The second execution | Bleader

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The second execution

Posted By on 09.22.11 at 10:49 AM

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  • John S. Quarterman
A coincidence: Troy Davis, the black man whose execution by the state of Georgia drew widespread condemnation on the basis of the tenuous evidence behind it, was executed on the same night as Lawrence Brewer, whose own capital case provoked little sympathy. He was one of the men convicted of dragging James Byrd to death behind a pickup truck in 1998. Many of Davis's sympathizers were death-penalty abolitionists—indeed, his execution was pointed to as evidence, as if any more were needed, of the vile and capricious nature of the capital system. Situations like Davis's are easier to make a case against the death penalty with; Brewer's, less so. Greg Mitchell writes on the Nation's website:

There is the matter of the brutality of the crime. Not only was it racist in origin but evidence suggests Byrd was alive for most of the ordeal, losing body parts as he was dragged and ultimately decapitated. Then there is the fact that Brewer (and at least one of his colleagues, also on death row) was a white supremacist.

Also: he is unrepentant. In July, in his only interview with the media since the arrest thirteen years ago, he told a Texas TV reporter: “I have no regrets. I’d do it all over again to tell you the truth.”

Some commentators, like Slate's Dalia Lithwick, wonder if the Davis case is the beginning of the end of the American death penalty—if such cases engender too much doubt, as they finally did in Illinois, for the system to continue ("too much doubt" was a phrase used by pro-Davis activists). This is a good point, but I wonder about its inverse: if the death penalty were perfectable, if it could be shown to work in a way that it clearly doesn't now, would support for its abolition continue? Though such optimization is a long way off—if it's even possible—cases like Brewer's present a much harder moral challenge to opponents by virtue of the sheer repugnance of the crime.

"It will be interesting to see how many of those who protest the Troy Davis execution will also raise their voices against the state murder of the horrid racist killer Lawrence Brewer," Greg Mitchell wonders—but to a certain extent he answers his own question when he quotes a last-minute plea on behalf of Troy Davis by the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which also noted the case of Lawrence Brewer. "Please join NCADP in opposing the executions of both men," the statement read. "We stand against all executions without reservation.”

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