Monday, July 16, 2007

Troy Anthony Davis: the Death Penalty

I had heard only passingly of the plight of Troy Anthony Davis before reading the article about his impending execution in the state of Georgia, now scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday. I hope that you’ll join me in adding your name to this petition to spare his life.

It’s not only as a believer in the Buddhist teaching that no one has the right to take a life that I oppose the death penalty. I also believe that the law is inequitably administered, that the poor and otherwise disadvantaged are far more likely to be “legally” terminated than the wealthy, and blacks far more likely than whites. I believe our police and trial system to be fallible, and that even eye-witnesses are known to be in error about what they believe they have seen. I believe, indeed, that every one of us humans is fallible, susceptible to base, irrational prejudices and emotional responses. And lastly, I can believe in no punishment from which there is no possible reprieve. It's particularly egregious that the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia rejected Davis's final appeal on the basis of a legal technicality.

I know little about Troy Anthony Davis besides what I have now read on the website devoted to his cause, but no human being should be “put to death”, especially on the basis of clearly unreliable and subsequently recanted evidence. An arbitrary and unresponsive legal system has clearly failed this man, who has now been held in jail for seventeen years. It would leave yet another terrible—and regrettably well-deserved--stain on the international reputation of this country were the state of Georgia to carry through with its thus far implacable intention to take his life in the name of justice.

Please hit the comment button below to let me know if you agree with me on the subject of the death penalty. And, if you do, please join me in registering some signal of your outrage at the petition site.


Mark said...

Here's an honest question to which I don't know the answer:
What should we do with the Ted Bundys, the D.C. Snipers, the Charles Mansons? Do we let them rot in prison simply because we don't believe in death? In such a case, just because we're not taking their actual lives, are we not still, in some form, killing them?

Just some food for thought. Hopefully the petition saves one man from injustice.

PeterAtLarge said...

No, I don't think we're "killing them" by "letting them rot in jail"--though I even believe we should treat them humanely there. For our own sake. There's a huge life between imprisoning and taking a life. The former is society's justifiable self-protection. My objection to capital punishment is that it does violence not only to the (usually, not always!) guilty party, but also to society itself. I myself don't agonize over distinctions between bad killers, worse killers, and the worst. That's their karma. But we also have a collective soul, as a society. We need to honor that.

PeterAtLarge said...

I mean, of course, "there's a huge difference..."

Mark said...

That makes solid sense. We talked a lot in my ethics course about "how to win." If, in the course of trying to achieve victory, we sink to the level of the opponent, we still lose. In this case, if we kill to punish a killer, how much better are we?

So I guess not only do we have work to do with the justice system, but we also have a long way to go with the prison system itself. I don't think it's quite humane. I also think it perpetuates criminal behavior instead of rehabilitation criminals.

So many problems in our society....
It's daunting sometimes.

liberata said...

Hi Peter,

Actually, I think we sent a petition on Davis' behalf at one of our Amnesty International meetings. One of our members is a death penalty specialist, and he always brings one or more petitions for someone on death row, not necessarily someone that AI has picked up on. However, I'll sign this online petition just in case.

Petitioning for death row prisoners at least has a chance of succeeding... at least a better chance than the petitions for Guantánamo prisoners.

Mark -- I do not believe that the state should be taking anyone's life. At best, it's retributive justice (as opposed to restorative justice), at worst, it's revenge and --worse yet-- execution of the innocent when the verdict turns out to be mistaken.

That said, the state has a responsibility to keep dangerous persons away from innocent people.Persons who are a danger to the public will have to be kept in prison. However, I believe they should be gainfully occupied and even be able to earn minimum wage. Just having them stare into space or at the boob tube helps neither them nor society.

Howling Latina said...

I sure as the dickens wouldn't mind signing the petition but it asks too much information for my taste.

Like my age, address and so on.

What's next, my social security number..?

I have written several posts on the subject and am hard-core abolitionist. But that petition thing seems like some sort of scam to obtain addresses and e-mails from some data mining company.

As to responding to Mark's honest question that is more like a Bushie red herring about an imminent horrific terrorist attack that only one man can avert by giving the government information and thus must be tortured, I say "baloney."

If executing citizens were only reserved for the worst of the worst, I still wouldn't agree on principle, since I don't believe in killing -- whether by a criminal or the state -- but at least it would preclude a lot of folks ambitious prosecutors elect to exact the ultimate punishment --whether the convicted man/woman truly represents the worst.

