It was just one year ago when the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite a stream of evidence and facts that pointed to his innocence. Despite the appeals of hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide, including a former President, Nobel Peace Prize winners, political leaders and celebrities, Davis was put to death in one of the most shameful acts by a state in recent memory. Through it all Mr. Davis maintained his innocence and dignity and at the end defiantly proclaimed, “They can take my body but not my spirit, because I have given my spirit to God…the struggle for justice doesn't end with me.” It is in that spirit that we remember Mr. Davis and we hope that his family finds some comfort in knowing that his execution, condemned worldwide, put a harsh light on our nation’s barbaric system of capital punishment.
We remain opposed to capital punishment because it does not serve as a deterrent, is questionable in its application and our criminal justice system too vulnerable to mistakes in the dispensation of sentences. There are too many instances of wrongful convictions in the United States for anyone to feel reasonably comfortable when an individual is condemned to death. The case of Mr. Davis sadly illustrated the blood thirstiness of our system, eager to execute for the sake of scoring political points. It still angers us that Georgia officials did not see fit to stop Davis’ execution; it certainly was not a matter of insufficient evidence or the absence of doubt. Halting the carrying out of Mr. Davis’ death sentence seemed to be more of an inconvenience than anything. It was Wild West justice at its worse.
For a nation that prides itself on being a self-proclaimed beacon of justice, our continued use of capital punishment is primitive. It weakens our moral standing in the world and puts us in the company of nations we otherwise abhor for their violation of human rights. It also cannot be justified as an effective crime deterrent. Despite hundreds of executions in America murders still occur at an alarmingly high rate in our nation. Putting individuals to death has done nothing to prevent the next taking of a life. At a minimum, the death penalty provides emotional relief to the friends and families of victims, although we doubt if even the death of a murderer can comfort those who have experienced loss due to a criminal act.
Further complicating the use of capital punishment is the bias in the criminal justice system, from policing and detention to the paneling and decisions of juries. The continued negative characterization of Black men in our society leaves us little comfort in thinking that convictions that carry the death penalty are not possibly tainted too. The only certainty in the system is that when an individual is executed, he or she is not coming back. And if evidence later points to the person’s innocence, we are guilty of the same type of indifference to life we claimed held by the accused. It is also puzzling that many right-wing death penalty proponents are opposed to abortion; using God as a shield on the front end of life but providing no refuge on the back end.
Troy Davis should be with us today. His case did one thing for sure; it rallied people of goodwill throughout the world to the cause of justice. He became a powerful symbol for change and his family should stand proud today for what Mr. Davis’ life represents in his death. We celebrate his life today and recommit ourselves to the elimination of the death penalty in America.