Doubt, Execution, and Collective Bloodlust

This week my Twitter account went all a-flutter over a man named Troy Davis.

Troy Davis has served on Georgia’s death row for 20 years now, found guilty based on the testimonies of key witnesses. In the two decades since his conviction of murdering a police officer, 7 of the 9 witnesses have recanted or contradicted their original testimonies, and some have admitted in sworn affidavits that they testified against Davis only because of police coercion and pressure. Recent evidence even suggests a different gunman: a man who testified against Davis.

In related news, perhaps you saw last week’s Republican debate, when the audience burst into uproarious applause at the mere mention of the 234 criminals executed in Texas in the last decade?

That moment creeped me out more than a little.

It was bizarre to see such joy over death – even from people who believe in the effectiveness of the death penalty; even if, like Rick Perry, you don’t approve of cop killing. Death is sad always, no matter what, period. Those criminals had mothers, siblings, even spouses and children. Don’t continue to punish them by cheering their loved one’s execution – a punishment worthy of sobriety and at least some heartache.

But it’s even creepier because Texas famously executed a man named Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004. Willingham was convicted of murdering his children in a fire. Scientists have since found that any evidence of arson simply did not exist and that the original investigation was fundamentally flawed, casting serious doubt on Willingham’s guilt.

But alas, it’s too late. Willingham is dead, and we cheer his possible murder at our political events.

Now it’s Troy Davis’ turn, and the sun is setting for him. His execution has been scheduled for September 21.

Georgia has to decide – along with Texas, the Republicans who attended last week’s debate, and the rest of this country – what kind of people we want to be. Whether or not we support the death penalty in some cases, do we want to be people who revel in death? Are we just villagers smiling eerily as we watch hangings in the town square? Are we those cackling throngs from the Middle Ages who delight in the sport of execution?

Are we willing to admit that sometimes scientific discoveries can change everything, witnesses can be manipulated, and justice can be thwarted?

Wrongly accused people and the victims of the actual criminals deserve truth – not witness coercion and decades of doubt; not the execution of an innocent person, the addition of one more victim to an already terrible crime.

In Troy Davis’ case, and in others like it, let’s make sure not to commit collective murder by accident – no matter how unpopular or sappy our lack of blood-lust might appear.

Davis’ sister has filed a petition on his behalf that, at the time of this writing, has gathered over 215,000 signatures. With so much doubt involved, please consider joining Ms. Davis and standing up for her brother in his last scheduled days. The petition targets the State of Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole and asks to commute Davis’ sentence to life in prison.

In addition, you can also tweet about the case using the hashtag #TooMuchDoubt.

(Photo by Sanja Gjenero)

One Response to “Doubt, Execution, and Collective Bloodlust”
  1. Darrell says:

    I am not opposed to executing criminals as a form of societal self defense but such gross celebrations of death such as the one you mentioned should not happen in a civilized society. What’s to be made of it then? My conclusion is that we live in a culture of death and violence. Some computer operator in Arizona controls a drone that drops boms in Pakistan. Sixty-six dead Americans in Afghanistan in August; our kids watch violent video games far too often; the most popular entainment is also the most violent; boxing wasn’t violent enough so we invent mixed martial arts. This all contributes to a desensitized mind that revels in violence and death.

    What’s the answer? I wish I knew.

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