Even with that lot going on, my thoughts are less on the last week than on this time last year. A year ago they killed Troy Davis. They did. They killed Troy Davis. You’ll recall how he did 20 years on death row, how he was convicted of shooting a policeman in the absence of a murder weapon or much in the way of DNA. You’ll recall how most of the witnesses who testified against him changed their minds about what they saw, how they were only believed when they said he did it. How three times he came within hours of being killed before getting late reprieves, how being dicked around like that must have been more than a little stressful. How they killed him on 21 September last year.
On the same night they killed Lawrence Russell Brewer. There was no doubt about this guy. He killed a man, did ten years on death row for chaining James Byrd Jr to the back of his truck and dragging him to his death because he didn’t think much of the colour of his skin. Here was a white supremacist, a racist, hateful guy, a murderer. They shouldn’t have killed him either.
The death penalty’s so far below the moral high ground it won £3,000 in a no-win, no-fee settlement after straining its neck looking up to see where the moral high ground actually was. We should be as ashamed of it as I am of that joke I just made. You look at the countries going in for the death penalty, you’re not much impressed by their morality. America’s with the likes of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Zimbabwe in putting its people to death. If you can judge a person by the company they keep then… y’know. America’s kind of a dick.
Since Troy Davis about another 36 people have been put to death in American prisons, including one guy who did more than 30 years on death row, another who was mentally ill and another with an IQ so low Forrest Gump could have beaten him at Boggle. They did some horrific things. But we don’t have to do horrific things back.
Morality aside, we make too many mistakes with the death penalty. The Innocence Project reckons almost 300 people have had their convictions overturned with DNA evidence, 17 of them having done time on death row. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) reckons in the past few years four people have been killed for crimes they didn’t commit. Even if you’re well into the death penalty, even if you want an eye for an eye, even if you were firing pistols into the air as they killed Troy Davis, this should give you a bit of trouble. Let’s be honest: as a species, we just don’t have our shit together enough for the death penalty to be a goer.
The campaign to keep Troy Davis alive, run by his family and the likes of Amnesty and the NCADP, didn’t save him. But it’s still going, being as how there are others to save. On 6 November California’s taking a vote on whether or not to ditch the death penalty and move the species on a little. There are about 720 people on California’s death row and about 3,000 across America. Safe to say they’re not all good people. But we can be. We can be better than them. More civilised, more progressive, more humane. So let’s hurry it up, I’m getting pretty fucking impatient here.
Photo credit: The Zero