Thursday, September 22, 2011

Love one another

I woke up this morning with the words "love one another" going through my head. I was riveted last night by DemocracyNow's coverage of Troy Davis. And I'm grateful my takeaway from the tension and disappointment is "love one another." From some of the comments I've seen on Twitter and Facebook, it could be much worse.

One comment I ran across last night basically said the death penalty isn't a fence-sitting issue. You're either in favor of it or you aren't. It can't be okay to oppose it under one circumstance, as so many had for Mr. Davis in Georgia, but not in another, as so many of the same people had for Mr. Brewer in Texas. (Notably, Mr. Brewer's victim's son is opposed to the death penalty, even for his father's murderer, in one of the most horrible hate crimes on record.)

My work as a volunteer in a minimum-security federal prison doesn't give me much insight into the death penalty. (It has, after all, been called "Camp Cupcake.") What it does give me, however, is a deeper understanding of the United States' flawed justice system. Bad laws incarcerate far too many of our citizens. Bad sentencing laws keep those men and women in prisons far too long. And our own attitudes about former felons keep them "less than," unable to find meaningful work or even to be welcomed back into the society they so desperately want to belong to. A prison sentence follows you the rest of your life, on job and school applications, on rental agreements, on so much more. Many felons aren't allowed to every vote again, although that is changing.

The basic, fundamental belief that one's guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt was tossed aside in Troy Davis's case. He may have been guilty. I wasn't there when the shooting took place. Nine eye witnesses were, seven of whom have since recanted their testimony. At least one juror has said if she had known then what she now knows, she would not have found him guilty.

Mr. Davis had three stays of execution in his 22 years of incarceration. The Supreme Court of the United States couldn't manage another one which ultimately relieved Georgia of the responsibility of keeping this man alive. But 22 years on death row? Seriously? There was no reasonable doubt after 22 years and multiple stays of execution?

What I keep thinking about (and my work at the prison does give me some insight about this) is that this was a case of a black man in a southern state who killed a white off-duty police officer. He probably didn't get the best legal representation. He certainly was guilty in the eyes of society before he ever entered a courtroom. He had millions of supporters around the world, from ordinary citizens to former Presidents to the Pope.

And the other thing I keep thinking about is … love one another.

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