Last night Troy Davis, in prison for 22 years, for a crime it looks probable that he did not commit, was executed by lethal injection in the state of Georgia.
He was convicted back in 1989, of murdering a police officer who worked as a security guard. This police officer was without question a hero. He had served as an Army Ranger, and was in the process of defending a homeless man from a beating when he was shot. The problem is that there is significant reasonable doubt as to whether he was shot by Troy Davis. I personally do not believe he was. There was the presence of another suspect, Redd Coles (wow, an unfortunate surname for me), there was no physical evidence found to indicate Davis, and seven of the nine ‘witnesses’ recanted and said that they were coerced for their testimony. Not only were there mountains of reasonable doubt, but there were allegations of witness tampering. This case should have been thrown out on that basis alone. One would think. But there were loopholes that kept unreliable testimony in, and kept people from interfering and stopping this. Essentially, Davis was killed by the devil in the details, and by people who knew those details enough to manipulate them.
But it’s done. All the elucidation in the world won’t bring him back.
I’m putting out a quote now by the officer’s family that boiled my blood when I read it. It is unfortunately clear to me now that this officer was the best of them.
According to the news, “Officer MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said it was ‘a time for healing for all families. I will grieve for the Davis family because now they’re going to understand our pain and our hurt,’ she said in a telephone interview from Jackson. ‘My prayers go out to them. I have been praying for them all these years. And I pray there will be some peace along the way for them.’”
I’m not trying to be callous, but it was at this point that I parted company with them and lost sympathy for their grief. I’ve never lost a husband, and hope I never do until we’re crotchety and ancient, when we’re supposed to. But I’ve lost other people, everyone has. And losing someone to murder is an unbelievably horrible thing. We’re primates, and one of our first instincts is retaliation. That’s just one of the facets of our species, as it is with chimps, baboons, etc. But what we strive for in becoming ‘civilized’ is if not to tame that urge, to at least make sure that this urge is aimed in the right direction, hence our laws. Those laws are supposed to prevent more victims, because people stop thinking when they’re angry, and are more likely to harm truly innocent bystanders. In this case, this woman has had 22 years to mitigate her anger at whoever was responsible, and think about her stance and her actions and her words. Clearly, she never did. If you want to be satisfied that someone who you truly believe deserves it, ‘gets what’s coming to them’, I’m not qualified to judge, because I’m human and I’ve had that sentiment. But don’t pretend that it’s righteous or anything other than the urge to vengeance. Be honest about it. I respect that.
However, this is not the Klingon home-world, and we do not live by the sins of our fathers or other family members. To say such a thing to Davis’s family, who were one way or the other never involved, is simply monstrous and inexcusable. At this point, I feel she may not have pulled the trigger of a gun, or put the needle in his arm, but to derive any satisfaction or peace from the suffering of a family of people who never committed any crime themselves and then to have the arrogance to ‘pray for them because now they understand’?…According to Davis’ family, they felt he was innocent, so from their perspective, a terrible crime has been committed against him, and them. “A time for healing for all families…”? There won’t be any healing there. And the widow admitted as much when she stated ‘now they’ll understand the pain and hurt.” How is this statement to be taken as anything other than damning the whole family, whether the individual was guilty or innocent?
Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But I have been accused of something I didn’t do once. And I can say that there are very few things that are more soul-destroying than being a victim of false accusation, because it makes you and people who don’t know you, question the very core of your being. One of the things I so value about this country is the presumption that people are supposed to be innocent. And I get very angry to see that subverted. I fully sympathize with MacPhail’s family’s grief and their desire to see justice done. I even understand if they were satisfied at the death of a man they genuinely believe to be guilty. But to revel in the grief of others may have turned them into the same kind of creatures as the one who murdered their family member.
Finally, I am led to the irony that Iran, one of the countries we never fail to criticize for their laws, has just released two prisoners they took based on a false accusation, while we executed one of ours. Our criticism of Iran for its suppression and imprisonment of its own citizens is well-founded. However, given that prisoners in both of these situations are accused of something and may be innocent, I have to ask what makes their execution of prisoners barbaric and our execution righteous?
Someone died yesterday. While the family of the original victim rejoices in his death, the rest of us will inevitably go on with our work and our day. There is no avoiding that because we all have things that need to get done, paychecks to earn, kids to cook dinner for. But I don’t want to just move on as if Davis’ death were a speedbump in history. His death was much more than a speedbump. It was a tragedy to his family and to the people who hoped that the system would work. He left a hole in the world. And I hope that it is one that we don’t just pave over and forget about. I will try not to.