Last night, the state of Alabama executed Torey Twane McNabb. After McNabb refused a last meal and was strapped to the gurney, he was asked if he had any last words. After comforting his family, who witnessed the execution, McNabb raised both hands and gave the middle finger. “To the State of Alabama,” he said, “I hate you motherfuckers. I hate you.” His execution took 35 minutes. He appeared to be breathing for the first 20 minutes.
McNabb was convicted of the murder of a police officer in Montgomery in 1997. The officer, Cpl. Anderson Gordon III, was shot at least four times as he approached McNabb in his cruiser.
McNabb was being pursued by a bail bondsman after he failed to show up in court twice for possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property. On Sept. 24, 1997, the bail bondsman followed McNabb to his grandmother’s house, where he was sitting outside in his parked car. McNabb, high on cocaine, panicked when he saw the bail bondsman. The bondsman, Sanford Sharpe, attempted to pull his truck in front of McNabb’s vehicle to block him. McNabb sped away, running a stop sign and striking another vehicle.
Sharpe then approached the accident on foot, and McNabb got out of his vehicle, pulled out a gun, and began shooting at Sharpe, who sped away from the scene and called 911. When he returned to the scene of the accident, he parked next to a police patrol car and saw that the responding officer — Cpl. Gordon — had been shot multiple times.
At his trial, McNabb expressed deep remorse for the shooting, apologizing to Gordon’s family. He testified that in his cocaine-induced paranoia, he acted recklessly and uncharacteristically. Gordon’s murder, like all murders, was tragic and unnecessary. He was a beloved member of the community ― a father, a brother, a mentor, a friend.
But there was a second murder that was tragic and unnecessary — McNabb’s. What if he had been treated the way that the (overwhelmingly white) opiate addicts increasingly are in 2017, with acknowledgement that addiction is a disease? What if he had been offered treatment, instead of having to run from a bail bondsman who was hunting him down in order to force him to pay money he didn’t have? (Remember that Walter Scott, who was shot in the back as he was running from police in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, was running because he had court debts that he could not pay.) What if we, as a society, placed an emphasis on redemption and forgiveness ― on asking what went wrong instead of allowing the state to murder a man for the worst mistake he ever made?
Last night was filled with hate and anger. A desire for vengeance led the state to approve murdering one of its own citizens, and years of horrific treatment on death row led the condemned man to make sure that his last words were ones of anger directed at the state. Every execution diminishes our collective humanity and takes us further from a peaceful, civilized society.
Vengeance can never light the way for the healing that both victims and perpetrators need in the wake of heinous acts of violence. In the words of Dr. King: “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.”
A heinous act is not redeemed by a heinous act of revenge.
The family of Cpl. Gordon released a statement last night. While “the wounds of having a family member murdered can never be healed,” they wrote, they were “strong, and will continue to be resilient.” Lastly, they added this: “Though this has been a difficult day for the Gordon family, we would also like to pray for the family of Torrey McNabb.”