22 September 2011

Observations from a sleepless night

(Author's note: There is language included in this post that I would not normally use in my writing. But sometimes you just have to drop an f-bomb. If this is an issue for you, I suggest you don't read any further.)

It is a morning of struggle for me. I am confused. I am angry. I am sad. And I am tired, because I didn't sleep last night.

The trigger for my sleeplessness was the execution of Troy Davis.

I wasn't suffering from some type of moral angst over capital punishment. I believe that in some cases, execution is an appropriate punishment. It wasn't the method of Davis' execution that kept me awake, either. If a state is going to put someone to death, I suppose lethal injection is a better method than hanging, the gas chamber, or the electric chair.

No, my insomnia last night was caused by two things: the distinct possibility that the state of Georgia killed an innocent man; and my feeling that Davis' execution is simply the latest brush stroke in a much larger picture of of how this wonderful country of ours seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.

First, the Davis case: Four days ago, I had no idea who Troy Davis was. Even now, all I know is what I've read on the Internet. I wasn't party to the original trial, nor did I follow it in the news. But there were a whole lot of questions about his conviction. And they bother me. They bothered me enough for me to stay up and write when I should have been sleeping. From what I've read, Davis' conviction was based on eyewitness testimony from nine people who allegedly saw him shoot the officer. No murder weapon was ever found that linked Davis to the killing, and there was no DNA evidence that tied him to the crime. What sent Davis to death row was the word of nine people who said he did it. According to news reports, seven of those nine people later recanted their testimony against Davis.

That seems to me to be on the shaky side as far as being enough evidence to put a man to death. But it was, despite years and years of appeals. And I have a huge qusetion regarding that appeals process: From what I have read, one appeals court required Davis' attorneys to prove his innocence while reconsidering his case. Read that again. During his appeal, the defendant was required to PROVE HIS INNOCENCE. That seems so very, very wrong to me, especially since our entire justice system is based -- supposedly -- on the accused being considered INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. And there are doubts here. Big ones.

But Davis' guilt or innocence isn't the issue here. Neither is the death penalty, as far as I am concerned. The bigger picture, as I see it, is this:


Specifically regarding the Davis case, I am certain that the Supreme Court and the state of Georgia had solid legal grounds for making their decisions not to stay the death sentence. And while the grounds may have been legal and proper, it doesn't make it right. And that is what bothers me the most.

What is "right" or "good" doesn't matter any more. It's all about money, and greed, and getting ahead, and screw anybody who thinks otherwise.

Just look at some instances from this summer:

This past week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia held that it is constitutionally legal for a state to put to death an innocent man. Seriously. In a (thankfully) minority decision in the Davis case, Scalia held that a federal court can do nothing to reverse a verdict in a state court, even when evidence comes to light that acquits the defendant, as long as the state court held a fair trial.

What that says to me is that the system, as long as it dots the i's and crosses the t's, is going to win, no matter what the actual facts of the case may be. So what if an innocent person is put to death? It's the rules, brother, and there's nothing you can do about it. Case closed.

Which brings me to the Republican candidates' debate in Florida a couple of weeks ago. When Ron Paul was asked whether (hypothetically) an uninsured medial patient should be left to die, the crowd whooped and hollered. But not in anger. In joy.

It's sickening.

There are plenty of other colors in the pallette being used to paint this nasty picture: Our political leaders no longer represent the people, preferring to protect the interests of the political action committes and corporations that fund their campaigns; the gap between the rich and poor is growing larger every day (400 families in America control more wealth than 150 million ordinary citizens); our financial system is teetering on the brink of collapse; and it goes on and on and on.

We, as individuals, just don't matter any more. Doing the right thing for your neighbor is unseemly. Ideology trumps pragmatism and finding solutions to problems. To quote "Tones of Home" from Blind Melon:

I always thought that this would be the land of milk and honey
Oh, but I come to find out that it's all hate and money
And there's a canopy of greed holding me down.

This isn't the America I grew up with. I always though we were better than this. But apparently it takes a tragedy, like the tornadoes that tore through Alabama in April, to bring us together as people. Otherwise, screw you.

So is this the kind of country we've become? A modern-day version of ancient Rome, with reality TV and fast food taking the place of bread and circuses?

It's food for thought. And it tastes so very, very bitter.

So, I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm confused. I couldn't sleep last night. And the more I think about it, the less sleep I may be getting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And all we can do about it is... go to work. Bleh.

My biggest problem with the Troy Davis situation is why on earth was that a death penalty case? I am still struggling with this. I have always thought (based on death penalty cases in the news) that that particular sentence was suggested only in the most heinous cases, where the crime was *at least* pre-meditated murder. This seemed like the result of a bar brawl. And there is a man dead, but I don't see how killing a man is going to change that. And I don't understand the bloodlust, and the frenzy.

I think we need to figure out what do we want the justice system for. Is it only to satisfy our vengeance, or is it to rehabilitate, when it can? Is it to remove evil people from polite society but still allow them to try an earn their keep? Until we answer those kinds of questions we don't have any business doling out any permanent sentences.

And we all need a dose of compassion! I remember a saying I saw as a child (attributed to some native American tribe): "O Great Spirit, grant that I might not judge another until I have walked a mile in his moccasins." How many people out there screaming for death for that man would have been screaming for leniency or delay had it been someone they knew in there? How many people's opinions would have changed if it had been a white woman instead of a black man?

And as for the direction of our country... oh, that is such a long conversation. Nastiness sells, and it is bought and eaten up every day by ignorant and impressionable minds all over. I cringe thinking about all these soulless children growing up in the midst of this awfulness, and what kind of future will they create?