In baseball parlance, the anti-death penalty movement has batted 500 over the past 24 hours. The Supreme Court of the United States stopped the execution of white man Cleve Foster, but the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to back man Troy Davis. The racial contrast speaks for itself.
Much has been written about perversion of justice in the Troy Davis case. Post-trial findings have put the testimony and other evidence used to convict him in grave doubt. Even Amnesty International has gotten involved in organizing support for granting clemency to Davis.
Despite this substantial new information, the prosecutors have dug in their heels and insisted that they have the right man. We can only assume that these prosecutors are not Christian and thus have not heard of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before a fall.” No one likes to be proven wrong, so it’s only human nature for prosecutors to stare past a raft of new evidence.
But the Board of Pardons is not implicated in the mistakes of the prosecutors. These five people, voting in secret, decided that the law is not the hand-maiden of justice but an end unto itself. Once the law convicts someone, we can continue to punish him or her even if we find out that the conviction was in error.
Beyond the ho-hum barbarism of seeing a man fry who is probably innocent—and I call it ho-hum because we can see it every day in war reporting from around the globe—is the idiocy of capital punishment.
There are many arguments against capital punishment, including:
- Capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime or is not as great a deterrent as putting the money spent on the capital punishment process to other uses.
- There is a racial bias to those convicted of capital crimes and those executed, created to a large degree by unequal access to legal help and a persistent streak of racism on society, especially regarding black-on-white crime.
- The huge cost to move someone convicted of a capital crime through the system, much more than curating the convicted in prison for a lifetime.
Of course, those serious proponents of capital punishment could respond by saying that the value of societal revenge is what matters, not deterrence; and that fixes to the system can drive out racism and cut the cost of the capital process by speeding it up (killing people faster!).
But one argument trumps all the others, and that is the ethical or moral one. I won’t call it religious, since so many religions condone the taking of another person’s life. As a society, we are supposed to be better than our worst elements. If we kill, we stoop to the level of the killer.
Sparing the killer’s life makes us more human and more humane than the killer, and increases the value that our society puts on human life.
Sparing the killer is an affirmation of our social contract to live in peace.
Sparing the killer tells him or her, and the world, that when we say that human life is holy we mean it.
Nobody likes pathological monsters who commit crimes heinous enough to justify our current capital punishment. Those who do it are the scum of the earth. But just as we have to protect the free speech rights of Nazis, pornographers and global warming deniers, so must we protect the lives of those who have killed others. Let them rot in jail, but let them live. Not for their sakes, but for our own.