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Mary Mapes Headshot

We Are All Eyewitnesses

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As I write this, Troy Davis is just a few hours away
from his death.

By the time you read this, he may well be gone. In just a
few weeks, I fear his case, the profound problems with it
and the wrong-headed rush to his execution will be
fast-fading memories, as well.

At least that's the way it always happens here in
Texas, where citizens like me -- like it or not -- live with
death on a regular basis.

In fact, we are killing someone tonight. We often are.

About the same time Troy Davis dies in Georgia, Lawrence
Russell Brewer will be led to the Texas death chamber, home
of the world's busiest gurney -- prayed over, poisoned and
poured into a body bag.

There is no outcry about the Brewer execution, unlike
the Troy Davis case, even from people who traditionally
oppose the death penalty. Governor Rick Perry received no
pleas for mercy on Brewer's behalf.

Jimmy Carter hasn't said a word.

There hasn't been a peep from the Pope.

The silence seems richly deserved. Brewer was convicted
in a horrifying case, the 1999 racist dragging death of
James Byrd in Jasper, Texas. I covered the trial and the
unremittingly cruel details of the crime were beyond
imagining. Byrd was killed by three yahoos simply for the
fun of it, simply because he was black, simply because they
were drunk, simply because.

Now Brewer, who is unapologetic, unsympathetic,
unblinkingly stupid, hateful and vile will be put to death
for the same reason -- simply because.

There is no way to equate these two cases and these two
men, except in the most obvious way.

Us.

We all, in the form of our flawed and illogical legal
system, have chosen to kill both of them.

And as long as we insist on killing the Brewers of the
world, we will keep screwing up and killing the Troy
Davises, the Gary Grahams, the Karla Faye Tuckers, the
Cameron Todd Willinghams and every other condemned inmate
who suffered at the hands of bad science, bad police or
prosecutors, bad eyewitness testimony, bad attorneys or bad
luck.

Our system, too often, is as fundamentally unfair as
we are -- as cruel as any one person can be, as riddled with
hypocrisy, confusion and mistakes as any other human
endeavor.

Tonight, as all eyes are on Georgia, as prayers are
delivered and hopes are dashed, we should resolve to
finally, finally do something about our addiction to
execution.

If we believe in civil rights, we should abolish the
death penalty because it invariably takes the lives of a
disproportionate number of minorities.

If we believe in helping the poor, we should abolish
the death penalty because there never have been and never
will be rich folks on death row.

If we believe in human rights, we should stop dripping
toxins into living human beings and carefully recording what
happens next.

If we care about people with crippling personal
issues, we should stop killing people who are
schizophrenics, drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally
disabled.

I was once interviewing the overworked chaplain at
Texas's death row when a naive out of state reporter asked
what the chaplain would do if "they led someone into the
death chamber and inmate was clearly mentally disabled or
mentally ill." He answered bluntly, "Well, dear, that
happens all the time."

We are once again at a new moment in the death penalty
debate when the lines are drawn so clearly that even Blind
Justice can see them.

A recent GOP debate audience cheered the number of
executions that Rick Perry, Texas governor and preening
presidential candidate, has personally overseen. Though it
should be noted, he has never bothered to witness one. He
has always had better things to do, I guess, than actually
watch the disturbing details of his version of justice
carried out.

The Tea Party audience that whooped at Perry's
world-class execution scorecard (234 that night, 236 after
tonight) never asked any questions about the cases or the
crimes -- the process or the police work, the makeup of the
jury or the system of justice that led to those
convictions.

They don't care why or how the executions happened,
only that these killings made them feel better, stronger,
braver.

They were just hooting and hollering exultantly over the
body count.

Which, of course, makes no sense. This is the same crowd
that doesn't trust government involvement in anything from
HPV vaccines to safe hamburgers. Killing people? That's
apparently another story.

Tonight, when two bodies are carried out of two death
rows, when the hearses drive past the two crowds in Georgia
and Texas -- one mourning, the other probably celebrating --
we should remember that justice is just that.

Just us.

Once again, we have all been eyewitnesses to a
questionable execution.

Isn't it time we did something about it?

Around the Web

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Troy Davis and the History of Injustice in America