By the time I write this it may be too late. Troy Davis, who may very well be an innocent man, will be killed by the state. Which is, if we truly believe in representative democracy, the same as being killed by us.
I’m sure you’ve heard various arguments, and you may have me pegged as a “bleeding heart liberal”. My life has been affected twice by murder. Firstly, a high school friend’s 21 year-old brother, who I’ll call Calvin, was killed at a party. I remember going to the trial. I remember seeing a good friend of Calvin’s give monosyllabic answers under questioning in the dock. This seemed strange until we learned later that the Mongrel Mob gang had beaten him up the night before to ensure he wasn’t too “helpful” to the prosecution. The young man who knifed Calvin and left him bleeding to death in his car was a gang prospect. Allegedly he was heard to mutter afterwards, “I’ve earned my [gang] patch now.”
The second time I was affected by murder was far worse. My sister’s best friend, at age 25 was brutally abducted, raped and murdered, and her body left to rot for 10 days before it was found. My sister still hasn’t recovered. It took 10 years before her killer was found. I have to admit, I wanted to hurt him. I do know what it feels like to feel the raging desire of revenge, and want to call it justice.
But in the end, I know it’s not just. Here in New Zealand, the last man we executed was in 1957. Our society hasn’t gone downhill since then. In fact, we have a very low murder rate compared with yours in the USA. Since that time at least one man would have been executed here in the 1970s. Arthur Allan Thomas was convicted twice of murder and spent 8 years in jail before being proven innocent and pardoned. Only two years ago here in New Zealand, David Bain, who spent many years in prison for allegedly slaughtering his whole family, was released as innocent.
Giorgio Agamben has predicted the return of homo sacer, the sacred man “who may be killed and yet not sacrificed”. He sees the concentration camp as the paradigm of modern politics, as we increasingly strip our citizens of all humanity and leave them as “naked life”. Maybe he’s right. We are outraged when (say) Saudi Arabia cuts people’s hands off or executes them by stoning. But really, what is the difference? Making someone wait for 10 years of appeals with the threat of death hanging over them is akin to torture. And the actual execution process is not a lot better either – see the death by lethal injection scene in “Dead Man Walking”.
There are hideous crimes, and people who should probably be never released from prison. But I know from various angry attempts at revenge in my own life that killing them, in the end, makes me just as brutalising. And if it’s our state that’s doing it, then we are complicit. Isn’t it time for us to grow up?
Consider supporting the Amnesty International USA Abolish the Death Penalty campaign.
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Rage Against The Machine | Killing In The Name Of