By Erin Delman
Of the many political issues in America, capital punishment never excited me. Granted, I recognized the flaws in the system; it’s expensive and an ineffective deterrent to crime. Still, until a week ago, I would have been the first to admit that there are instances when the death penalty seems like a fitting punishment. Quite frankly, some people, for the sheer horror of their crimes, deserve to die.
Then, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis at 11:08 on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Ga., two years earlier. On Aug. 19, 1989, Davis allegedly shot MacPhail as he rushed to the aid of a homeless man being beaten by a group that included Davis.
Although witnesses testified that Davis pulled the trigger, no physical evidence linked him to the crime. Since the original trial, multiple witnesses recanted. The ambiguity of the evidence and the unreliability of the witness testimony drew substantial international attention. Amnesty International delivered more than 630,000 letters asking the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the execution. This list included former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, and Cee Lo Green.
Due to the doubt surrounding Davis’s guilt, several attempts to stall the execution were successful. His appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 21 marked his fourth campaign for exoneration. Just before the injection, Davis maintained his innocence and urged the MacPhail family to keep looking. “For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls,” Davis said.
There are numerous problems with the death penalty. It costs the taxpayers much more than a life-sentence. The appeals system is long and exhausting, it generates a poor image of America abroad, and it is useless in that it doesn’t bring the victim back to life.
None of these issues are pertinent. If an innocent man dies due to biases in the system, then the system is inherently wrong. No other argument should be necessary for America to abolish the death penalty.
Since the early 1970s, 130 people have been wrongfully executed in this country. That is unacceptable. As a society, we cannot accept, overlook or ignore such egregious, and not to mention obvious, acts of inhumanity. Those 130 “mistakes” counter everything that Americans claim to value. Executing Troy Davis should serve as a moral wake up call.
I applaud the activists who picketed and demonstrated on behalf of Davis. Although an unfortunate externality of the cause, he will serve as a catalyst for action and awareness throughout the country. I hope that the momentum stays strong and the call for change does not subside with waning emotion. Although I have previously been apathetic to this cause, I now stand in solidarity with Troy Davis along with those who preceded and undoubtedly will follow him.