I Am Troy Davis, and so Are You...

My son and I watched  The Green Mile  the other night. You may know the story: An African-American man is falsely accused of murder, and, despite their conviction that he is innocent; his jailers are required to execute him. You see, he was given the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit.

After the movie ended, my son shook his head and said, “That just isn’t right.”

No. It’s not. But that is just what may have happened this week in Atlanta when  Troy Davis  was put to death after being convicted of murdering a police officer in 1989. When my son asks me about it, and he will, how do I tell him injustice doesn’t only happen in the movies, that truth often resembles fiction, and sometimes it is?
According to the Innocence Project, the case against Troy Davis consisted entirely of witness testimony that contained inconsistencies, even at the time of the trial. Many of the original witnesses have since stated they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Davis. I wonder what his executioners were thinking in the last moments of Troy Davis life. Perhaps they didn’t doubt his guilt, but I do.

For me, the tragedy and turmoil of his state-sanctioned killing is a reflection of the deep flaws in United States capital punishment system.

But, as people would say, violent criminals are still out there, and they need to be punished. Perhaps, if we could be sure of the criminal's guilt, one could argue there are certain instances in which the death penalty is merited. But can we ever be fully sure?
Unlike the case against Troy Davis, we don’t rely on the questionable testimony of coerced witness these days. We have DNA. Sadly, as we look to DNA to match a violent criminal with a violent crime, we must remember that even this latest of solutions is riddled with problems.

We have someone we think is guilty and we ignore the evidence that might reveal another narrative, one not so neatly solved. And, as any lover of  TheWire  knows, solving cases is critical for police departments and for the careers of police officials. The crime lab scandal in San Francisco shows us that just as eye-witness testimony can be flawed, so can DNA testing. In other words, we simply can’t be sure.

As I kiss my children in bed at night, I try to ignore the horrors that swirl outside our front door: kidnapping, rape, murder. I know they exist; the headlines remind me every day. I choose not to imagine how I might feel if someone, anyone, hurt my beloveds. Perhaps an eye for an eye would be a welcome relief to something so necessarily unimaginable. I don’t know what is right, but I do know what is wrong.

Killing a man who just might be innocent is wrong.

If there was a fool-proof solution, an iron-clad answer, a truth so crystalline nothing murky could mar its clarity, then and maybe only then, an eye for an eye could be justified. But this issue is as gray as the fog that hangs over Our Fair City these recent mornings. I don’t have an answer for my children. Do you?



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