Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pursuing Justice?

In a matter of minutes, Troy Davis an inmate on death row, convicted in the 1991 killing of an off duty Savannah, Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail will be executed. The days leading up to the execution, have been fraught with campaigns championed by Congressmen and other elected officials, Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other organizations. If the execution of Troy Davis is stayed, justice may not be served. Justice goes beyond the premise of innocence and guilt and granting clemency to one individual is not entirely justice.

The death or impending demise of another human should evoke some sense of empathy, however, when that human is dying because it is believed that they deserve to perish, empathy soon finds its way out of the window and the grim reaper is heralded. If Davis is executed today, it will be a victory for the family of MacPhail who have had to deal with the loss of a son, who was killed in the prime of his life; a young father at twenty seven. While the death of Davis will bring closure for one family stricken with grief, his own family will be torn by the loss of their son. Herein, there seems to be an equality of sorts because each family loses a son. The only difference is that one family was informed of the loss after it occurred and the other family has had time to ready themselves to mourn a son.

For others, the disparity is greater than timing. It is about a failed judicial system, racial inequality, and a system that thrives on subtle Jim Crow laws that we like to believe are a relic of the past. Deciding the case of Davis' innocence is almost as complex as deciphering ancient languages that have been lost. The entire case is steeped in witness testimonies that at first seemed unadulerated, then were recanted, evidence that was denied admission, positive admission by the defendant, witness testimony, and casings from the murder weapon that matched casings that were beieved to have been used in an earlier crime by the defendant.

The entire case is nothing short of a witches brew and it is only on this ground that the debate over the death penalty is justified. Capital punishment when deserving is appropriate. It might not deter, but it is the closest to justice that society is capable of devising. Besides, it is in line with the Levitical philosophy of an "eye for an eye." Hence, when heinous crimes do happen, the last thing society should do is turn the other cheek. Turning the other cheek is the antithesis of civilized society although champions of human rights might argue that the death penalty is.

Whatever side of the debate anyone chooses, one thing is clear, that Davis was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although a mere four hours away from Atlanta, the city of Savannah is a case study in poverty among African Americans. The majestic weeping willows and restored mansions on Abercorn street- with outhouses that are a reminder of the south's slave ridden past- contrast sharply with the poverty in neighborhoods only a few miles away where the sound of gun shots and periled cries are a constant. The sound of periled cries are cries that Davis is famiiar with, cries that prosecutors believe he sometimes evoked on occasion and perhaps in the murder of MacPhail. It might be argued that Davis is a victim of circumstance and so society needs to pardon him and heed his plea for a second chance.

As much as I do not want to see an innocent man suffer for a crime he did not commit, cases like this are an occasion to examine our communities. Why was Davis a high school drop out and dilatory worker in possession of an unregistered weapon? Why didn't the Davis family have access to state assistance for their disabled child, requiring Davis to drop out of high school to provide assistance for his family? Where was the male figure in the Davis family at the time of the murder?

Thus, while the evidence is controverted and there is clear proof that justice did not proceed as it should, we need to put the blame on Davis first. If Davis was known to his community as a third grade teacher and not as a derelict he would not be mentioned in this case. Davis is like countless others who make bad choices and then appeal to society when the consequeces of their action are brought to bare. Poverty surely is a crutch, but is never an excuse for irresponsibility. So, while I cannot speak on behalf of Davis' innocence because I am unsure of it, I can make the appeal that the legal system is proceeding on faulty footing and this alone should be reexamined.

1 comment:

  1. I am not quite sure if our legal system can be revised. After all, the original law was never intended to promote equality initially by its founders. After learning of the countless wrongful convictions over the years and the irreparable loss of time and dignity that some of the individuals have had to bear, it is quite unsettling. When I look at the disproportionate number of black males that find themselves on the wrong side of the law, I have no choice but to question the role of society in creating these circumstances. No doubt wrong is wrong, but is the current state of society right? I totally agree with you that we need to reexamine not only our communities, but the culture that embraces maintaining and marginalizing particular groups to a life of poverty.