To illustrate, there is a young man sitting on Death Row in Virginia for ordering the execution of a drug lord. The man who actually did the killing, well, he got 38 years for ratting him out.

In the same state, a young lass had her world renowned papa killed. She got 38 years.

In other words, DON'T for one minute believe that the people on Death Row represent the people who committed the most heinous crimes. It's based on geographic roulette and the proclivities and political ambitions of the prosecutors.

Hell, even the case of Troy Anthony Davis is in the hands of a would-be pol.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is headed by Chairman Garland R. Hunt who just this week announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to the state House in his district. A moderate Democrat currently represents the district.

Yep, America, thte land of milk and honey.

PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you on The Buddha Diaries! Thanks for the comment--and I do understand your concern. I believe those questions have to do with establishing the bona fides of the signer, but I'm not sure that it's a legal necessity. It would be interesting to find out. Anyway, the best of everything to you, Howling Latina. Cheers, PaL

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing..

Yes, no one should kill another person, especially for the wrong cause..

mangadezi-jr said...

shoot...i work for the Dept. of Incarcerations where i live. I don't believe in the death penalty at all.
i don't care who you are-- you're still a human being, even if you didn't act as such to other human beings...
i know others feel otherwise, but i don't think that killing, other than in self-defense, is ever justified...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for trying to bpart of the solution.
Please additionally contact
Governor Sonny perdue at
and urge:
- that the pending execution of Troy Anthony Davis be stayed
- that clemency be granted
- that the sentence of Troy Anthony davis be commuted to a humane alternative.

Please feel free to replicate a message which can be posted on answering machines and which is currently accessible at (562)864-8957.

In peace.

Cardozo said...

I want to get back to Mark's question, which I think is a good one.

I think that a life in prison is, in truth, a form of death. At least, prison as we know it. Which brings us to the main point. As long as prisons are geared primarily toward punishment, rather than healing, there will be no efficient or ethical solution to the problem of what to do with those who kill.

martie said...

I found your blog by accident tonight, but am glad that I did. As a fellow Buddhist I wholeheartedly agree with you. Collective karma goes straight down the drain when as a society we judge one life over another. Yes, people should be sent to prison if they break the law, but lately I feel the "justice" system in our fine country has become more about retribution and less about rehabilitation. Which is a damn shame. I think that if we can turn to the latter (perhaps investing a bit more money in that area at first) we would see recidivism and crime rates drop which would save lives and money in the future.

khengsiong said...

I am thinking: Is death penalty more effective than life imprisonment in stopping crime?

We want to stop convicts from repeating their crimes. If they are sentenced to life imprisonment, I suppose, under 'ideal condition', we have already achieved our objective. Capital punishment becomes superfluous.(Non-ideal condition is they escape from jail.)

On the other hand, if a person has the intention to commit crime, will he/she think twice because of death penalty? I am no psychologist so I can't comment.

Still, I prefer to have death penalty abolished...

They call him James Ure said...

I too am an opponent of the death penalty. You and others Peter have discussed most of the main points here but I'd like to add one maybe not thought about in these discussions.

That is the plight of those who have to administer the capital punishment. I saw a show once that followed these folks and they almost to a one all quit sooner of later because of nightmares and other psychological problems including PTSD.

My views on the death penalty were bolstered upon taking a class at university called simply, "The Death Penalty." I firmly believe that all students should have to take this course as part of the general education requirements.

I just think that we have to look at both sides before making a decision. Too many of us make this decision on the clouding emotion of anger.

Richard said...

I have to say Peter, I do oppose the death penalty totally. What the people in the UK who are calling to have it reinstated forget is why we stopped having the death penalty; we kept killing the wrong people.

It's very hard to pardon a corpse.

Liberata - I agree criminals should be incarcerated, but gainfully employed. Not so sure about them earning a wage though, after all, they're already getting bed and board.

Anyone who believes in the Death Penalty as a deterrent should read a book called Freakonomics. The data really doesn't bear that view out. I'll quote the conclusion on the Death Penalty FYI, though I found the whole book a worthwhile if sometimes unsettling read.

"It is extremely unlikely, therefore, that the death penalty, as currently practised in the United States, exerts any real influence on crime rates. Even many of it's onetime supporters have come to this conclusion. "I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed," said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun in 1994, nearly twenty years after he had voted for its reinstatement. "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." "