the burden of proving that he was innocent. Now he is gone.
I wish Brewer had lived, so that his hideous crime would be with him every single day he breathed, as he marched his hours away in a prison yard. Now he is gone.
And both their deaths did not bring the victims back to life. So where is the justice I ask?