Comprehending the Death Penalty

Do you remember the day you were able to really comprehend what the death penalty meant?  Not heard of it for the first time but the day that you realized that we, as a country, kill people and that there are people who think it’s a good idea?

It was May 31st 1996 and I was a couple weeks shy of turning nine years old.  My mother was in one of her rare good moods and we were listening to the news when there was some brief story about three men being executed in California that night.  And we still had the news on a couple hours later when it was announced that they’d been executed.

That was the minute I became firmly against the death penalty.  Those three men had been alive minutes before and now they were dead because somebody had killed them.  My eight year old mind blissfully did not enter into the realm of how they were killed; that knowledge would come later.  Instead my eight year old mind, still in that black and white world of thinking, good and evil, right and wrong.

It’s like when I learned that there were people against abortion rights, that some people who didn’t believe that everyone should be able to freely practice their own religion or that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to be married.  It’s the injustice that you don’t question the injustice of because your  4 or 7 or 10 or 24 year old mind can’t see the other side.

Tonight Troy Davis was killed.  After all the rallying and support and stays of execution and finally getting SCOTUS involved still an innocent man was killed because we live in a country where that’s something that can happen.  I don’t know why of all the unjust executions that happen in this country we chose to rally around this one.  The obvious innocence was obviously a big factor, but Davis was hardly the first to have that be the case.  Somehow, though, Davis’ case became a rallying point for those who have always been against the death penalty and those who are just now comprehending what it means that we have the death penalty to speak out against it.

Death is final in the sense that Troy Davis, as a person, will not come back to us as he was.  That life is gone.  What happens next is of little consequence as it relates to the future of the death penalty in our country.  Will the momentum from Davis’ case carry on though he is gone?  Will we keep fighting until the state sponsored murder of all people, innocent or not, stops?

These are the questions we will ponder as the grief settles and turns into drive and want for change.  Where are we going?  How will we get there?  Who will be with us?  Why has it taken so long?


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