The other day, Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Georgia. I think a couple of people got together and decided to protest or something. In any case, you may have heard about it.
My friend, former Odessa American reporter Jim Mustian, covered the story for his job at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer because the victim Davis was killed for, police officer Mark MacPhail, was a native of Columbus, Ga.
Jim was one of the handful of reporters allowed to be present for and view the execution of Davis, and we were talking about it ahead of time.
We disagree on whether making executions truly public events would make them more or less popular. He tends to believe in people’s better natures in all things and thinks most would not want to watch. I am more cynical. The phrase “public execution” conjures images of men in NASCAR caps with open beers for me.
Jim may be right, but only because lethal injection is so anticlimactic and surreal a way to kill someone. Who knows when the moment from Being to Not Being even takes place?
My support for the death penalty is iffy, at best, but if we have got to have it, I’d really rather we chop people’s head off than anything. Putting aside talk of how long a brain stays conscious disconnected from the body’s rest, it’s pretty obvious when collective We the State are killing someone. It’s sort of a naked act then, like eating with your mouth open.
Support for the death penalty might decline as jurors had to imagine a convicted murderer’s decapitated head floating above them in the courtroom, but not necessarily. And I am fairly certain someone in Vegas would offer bets related to the actual execution (“over/under 2.5 bounces”).
Whereas I suppose Jim thinks most people support the death penalty in principle but would hesitate in practice, I find myself feeling just the opposite. In general, it’s pretty obviously a barbaric and outdated practice, and looking around the world at the countries that still do it, it’s just not a club you want to be in.
Comparing the U.S. to other Western countries without the death penalty we’re more violent, as states with the death penalty tend to have higher crime rates than those without. It may not be causal, but death certainly is not a deterrent.
And throughout the years we’ve certainly executed some innocent people due to malice or incompetence, because we’ve demonstrably falsely convicted people for essentially everything else.
It’s hard to feel sorry for many of them, though. Davis shot someone in the face who lived and beat up a homeless guy prior to killing or not killing an off-duty cop. Lawrence Brewer, who helped drag to death James Byrd Jr. behind a pickup, was executed the same night, openly unrepentant. Duane Buck will likely still get the needle for shooting Buck’s ex-girlfriend and another man, although he probably should get another chance at sentencing. It’s tough to cry for him even if he doesn’t, though.
The only person you ought to feel sorry for is Cameron Todd Willingham, who in retrospect seems as much a victim of faulty arson investigating and overzealous prosecution as his children were of an accidental fire. But that won’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for state execution, especially not in Texas, good Christians that we are.
We can’t always bless those who curse us or love our enemies, but we are pretty good at letting someone be executed for the sins of others.