Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Troy Davis Case as an Example of the Complete Failure of the Death Penalty

On Wednesday, the state of Georgia will execute Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of police office Mark MacPhail. Since Davis was convicted in 1991, 7 of the prosecution’s 9 witnesses have recanted their statements, and have repeatedly given testimony to courts and to the media that their testimony was coerced. Additional witnesses have come forward implicating Sylvester “Redd” Coles, another person at the scene for the murder. Not only did Coles brag to others about the crime, but he was the first to finger Troy Davis for the murder. Three of the original jurors have also come forward with signed affidavits which indicate that they would not have voted for Troy Davis’ guilt had they known then what they know now. Finally, there is no physical evidence of any sort linking Davis to the crime.

I have never supported the death penalty. It's an archaic form of punishment that neither does what supporters argue it does (i.e. deter others from committing similar crimes), nor is it in any shape or form compassionate. I can imagine there's plenty of disagreement on this, even amongst Buddhists and yoga practitioners - but I believe that the continued use of the death penalty here in the U.S. is a travesty. And yet another way in which we don't come anywhere near the image of the "great nation and world leader" so many Americans believe in.

Furthermore, there are all sorts of highly problematic race issues with the way the death penalty is executed here. Consider that the vast majority of people on death row are there for killing white folks. And while African-Americans are approximately 12.5% of the U.S. population, they make up 35% of the executions since 1976. In my opinion, this is one of the not so hidden examples of the lingering legacy of the Jim Crow era.

As a Buddhist and yogi, I also find that the death penalty is built around a notion of fixed personalities. It suggests that once a person has committed a serious crime, such as murder, they are forever a murderer. That they cannot change. Something I think is absolute nonsense.

It's completely true that some folks probably will never be able to turn themselves around enough to return to "regular society." In states where the death penalty is off the table, inmates who committed horrific crimes often live the rest of their lives out behind bars. However, they still get the chance to wake up to the damage they've done. To see through the delusions that led them down a path of misery and hell making. To witness something much deeper than themselves as they were in the past.

The death penalty takes that opportunity away. And is, for those who are cost conscious, more expensive for taxpayers in the process. In my opinion, it's a failure all around, and needs to disappear.

Although the current news out of Georgia isn't good, if you want to call and express your support for Davis, or sign the petition, see info below.

To get involved, contact:
Gov. Deal of Georgia: 404-656-1776
State Board of Pardons and Paroles: 404-656-5651

Sign Amnesty International’s petition.


David said...

Nathan, I couldn’t agree with you more. The death penalty is a inhuman, barbaric practice not befitting civilized societies. I especially like your argument about how the death penalty is “built around a notion of fixed personalities” and takes away any opportunity for change. This is especially the case with a Buddhist point of view. Assuming there is such a thing as karma, the argument would be that if a person is prevented from changing their karma, the negativity that led them to commit the crime is just compounded and in the next life, that bad karma could compel the individual to commit greater and more heinous crimes.

The death penalty just ain’t no good no matter how you look at it.

Matt Simonsen said...

Thank you for posting this, Nathan, and especially for posting the link to Amnesty's email campaign to stop Mr. Davis' execution. (I already signed a petition on https://death.rdsecure.org/index.php, and sent a follow-up email from their site, as well. But it's always good to be able to send more, reinforcing calls for justice.)

For some reason, I feel especially strongly about Mr. Davis' case, even though I only found out about it two or three days ago. (Yes, I keep my head under a rock when it comes to news, most of the time. I'm trying to expand my awareness in more "global" happenings. It's a growing edge for me.) It just seems so immediate, so urgent--the ability to affect whether one particular individual is murdered by the State or allowed to continue living. As I said on my FaceBook post regarding Mr. Davis, the other day, I figured it would be almost criminal not to take some action on this issue, once becoming aware of it.

Nathan said...

Back when the MN Republicans were trying to bring the death penalty to MN, I worked with Aaron and a few others as members of AI to lobby at the state capitol. That was when it really sunk in for me how screwed up the whole thing is.

Even some of the fiscal conservative types, who weren't otherwise interested in the justice angle, recognized the enormous monetary expense of the repeated appeal process that always comes. Needless to say, the legislation never went anywhere here in MN.