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I Am Troy Davis

Warning: The following post is about an adult theme and contains strong language. You have been warned.

For a little while now I’ve been reading the blog of The Custody Sgt. On Thursday he blogged about the execution of Troy Davis, and about the death penalty in general. I was going to post the following as a comment on his blog, but I realised that, actually, it’s a blog post in itself. So here’s what I have to say:

I am not a religious person[1] but I like to think that, at the very least, my morals are intact. So while I don’t know of anyone who’s come back from the dead, I do agree with everything else in his post.

(Actually, that’s not true, the Renault 5 was always guilty.) 😉

I understand the “one of our own” thinking. In a job like policing, your colleagues become much, much closer than in other jobs. You literally depend on each other and when one gets killed it’s like someone has murdered a member of your family. That said, I applaud The Custody Sgt for thinking his way out of that (which wasn’t supposed to sound as patronising as it does!).

The thing is, killing is wrong! It doesn’t matter who does it, or for what cause. (I understand that, in certain circumstances — such as military conflict — it’s deemed necessary. I still don’t claim that it’s right, though.) The death penalty suffers from the fundamental issue of its finality.

A Facebook friend of mine recently opened this topic up for discussion. I was quite surprised at the number of people who were for the re-introduction of the death penalty in the UK. Their main arguments were:

1. it would serve as an active deterrent — if you kill then expect to be killed,

2. it would only be applied in cases where we were absolutely certain that the person being executed was guilty and

3. if you were the family of the victim, you’d want justice to be done.

So, let’s take each of those points…

1. It would serve as an active deterrent.

Would it? Really? I’m not a criminal psychologist, but I think I’m pretty safe in suggesting that people who kill other people aren’t really thinking about their long-term plans. I’m fairly sure they’re not thinking, “if I kill this dude I’ll probably only get 10-15 and actually be out after 7.” My money’s on them thinking something closer to, “AAAARGH, FUCKING CUNT! MUST KILL!” Or they might be thinking, “ooh, kill the kid. How does that feel?” My point, just in case you didn’t get it already, is that the people who kill other people don’t tend to be particularly rational, and even if they are they’re not overly concerned about the outcome.

For an example, look at the US. They have the death penalty in 37 states and yet the instance of homicide, per capita, is higher than in the UK. So evidently, as a deterrent, it doesn’t work. This is compounded by point 2.

2. It would only be applied in cases where we were absolutely certain that the person being executed was guilty.

For a start, that’s simply not a statement that can be backed up. Who are “we”? In the recent Troy Davis case, “we” were the juries at the several trials he went through. “We” were the supreme court. And yet “we” sentenced him to death because, according to Twitter at least (if I find a more reliable source I’ll update this post), “the case has gone on for too long.” Was there 100% proof that he was guilty? No. Could “we” be absolutely certain that he was guilty? No.

“But of course, that wouldn’t happen over here.” Why not? You might not have made that decision, but you won’t be making them here, either. I think this tweet, from @Claire_Phipps, says it all:

“Still trying to decipher Priti Patel’s view that death penalty works as deterrent for innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit”

3. If you were the family of the victim, you’d want justice to be done.

Yes, I would…I absolutely would…I’d be baying for blood! That’s why you won’t find me on the jury. Fortunately we have a justice system where the people responsible for ascertaining guilt and for doling out punishment are not the family of the victim. By being a member of the victim’s family you are automatically put into a biased position.

The whole thing is a crock of shit. In killing Troy Davis, what have we achieved? We might, maybe, have killed a murderer. We’re not sure that we have, though. Even if we had, what’s changed? He was already in prison. The only thing we’ve achieved is the regression of society. With a bit of luck, we’ll come out the other end with a bit more realisation and understanding, though sadly I doubt it. And what of the executor? Surely (s)he is guilty of first degree murder? Of course not, because “the government” (which, I might add, is nothing more than a collection of people) said it’s ok.

So there we go. That’s my opinion. It’s meandering…lacking in any sort of direction, but it has a point. It has a goal, a destination.

You’re welcome, of course, to disagree with what I’ve written here. After all, it’s only my opinion. I think you’ll find I’m right, though. 😉

[1] I’m not a particularly religious person, but I do share some opinions with different religions. I’ll blog about one in particular at a later date.

September 24th, 2011 at 8:18 am

Firstly how do you know it does not deter? Maybe people are alive that would otherwise be dead? The death penalty as a final punishment by the state should alway be an option where a murder on the 1st degree has been committed. The ones you describe are committed in the heat of the moment or when something like an argument got out of hand. The are 2nd degree murders and imprisonment is a suitable choice of sentence.

DNA is now such strong evidence as to allow the removal of any ambiguity. For years I heard how Hannraty was innocent. DNA proved otherwise. The reason the USA has a higher murder rate than the UK is an easy answer. Guns. Millions and millions of guns. The right to bear arms and the gun lobby keep the streets unsafe. Cross the border into Canada but still in North America and watch the murder rate fall. No guns less murders. Simples. Families or the victims that remain should be allowed closure or clemency if that is their wish but the default should be an eye for an eye. Do you think the family of Milly Dowler want to read what the killer of their daughter is doing in 4 or 5 years time. Or the victims of Petet Sutcliffe want to hear year after year about another appeal by him to secure his release because his Hunan right have been infringed? No exicute them burn them job done.

September 24th, 2011 at 10:51 am

Thanks for commenting, though I have to disagree (of course).

“Firstly how do you know it does not deter? Maybe people are alive that would otherwise be dead?”

A very good point. My comparison of the UK vs the US doesn’t allow for other factors, such as gun prevalence, and you’re right that there may be cases out there where someone has been deterred from killing someone else because of the death penalty. However, there’s no evidence (either way) to suggest that life imprisonment wouldn’t have offered the same deterrent in those cases. All we can do is speculate on that one.

Your comparison of Canada to the US doesn’t seem to be any different to my comparison with the UK, though. Much like the UK, Canada also doesn’t have the death penalty and, just like the UK, their gun prevalence is low. What am I missing?

DNA is very strong evidence…that someone was somewhere at some time. Of course, if you find someone’s DNA on a murder weapon then that does become very strong evidence of their guilt, but I’m still not convinced that knowing they’re guilty justifies killing them.

You cite Hannraty as being a false-negative case, but what about false positives? As I already said in my post, the problem with the death penalty is its finality. You can’t later come back and say, “oops, sorry, got that wrong.”

I’m sure the families of the victims don’t want to hear about what the murderers are up to, but all you’ve done there is make the third argument in my list. They, I’m sure, would like to see the person responsible killed. I’m sure I would too. Wanting it to happen, though, doesn’t mean that it should happen any more than the murderer wanting to kill meant that (s)he should kill.

As for closure, also known as making a few people slightly more comfortable with an unchangeable situation, I’m not sure that’s reason enough for killing someone, either.

shan williams
September 24th, 2011 at 8:40 am

I agree with practically everything you write, the death penalty is neither a deterrent nor a punishment. It is revenge pure and simple. An eye for an eye!

I’ve always wondered what kind of a person applies for the job of chief executioner? What mindset chooses causing the death of another as their career? Are we enabling fledgling serial killers with our need for revenge?

Most murders are hotblooded reactionary crimes, crimes of passion crimes of hate. Inexcusable but in some cases regretfully understandable. How can we, who are uninvolved, unaffected personally claim to hold the moral high ground if we are happy for someone to be killed in cold blood just because someone told us it’s what should happen?

Those who are convicted of murder should never walk the streets again. I’m no bleeding heart liberal but I cannot understand those that do not see the irony of condoning murder to punish murder…


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