In a world where too many people
have their fingers on the triggers
of guns aimed directly at black people,
we have borne witness, time
and time again, to executions
filmed on tiny cameras—
which allow us to see too much
which allow us to see not enough.
Judge, jury, executioner—
it’s due process in the suburbs
and the city streets, on winding
country roads and highways, sidewalks
in front of the convenience store,
where the streetlights don’t shine
in the back corner of a parking lot,
on the playground, behind the fence
in a field near your children’s school
on the street in front of your house.
This interminable spectacle
of black death playing on a loop
over and over again until
we become numb to something
that is now a permanent part
of the American memory.
How could these grainy videos
not translate into justice?
I just don’t know how to believe
change is possible
when there is so much
evidence to the contrary.
I am so out of words
in the face of such brutality.
Black lives matter, and then
in an instant, they don’t.
Arkansas, which has not conducted an execution in 12 years, at one point had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
It looks like the death penalty may be on life support.
January was set to be the deadliest month for U.S. executions in 2015, but nine of the 15 executions were stopped. In an unprecedented wave, three of the deadliest states stopped executions planned for last month — Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. February has just begun, but nine of its 12 scheduled executions have been halted.
Last year was not a good year for the death penalty, either, as death sentences hit a 40-year low and executions were at a 20-year low.
There were botched executions such as that of Clayton Lockett, who writhed in pain for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack, with the Oklahoma prison warden calling it “a bloody mess.”
Then there were the exonerations, such as that of Ricky Jackson in Ohio, who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, convicted solely on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who recanted.
The Supreme Court — the last stop for condemned prisoners such as Scott Panetti, a Texan who is mentally ill — and whose case was just stayed by an appellate court — appears increasingly wary of the death penalty.
In May, the justices blocked the execution of a Missouri murderer because his medical condition made it likely that he would suffer from a controversial lethal injection.
Later that month, the court ruled 5-4 that Florida must apply a margin of error to IQ tests, thereby making it harder for states to execute those with borderline intellectual disabilities.
In September, a tipping point on lethal injections was nearly reached when four of the nine justices sought to halt a Missouri prisoner’s execution because of the state’s use of a drug that had resulted in botched executions elsewhere.
And in October, the court stopped the execution of yet another Missouri man over concerns that his lawyers were ineffective and had missed a deadline for an appeal. The justices are deciding whether to hear that case in full.
“We cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly…We, deeming that to see a man put to death is as much the same as killing him” (Athenagoras of Athens, a Christian philosopher writing a defense of Christianity, speaking against state-sponsored killings and abortions, around 177 A.D.)
I am not sure where it originated, but somewhere someone started a rumor that if you are against the death penalty then you are soft on crime and care more about the guilty than the victim. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Through marriage, a close relative of mine was murdered. I officiated the funeral. I attempted to comfort my family. I know the pain and evil of murder. I also know the pain and evil of a justice system that freed the killer after a few short years behind bars.
As a minister, and more importantly as a follower of Jesus, I take his words about visiting prisoners seriously (Matthew 25:36). I believe in forgiveness and grace and mercy. I believe in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40). I also realize you don’t get placed on death row for being a boy scout. People do need to pay for their crimes. The more serious the crime, the more serious the penalty. But ultimately, as a follower of Jesus, I believe in reconciliation. I believe in redemption. I believe no one is outside the realm of God’s mercy and grace.
Yes, the Obama administration is going to have differences with some of the Catholic bishops. But that doesn’t mean it’s a war.
The Governor should know that if he was elected President he would have some big problems with the bishops as well.
Remember when Perry boasted about how many people had been executed in Texas? And how the crowd responded by cheering?
"Continuing a cycle of violence through state-sanctioned actions does not bring justice but only creates a culture of death and retribution. As a pro-life Christian, I believe the execution of Troy Davis shows a failure of moral leadership by both our country and the state of Georgia. The doubt surrounding the case of Troy Davis has served as a wake-up call to many in this country that our justice system is flawed and should not hold the power of life and death over any person. Justice should restore and heal, not destroy." -- Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis statement today, Friday Sept. 23
So what makes the Troy Davis case stand out from most other death penalty cases?
Not about whether the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Davis or has been correctly applied.
The doubt raised in Davis' case is whether he committed the crime at all. And those questions about his guilt have prompted hundreds of thousands of people to raise their voices in opposition to his execution, most recently former FBI Director William Sessions who, in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, called on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Davis' sentence to life in prison.
Last night, death was interrupted when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for a Texas man convicted of a double murder in Houston in 1995.
Duane Buck was set for execution by lethal injection sometime after 6 p.m., Thursday September 15 in Huntsville, Texas. His execution would have been the second this week and the 11th so far this year in Texas alone. Two more executions are scheduled for next week.
In 1998, when former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, he stated, "This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable."
Earlier this month, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, one of the founders of Torture Awareness Month, as discussed in Robin Kirk's July 2011 Sojourners article, released a video of interreligious leaders speaking against torture, as well as faith-based study guides that frame opposition to torture. Sojourners also asked Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center, to write "The Body in Pain: What do people of faith have to say about torture?" for our July issue.