I vehemently believe that there is never a reason for capital punishment. Any time we reduce the value of life by killing someone, no matter how much we think that person might "deserve" to be executed, we reduce the value of life for everyone. Of course it's true that we give murderers who wind up on death row more leeway than they gave their victims, but what's the alternative? A return to lynch mobs? And, what if we're wrong?
What if Troy Davis was actually innocent, as he proclaimed all along? Last week, when his final plea was rejected, the state of Georgia went ahead with the lethal injection that took his life. Despite the lack of physical evidence, police coercion, and recanting by seven out of nine witnesses of their original testimony, Georgia had no "reasonable doubt" upon which to grant a stay of execution. It takes a unique type of certainty to know that someone deserves to be killed, even in the face of alternate possibilities as to that person's guilt.
Where in this travesty was justice? Blindfolded, certainly. Color blind? Not at all. A black man's life is still seen as basically worthless in Georgia. And how about Texas? Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in modern history, and his constituents shout for joy. What is there to cheer about?
Why can't we ever seem to learn the truth of that old saying: An eye for eye makes everyone blind. What we do to another, we do to ourselves. Those who murder another person, whether out of jealous rage, drunken stupidity, or deliberate planning, will all reap their just rewards somewhere along their karmic path. In the meantime, we can keep them from hurting anyone else with a lifetime of lock-up, certainly punishment enough to satisfy anyone's need for revenge. We have successfully, for the most part, outlawed lynching, yet we still leave life-and-death decisions to a judge and a jury that may be committed to being "tough on crime" and prejudiced enough to order the death of a black man when they would stop to think twice about it if he were white.
We all lose when our system of justice is unjust, when politics and prejudice rule over basic humanity and our inherent oneness. That's the conclusion that a number of Supreme Court justices finally came to, as Justice Harry Blackmun said in 1994, that he would "no longer tinker with the machinery of death" because "the death penalty experiment has failed."
The death penalty has not only failed to meet any "reasonable" concept of justice, but it has also failed to make us better human beings; we will stand tall only when we abolish it.