Troy Davis died at 11:08 p.m. EST Wednesday night. Ten minutes earlier, he entered a room built for him to die in. He was on death row for 22 years. He was convicted of murdering a police officer. There was no material evidence, only eyewitness testimony. The testimony that convicted him has since been recanted. He was prepared to die in 2007. He was hours from execution when Georgia’s state parole board granted him a stay, saying that the doubts about his guilt must be cleared before any execution could proceed. In the intervening years, the parole board has changed. Only the doubts remain.
I wrote this first paragraph when I learned about his death, just minutes after it happened. There’s really not much more to say. I also wrote an op-ed about Davis’s case for TSL in 2008, the second time that the state spared his life just hours before he was scheduled to die. Many other people wrote about his case before that, and many more wrote afterwards. I’m not sure what another op-ed can do, now that he’s gone. They seem irrelevant now, like they should be locked up in an archive in the basement of some library—preserved for posterity but insulated from us, so we don’t have to deal with the grisly and absolute resolution of this saga.
This was not just an execution of one man. It was an execution of the hope that all of us had when we wrote op-eds and signed petitions and went to vigils—the hope that our government, “we the people”, would do everything in its power to not kill an innocent man. We now know that’s not the case. Our objections have been rebuked, our petitions denied. Only the doubts remain.
Less than two weeks ago, we are told, the nation mourned the deaths of the thousands that died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Since 1976, about half that many Americans have been killed by state-sponsored executions. The nation, I’m guessing, has never mourned those deaths because those people deserved to die. They had it coming, beyond a reasonable doubt. In that same time frame, however, more than 100 convicted prisoners have been released from death row after the revelation of their innocence.
We are told that this is a nation that believes in the sanctity of life – at least for those who are deemed worthy of it. The other group, presumably, includes enemies of the state, internal and external. And it’s looking more and more like that group includes foreign civilians as well. Just one example: Among the massive casualties of the War on Terror are more than 385 Pakistani civilians—and more than 168 children—killed by our government’s aerial strike campaign. It seems that war is a zero-sum game, at home and abroad. With these unmanned drones we preserve the lives of our soldiers, but at the cost of the lives of others. And no execution can bring back the life of a slain police officer. Presumably the state has its reasons for its killings. It has chosen its targets, and now that they’re gone God only knows whether they deserved it or not. Only the doubts—and the death chambers, and the drones, and the families of the dead—remain.