Righteous Indignation or Holy Hypocrisy?: Troy Davis and the Death Penalty

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, at 11:08 pm EDT, the world watched as Troy Davis, a man convicted of killing a police officer, was executed by the state of Georgia. Enough has been said and written  about the facts (or lack thereof) in his case. I won’t make a feeble attempt to rehash them in this space. I do, however, wish to address the overwhelming support for the now deceased Mr. Davis. People from all around the world – from the Pope to the street-level pusher – voiced their opinions, and we witnessed an unprecedented display of support in an effort to save Troy Davis’ life.

These efforts reawakened the spirit of social justice and highlighted the overwhelming need to address the inequities that exist within the American “justice” system. However, while we race (pun intended) to address the inequities in our SYSTEM, we must also address the inconsistencies within ourSELVES.

Many in the media and on social networks used the Troy Davis travesty as a referendum against the death penalty. This was especially true in the African-American community. This is certainly understandable because blacks are those most disproportionately affected by the abuses in the system.

However, while I witnessed many African-American leaders, in their support of Troy Davis, speak out against the death penalty itself, I did not hear such clarion calls for clemency for Lawrence Russell Brewer – the self-proclaimed white supremacist convicted of the hate killing of James Byrd, Jr. in Texas. Mr. Brewer was executed by the state of Texas on the same day that Mr. Davis was executed in Georgia.

If we are truly against the death penalty, shouldn’t there have been an outcry to spare Mr. Brewer’s life as well? Or is it that we are only against the death penalty when it’s “one of us” on death row? Whatever your personal position about the death penalty, it is important that we show consistency in our convictions….Otherwise, our cries for justice will ring hollow.

  1. April Lashon says:

    Well said! I am NOT in favor of the Death Penalty at all, it bugs me that people feel they can be selective when it comes to who should receive it and who shouldn’t!

  2. Very True. There has to be balance. If they are against it, then they should be against it, no matter what.

  3. I’m gonna go waaaaay out on a limb here and say that most African-Americans are only against most things when those things endager life/quality of life for “one of us”. Pick a side and stick to it!

  4. Trev Hamm says:

    Thanks for your post! I agree that those of us who are against the death penalty, should be against it in all cases, but I think the disparity in the outcry is a little more complex than simply race.

    If it were simply about race, there would be a tremendous outcry in the black community every time a black man is executed–that’s not the case. Troy Davis’ case mainly gained traction because people felt that the evidence was insufficient. Mr. Davis always maintained his innocence. In Mr. Brewer’s case, there was solid evidence and no remorse. Just on a human level, it’s easier to feel for Mr. Davis than Mr. Brewer.

    The people you mention may have felt the circumstances surrounding Mr. Davis’ execution could be used as a perfect example to highlight the problems with the death penalty to those who are in favor of it. While Mr. Brewer’s case would be harder to gain the empathy or understanding of death penalty proponents.

    I also think you have to remember that people are opposed to the death penalty for different reasons. Not everyone is opposed on purely moral grounds. Some are against it because they don’t believe in the taking of another’s life. But others oppose it because of the disproportionate way it’s applied or because we can’t be 100% sure the right person is convicted. The people who fall into the latter categories helped to amplify the outcry you heard as well.

    I think race exacerbated the feelings black people had about the legal injustice suffered by Troy Davis, and dulled any feelings of sympathy for Mr. Brewer, but I don’t think it was the only factor.

    Thanks again.

  5. Great thoughts on your blog. NCADP.org has affiliations in almost every state that take the role of petitioning the courts for a stay of execution on those who have been issued a date of execution. I have ALWAYS been against the death penalty; however, I have not been active in my role in advocating. The Troy Davis case awakened my eyes and now I am more than committed in doing my part in petitioning for those lives at stake. The heinous criminal act that one is accused of does not mean that we should take matters into our own flawed hands and subject them to death.

  6. andrea says:

    It sad when you don’t know if this man was guilty beyond doubt but yet he was exucuted. Sad.

  7. Tim O. HIcks says:

    While I fully understand your point regarding hypocrisy, I don’t agree one deaf penalty case is the same as another. It is clear we have three different issues; namely, (1) Systemic failures in rendering death penalty cases as well as a host of other issues, (2) Troy Anthony Davis’ guilt or innocence, and (3) Lawrence Russell Brewer’s execution in the context of Texas Law. “Righteous Indignation” on the other hand is a oxymoron and as misunderstood in biblical scripture as lumping the two very different executions under one subject. In fact, it is not deaf by execution is not on trial here rather the inconsistent treatment of evidence, interpretation of federal and state law, and overt ignorance in the manner our system of justice handles such cases. There are no laws otherwise governing hypocrisy.

  8. […] This blog post actually started as a series of tweets regarding the sheer injustice of the Trayvon Martin saga. However, I quickly realized that 140 characters were not nearly sufficient to capture the depth of feelings I have for this case. I have not been filled with such righteous indignation since the execution of Troy Davis. […]

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