Am I Troy Davis?

Troy Davis was executed last night, despite the fevered pleas of thousands of activists, politicians, and religious leaders. He was convicted of a murder that took place over twenty years prior, and spent every moment of his life since then on Death Row. He adamantly denied the charges, and maintained that he was innocent of the killing up until his last moments. The victim’s family seems convinced he did it, but reportedly have not yet felt the catharsis that justice is supposed to provide.

Everyone who has paid attention to the news for the last few weeks no doubt knows all of these things already. I am not trying to be informative. I say these things for my own benefit, because I am trying to understand what it is like for those who were personally involved. I am trying to see things from the perspective of the judge who initially laid down the death sentence two decades ago. I am trying to align my perspective with the various judges who have since affirmed Mr. Davis’ guilt in the matter. I am trying look through the eyes of a man who spent half his life under a death sentence, and then with an ending that is so straightforward it is almost ironic, died a condemned man. I am trying to comprehend what it must be like both for the victim’s family and the family of the deceased convict.

I am trying to do all of this because I feel like a failure to understand that other people are indeed people, and not just background characters of our own lives, is perhaps why the death penalty is as common as it currently is in the US. I don’t really like the death penalty at all. I don’t think it does what it claims it is supposed to do. I don’t think it really deters crime, nor do I see it granting any actual closure to any of the victims’ families. It’s expensive and time consuming. Many death row inmates are apparently victims themselves of severe mental imbalance, the kinds of which, if treated earlier, may have prevented the tragedies they unfolded.

I say these things cautiously. While I no doubt have a great many friends who are completely opposed to the death penalty, chances are I also have some who think it is indeed justified. Some may quote the Bible, where God himself lays out the provisions for the death penalty to Noah, or perhaps they will go a little further and mention the commandments God gave to the Israelite. Am I then disagreeing with God?

I don’t really think so. While we should always act in justice, I don’t believe that we are ever forbidden from acting in mercy. Killing a murderer is justified, while sparing his life is merciful. We can choose either, but I feel we must tread very carefully when we attempt to act in the name of justice. Are we truly trying to live according to the Word, or are we just so numb to humanity that killing the bad ones off seems like as good idea as any?

I don’t know if Troy Davis was indeed guilty. I don’t know if his the determination of his guilt or his sentence was affected by racism or some other bias. I don’t know if he will be declared a martyr and galvanize the community to more strongly oppose the death penalty, or if people will just decide to let him “rest in peace”. All I know is that there is one more dead man in the world, and I can’t help but think “how pointless.”


7 Responses to Am I Troy Davis?

  1. Flak says:

    Good post, horrific topic. I’m with you on a lot of this stuff, and I appreciate the caution despite my own extreme stance (which would be adamantly anti-death-penalty). A prof last semester told our class that there’s a school in contemporary ethics (I think) that says you can never really put yourself in someone’s shoes, and that claiming to do so is an invalidation of that person’s perspective. Interesting thought. Empathy’s still a useful thing of course.

  2. AJBulldis says:

    The professor might be right. I certainly can’t fully comprehend another’s perspective and feelings, but I’ve never seen any harm in trying. Dismissing others as entirely incomprehensible and utterly removed from us can’t lead us anywhere positive.

    The death penalty just seems so futile. If you want to punish someone, there are more cost-effective ways of doing so (a lifetime of hard work to give back to the society they disrupted, as opposed to millions in court fees and decades of twiddling thumbs about whether they will be executed). If you want the victim’s family to feel better, that’s not going to happen by killing someone. There is certainly a rush in successfully taking vengeance in your own hands, but it’s not the same as a real resolution. And watching some guy die from behind a window certainly can’t resolve anything. If MacPhail’s family is ever going to get over it, it won’t be because Troy Davis is dead.

    I dunno. Maybe this is how someone becomes an activist.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I always enjoy your writing, but I especially appreciate it when you tackle tough issues like this one because I find your approach incredibly nuanced and balanced. You have a trustworthy voice because I can sense you honestly weighing the perspectives, and using only God’s Word as the ultimate arbiter.

    I am trying look through the eyes of a man who spent half his life under a death sentence, and then with an ending that is so straightforward it is almost ironic, died a condemned man.

    First of all, that paragraph was so poetic, but this sentence in particular really made me think about how incredible and momentous it is that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t all die with condemnation on our heads.

    While we should always act in justice, I don’t believe that we are ever forbidden from acting in mercy.

    THIS. THIS THIS THIS. Such an amazing truth. If you aren’t worried about ruining your street cred, I would post this everywhere.

    • AJBulldis says:

      Rebecca, you know full well that street cred is everything to me. I have always, and will always, keep it hood, yo, as well as gansta and fo’ realz.

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