Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birthdays and deathdays

On the evening before my 25th birthday, at 11:08pm, Troy Davis was executed.

There's a lot I'm feeling about this.  I'd rather not go into tons of details about the case, which are widely available through online news and Wikipedia.  The gist of it is that Troy Davis was tried and convicted in the murder of a policeman in 1989 based on witness testimony, and he was sentenced to death.  One of the witnesses was a suspect in the same case, and seven more out of the nine total have recanted their testimony, citing police pressure as the reason for their testimony.

I have never felt good about capital punishment.  I don't quite see how it actually makes any sense.  Perhaps if we were absolutely sure of someone's guilt, with no evidence suggesting otherwise, overwhelming evidence suggesting truth, and no sign of remorse on the part of the person convicted, then maybe, maybe, I'd say ... "Maybe."  Because even then, what good does it do?

The person murdered is still dead.  Capital punishment is purely for revenge.  "You did this, and now I'll make you pay."

So what happens when we're not absolutely convinced of guilt?  In the case of Troy Davis, the people with the power to stop his execution acknowledged the lack of evidence for his guilt.  They acknowledged it and didn't do anything about it.

His execution was scheduled for 7:00pm, but he sat on the gurney, with the needle in his arm, for hours, waiting for the US Supreme Court to save him.  They did not.  And no justice dissented.  Before tonight, I considered Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be something of an idol for me.  Now, I'm just too shocked to even process the complete lack of dissent.

And that was the night I went from disliking the death penalty to actively working to abolish it.  I don't know what's so different this time; I've already known I've disliked capital punishment, but really didn't DO anything about it.  But something's changed.  Maybe it's because I'm older.  Maybe it's because I have friends and acquaintances who have been sharing and retweeting the heck out of this case.  Maybe it's because I'm no longer ignorant about so many issues.

Or maybe it's because those people in power, people who had the ability to grant clemency, knew there was doubt as to Davis' guilt.  They acknowledged there was a good chance he was innocent.  And they murdered him anyway.  They did it anyway.

Meanwhile, I've turned twenty-five.  I've had an extremely difficult week so far; major family illness, news of a friend's imminent deployment overseas, and now the government-sanctioned murder of a man who was likely innocent.  I've been missing someone whose friendship I lost this summer, and I've been struggling to take care of my legs.  All in all, I feel much, much older than twenty-five.

And this morning, I have to teach biology to some first-year students, many of whom might not even be aware of what happened last night.  It's so strange.

It's difficult that I've just started my PhD, and now I want to run off and get my law degree so I can fix our broken justice system.

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