Sunday, October 2, 2011

Death: black and white?

I imagine last words are all the more weighty when you've had 20 years to think of them. "I am innocent...May God have mercy on your souls." Those were the last words of Troy Davis just before he received lethal injection for a crime it's pretty clear he didn't commit. In 1989, he was convicted of killing a white off-duty cop in Georgia. No physical evidence was ever found to link him to the killing, and seven of the nine eye witnesses who placed Davis at the scene later recanted, some saying that police had pressured them into the conviction.
Over 1 million people signed a petition to save him, but to no avail. His case was never reopened, his innocence only questioned by those who did not have the power to answer.
It is a staggering example of the inefficiency and corruption within our justice system.
The same day that Davis was killed, Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, convicted in 1998 of dragging James Byrd, a black man, behind his truck and killing him. He was tattooed head to toe with KKK symbols and burning crosses. His last words? "I'd do it all over again."
So, here's the question. Did they both deserve to live?
My take: no. Now, I'm not willing to go full Hammurabi here, but I do feel that certain crimes are so senselessly horrific and some people so hopelessly warped in the head, that they do not deserve to live. The retort - who am I to make that call? Who is anyone to make that call? Who are 12 people to make the call to put a man in prison for 120 years? Who is anyone to make the call to send thousands of troops overseas? Let's not kid ourselves. We make that call everyday. The how-dare-you argument is defunct by our own human ways. We, as a people, have already taken lives into our hands. It is naive and sick to suggest that the sanctity of life should apply to convicts and not to 18 year old soldiers. The death penalty should not be abolished from our justice system. Corruption and trigger happy decision making should be.
And the argument that countries without the death penalty are safer and have less crime. Yeah, because these countries also have better education, economies, infrastructure and justice systems. We have a shit ton of work to do before we get to talking about the death penalty as the most shining example of our hedonism.
People like Brewer, or take Brian Steckel, put to death in 2005 for raping and setting a woman on fire in Delaware - even his defense attorney said that he was a "gruesome man," that his actions were calculated and made to serve his own thirst for fear and power over people. Steckel sent sick and menacing letters to the girls mother from jail, gloating and proud of his crime. So, here's the alternative: Brewer and Steckel and countless others stay alive, continue getting three square meals a day, shelter, continue gloating, continue living. Is that justice?
You tell me.
As I sat and discussed this with my friend, he made the comment that the problem isn't the death penalty, it's the justice system that enforces it in cases that don't deserve it. I hesitate to say that I'm pro-death penalty because the connotation there is that it's available to use, like a multiple choice question. No. The death penalty should only be an option in the most extreme of cases. Of course the problem there is defining "extreme case." Put simply, a case where the perpetrator shows no remorse, no admission of fault. A case that shows no evidence of self defense or extenuating circumstances to suggest some reason or logic in the crime. The logic behind raping and setting a woman on fire? Nope, none. The logic in tying a man to the back of your truck because he's black? Nope, sorry - none there either.
And I can hear the arguments now, so let me go ahead and reply before you ask. 1. How is it right to kill someone in order to show that killing is wrong? Well, it's not. It's not right to kill at all. But that argument is crap in my opinion, because it's just not that simple.
In nature, when an animal is unfit to live amongst its group, it doesn't survive. We put down animals for attacking humans. Is that right?
Despite the colors of the men in these stories, death really isn't that black and white. Nothing in life or death is. The problem arises when we treat things so strictly. He shot a cop. He did it. Die. Ummmm...what?
Again, the problem isn't the death penalty itself. It's that this country has severe issues with the center - the grey area. It has severe problems with looking at facts, looking straight at events and problems without trying to skew them left or right, black or white.
And just to show you some consistency not available either in this country...I'm pro-assisted suicide and pro-choice as well.
Let's step off our pedestals, our ideological high horses, and treat life and death with some justice, some logic, some fair and honest intelligence, you know - maybe some of that grey matter...

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