UPDATE: CNN is reporting 663,000 names on petition protesting Troy Davis' execution
Since this post is only peripherally about me, I will not go into detail about how I came to be a candidate for execution by the State of Alabama. I've already written about it here, for those who may be curious.
I don't often mention it, it's not my proudest achievement but I make this admission here and now to invoke the unique authority I believe it gives me to address the subject of state-sanctioned execution. Others may disagree with that premise of course, which is their perfect right. But having looked it in the face, I'd wager that I have contemplated the death penalty in ways that many others have not.
Though the prosecution sought the death penalty in my case, the jury convicted me of a lesser, non-capital offense and sentenced me to twenty years in prison instead. But this final outcome came after many long months of living under the shadow of the death penalty, which was only ever invoked in my case because of the political ambition of the District Attorney and the case's potential for publicity. He knew I wasn't guilty and more or less admitted it to me personally in later years.
Whenever there is that potential for hyper-publicity, a case begins to be driven by considerations other than simple guilt or innocence. When a case is capable of feeding the political ambitions of a prosecutor, it is far less likely to terminate in anything approaching actual justice.
The guy who was arrested with me but tried separately was given the death penalty. Now I oppose capital punishment on philosophical as well as practical grounds, but if ever there was a candidate for the death penalty, he was it. He was sent to death row at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama where some years later his death sentence was commuted to Life. While I support that decision philosophically (however reluctantly) I'll never understand how it came to be made. It wasn't that he was a nice guy or that he wasn't guilty as charged. He wasn't in the first instance and he was in the second, and I know these things from raw personal experience.
I tell you all of this to underscore the capriciousness of the death penalty. I might very well have received it but never deserved it. The jury, who were just twelve ordinary people, could just as easily have agreed with the politically blindered prosecution and ordered me killed. The other fellow's jury did order him killed, and yet he never was. I wonder if he'd have ever slid out from under that death sentence had he been black. There is an undeniable racial component to who actually gets executed in this country. I'm not saying they only execute black people or people of color but the preponderance is overwhelming. That alone is reason enough to ban it.
It is a barbaric practice at any rate. As the old saying goes, why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?
There is also a vast difference between the ways that individuals kill other individuals out of anger, stupidity, passion, meanness, insanity or what have you and the calm, deliberate execution of a defendant by the State and it's institutional machinery of death. None of it is excusable of course but the latter seems so cold and calculated (and avoidable) that there is something especially distasteful and objectionable about it. Anything the subject of such careful deliberation should not end in the willful taking of life, in my humble opinion.
My philosophical objection is based on the question of whether or not life is sacred. If it is, as I believe, then there is no justification for the taking of it by the State or anyone else. And I believe this holds true whether you take the word 'sacred' literally or figuratively.
My practical objection is based on my perception of what it does to us as a society. Our government acts in each of our names and we are accountable for what it does. When it comes to unnecessary wars and executions, among other things, we all have blood on our hands...at least to the extent that we do not object. That is why I say that the death penalty demeans us all. We all deserve to live in a country that is nurturing, merciful and respectful of life.
Let us now turn our attention to Troy Davis whose execution by my state, the State of Georgia is scheduled for September 21. It is a case riddled with such doubt that there is no way that even ardent supporters of the death penalty can justify this action. And yet this man may have less than a week to live.
Many others have written eloquently about the details of the Troy Davis case, including laserhaas' excellent Rally to Stop Execution of Troy Davis Worldwide Protests on Fri 9-16-11, which I strongly recommend.
There is every reason to believe that Troy Davis is an innocent man wrongly convicted. The case against him was based entirely on eye-witness testimony, which is inherently unreliable. There was no DNA evidence, no physical evidence and no murder weapon. Seven of the nine witnesses against him have since signed sworn affidavits recanting their original testimonies, all saying that Troy is innocent.
The Innocence Project has proven that wrongful convictions happen much more often than people assume, and they are pulling strongly for Troy Davis, as are many, many others around the world.
Please join us. Please act to save Troy Davis' life by signing one or more of these petitions:
Those willing to help can also call the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles at (404) 656-5651. They are meeting at 9AM Monday morning to review Troy Davis' case.
The death penalty demeans us all, and especially so in cases like this where the doubts are so profound. Please support clemency for Troy Davis.
Late letter from Ben Jealous:
Thank you so much for speaking out recently on behalf of Troy Davis. It's people like you who are making a difference by volunteering your time and voices to the cause of justice.
I'm writing to you today because despite the injustice Troy Davis is facing, there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon, which means there is more work to be done.
Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm is the man who requested the death warrant against Troy Davis. He has been described as the "glue that holds the case together," and he is in a unique position to petition the judge to withdraw the death warrant against Troy.
It's imperative that District Attorney Chisolm hears our voices, and understands that he has our full support in coming forward for Troy, now that the circumstances have changed.
I know you have already done a lot to help save Troy Davis, but today I'm asking you to do a little bit more. Please sign the NAACP petition to District Attorney Chisolm, and we'll make sure every message for Troy is personally delivered to him:
The history of Troy Davis's case is a long one. So long, in fact, that the state of Georgia's stance on the death penalty has shifted dramatically since Davis was convicted.
Twenty years ago, the option of life without parole in Georgia didn't exist. If a jury convicted Troy today on the basis of nine witness testimonies, seven of which have since been recanted, the death penalty would be an extremely unlikely option
But the justice system has evolved, and so should the opinions of the DA, judge and Parole Board. To execute a man under a cloud of doubt would undermine the credibility of the Georgia justice system. It would demonstrate a disregard for life, and faith in the justice system would shatter.
There is a very real chance that Troy could be saved from execution, but only if we have the strength to pursue it. Sign the petition today:
With you in the fight,
President and CEO