Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale Of Two Executions

A few hours ago, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail after a brief delay in which the state waited for a ruling from the Supreme Court, who declined to act. From the time of his conviction to the time of his execution, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony, leading to serious questions about his guilt and an accompanying outcry for clemency, an outcry that ultimately was rebuffed, as were the recantations. As part of this outcry, as with any death-penalty protest, a call was made to outlaw the death penalty entirely. Among those in Davis' corner were Amnesty International, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Earlier in the evening, in Texas, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed for the 1998 dragging death of a black man, James Byrd Jr. The murder was one of the most gruesome and shocking that Texas had seen, the aftermath of which would draw the attention of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers. An accomplice, John William King, remains on death row. Here, though, no last-ditch motions were filed as they were with Davis, no doubt was ever cast on Brewer's guilt, and no protesters stood outside calling for the end of the death penalty. In fact, as a result of this case, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Shepard was tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998 due to perceived homosexuality) was introduced to Congress in 2001, increasing the number of groups protected under hate-crime laws. President Obama signed it into law in 2009 on its fifth attempt. The only outcry was from Republicans who thought the legislation went too far.

Now, we've shown here how murder rates and rates of execution do not correlate favorably (if only by a rough measure). I unequivocally side with the Davis supporters. However, it is necessary- not something comfortable to state by any means, but necessary- to note that a total ban on the death penalty, while saving Davis, would also save Brewer, even if only by commuting his sentence to life imprisonment. In order to argue against the death penalty in all cases, you must make peace with that fact. It's like how people just grit their teeth at the Westboro Baptist Church when they show up to protest a funeral, muttering under their breath about freedom of speech. It's why despite really wanting to stick it to them, when taken* to the Supreme Court, they ultimately ruled 8-1 in their favor.

You'll have to grit your teeth and save Brewer as well, or at least, you'll have to go try and save King now that Brewer has been executed. Even though nobody really wants to.

*- Link goes to one of my famously wrong predictions, where I forecast that they'd rule against Westboro while noting how I was about to get Russ Feingold's Senate race wrong. I really need to stop predicting things of any more importance than a football game.

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