Last night, at 11:08pm Eastern Time, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis by lethal injection. Davis was convicted in 1991 for the 1989 slaying of a police officer. Davis maintained his innocence until the end, and considering there was no physical evidence against him and seven of the nine witnesses identifying him as the killer have since recanted, I am one of the many people who believe him. His death is a perfect example of how very flawed the legal system is, and how blind to justice those who work it are willing to be.
There are a lot of smart arguments against the death penalty (it’s heinously expensive to taxpayers, it’s applied disproportionately to poor and non-white people, it does not actually deter violent crimes), but the possibility of innocence is perhaps the most compelling for people who otherwise think capital punishment is just. Groups like The Innocence Project meticulously track the many cases in which the reasonable doubt is too strong to justify a conviction, let alone the extinguishment of a life. In some cases, DNA testing has proven innocence posthumously, which ought to be as clear-cut and scientific proof as anyone could ask for. Yet it’s legal in almost every state in the country, and as the recent presidential debate showed, a lot of people are enthusiastically for the death penalty.
I want safe streets and punishment for violent crimes, just like anyone else. But I don’t want it at the expense of real justice.
Last night I attended a rally in Daley Plaza attended by some 100 people who waited anxiously to hear whether there would be a last-minute stay of execution. I left at 7pm Central Time when it was announced that he’d been given a seven-day stay and there was more fighting to be done. We cheered and grinned at one another at this new glimmer of hope. It turns out we were misinformed or the court decision changed, of course. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more fighting to be done. There are hundreds of capital punishment cases throughout the United States, and laws on the books at the state and federal level. There’s a whole system to transform.
Troy Davis’s last words were: “I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”
Rest in peace, Troy Davis, and know that you will not be forgotten. We will continue to fight this fight.