Damn. Having just caught wind of the tragically fitting T.R.O.Y. rework by Jasiri X makes me wish I would’ve posted it in a more timely fashion. But as gruesome as the case is in itself, the execution of Troy Davis is even part of a much larger problem in our world. I’m talking about the death penalty.
The news of Troy Davis crept up on me late, as it was more of a ‘oh boy, those Americans did it again‘ type of news items after the cold fact of the execution, in my neck of the woods. Voices for a reinstatement of the death penalty become louder around election time over here as well though. Flirting with the idea gives a politician a tough image, of one who’s willing to crack down, but it’s a form of punishment that should have no place in the 21st century, especially not in a just, democratic society of the modern world. Though virtually everyone is able to think of an instance in which he or she would see death as a righteous retribution and some people do not seem to deserve life in the eyes of others, those considerations should be left outside of the court room. Wishing death upon someone can be understandable, but it can not be justice. As a society, we should be able to rise above base instincts of revenge. If we only followed gut urges, what form of civilization would be left?
When the death penalty is introduced into a penal system, even for cases which seem airtight and waterproof, a grey area is automatically created. When we set a border, there will always be those close to it, but is a case over it, on it, or slightly before it? There will always be cases in which it is hard to tell. In the case of Troy Davis, the judge who sentenced him was sure of her case. There were plenty witness accounts after all. But in light of the witnesses repealing their statements, admitting they were falsely made under pressure from the police, she was far less than sure she would give the same sentence again. Does this mean Troy Davis was innocent? I don’t know. But he might’ve been, which should’ve been enough reason to reopen the case and reverse the sentence. How many black men in America have been wrongfully put to death in the US, before the prejudices that helped convict them were even formally banned after the civil rights struggles? New evidence may always come up, but while the account of history is in flux, death is not. We all make mistakes, and so the justice system makes them too, but irreversible damage is done when we allow innocent people to be put to death because we won’t allow ourselves to correct those past mistakes. If an error is made and an innocent person is executed that has nothing to do with justice. It is cold-blooded murder. Some may say a few judiciary ‘misfires’ are a small price to pay for society to get rid of it’s most deplorable elements. I disagree. If we condemn only one innocent to the gallows, we loose the validity of our whole judiciary system itself. Think about it. Even if innocence is only established after the execution, this means the system has killed a fellow citizen without reason, and if the system itself has become a murderer, how can it ever condemn another for that act?
There’s no need to put the kid gloves on for certain criminals, but there are other, harsh punishments available that won’t make us stoop to the same depth as those we wish to punish in the name of justice. Some cases may appear crystal clear, but a grey area of cases in which there is doubt can never be avoided, because there are no black & white absolutes in real life. The only absolute known to man, is death. And it should have no place in the justice system of our democracies.