Thursday, September 22, 2011

On the state sanctioned killing of two men, one white one black on the same day in America the land of justice and freedom


Troy Davis was killed by lethal injection yesterday in Georgia for possibly having been the murderer of a white police officer in 1989. Yesterday, white supremacist gang member Lawrence Russel Brewer was also killed by lethal injection in Texas for tying up James Bryd Jr., a black man, to the back of his pick- up truck and pulling him along a rough asphalt dirt road until he resembled road kill. Incidentally the officer who found his tattered remains thought he was road kill until he realized he was a decapitated, mashed up, human being.

The differences between the two cases are glaring: In the case of Troy Davis, he has over the last twenty years pleaded his innocence and asked that a fresh investigation be launched. In the absence of the murder weapon (a gun), no finger prints and no DNA evidence, the case rested purely on the testimony of eye witnesses, 7 of whom have recanted all or part of their story.

In the case of Brewer, he and the other men involved in the case were picked up and the blood of Byrd were found on all of them. He has also never ever denied that he killed Byrd.

Byrd had no final words to say to anyone, while Troy Davis told the family of the slain officer that he was sorry for their loss but he had not killed officer McPhail. He also asked his family to keep searching for the truth and he forgave those who were about to kill him and asked God to forgive them too.

I am tempted to dwell on what I perceive to be a gross miscarriage of justice in the Troy Davis case, but I think we all know this and those who have followed this case over years, as I have will no doubt be feeling hurt, angry and bitter, as I am. However I think there is a bigger issue here, which is that of state sanctioned killings. I refuse to use the term capital punishment because to my simple mind, what is the punishment in terminating a person’s life? What punishment does a dead person feel? Unless of course you are a believer in the eternal inferno called hell and you believe that sending someone to an eternity of being fried or roasted earlier than his maker planned, is the ultimate punishment, I really don’t see how killing a person is punishment for him. Punishment is for his family members maybe, who despite everything may still love and value the person. Or maybe you are also a believer in the biblical an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Or Live by the sword, die by the sword?

Whatever the case killing a person because he killed another will not bring the dead person back and while some say justice is served, for whom is justice served when the injured party is dead? No one has any way of consulting the dead guy if he wants his murderer killed so what justice are we talking about? Worse is the case where there is a possibility that the man who is killed is the wrong man. Does it matter at all that Troy Davis may have been innocent or is it a case of witnesses saying they saw a thin black man kill the officer and so it doesn’t matter which black man goes down as long as one goes? I have often heard people say all black people look alike to white people and all white people look alike to Asian people. So is it possible that there was a case of mistaken identity? That this was the wrong black man and he has become the fall guy?

My idea of punishment is keeping the person alive to serve out a jail term even if it is life in prison. Confinement is punishment, lockdown is punishment. Waking up every day to the knowledge that you are a murderer, deplorable and not fit to walk the earth freely, is punishment. Having nightmares about the person you killed is punishment. State sanctioned killing is not punishment, it is gratuitous violence, open to abuse by flawed officials and flawed institutions of justice. I am sickened by the deaths of Troy Davis and Brewer, but for different reasons:

 I wish Troy Davis had lived, and that a proper investigation would have been carried out to determine whether he was guilty. Instead he was presumed guilty, convicted based on flimsy testimony, and was saddled with the burden of proving that he was innocent. Now he is gone.

I wish Brewer had lived, so that his hideous crime would be with him every single day he breathed, as he marched his hours away in a prison yard. Now he is gone.

And both their deaths did not bring the victims back to life. So where is the justice I ask?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I had just finished changing four month old Chichi’s diaper and was nuzzling her and enjoying her giggles and chubby legs kicking at my face, when I heard the CNN commentator announcing that a plane had just flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Cyril had turned on the television to listen to the headlines before taking off to the hospital. It was a beautiful September morning with clear blue skies. I picked up Chichi off the floor and sat on the couch next to Cyril and began nursing her, eyes glued to the screen. Then I watched, totally numb and devoid of feeling as another plane flew straight towards the second tower, next to the already smoldering one. I heard the commentator, like a soccer commentator excitedly announcing that a player was about to score a goal, yelling that a second plane was headed to the world trade center. It struck. Chichi tugged at my breast, agitating for the attention she was so accustomed to getting during her feeds. Her first teeth were out and she nipped at me a technique she knew was sure to elicit a yelp. I sat there staring at the TV screen. Mute.  In the background of my numb mind, I could hear the commentator saying something about it not being an accident but a terrorist attack. I continued watching as fragments of humanity hurled themselves out of windows and went flying through the sky, gravity drawing them rapidly towards the earth. It was like watching a horror movie, only with the knowledge that none of what was unfolding on the screen was make- believe.

Today marks the day of that ugly event, an even that was condemned the whole world over. An event which changed America and Americans in a way they could never have imagined. As I reflect on the events of that day, I am listening to the role call of all those who perished on that day. There are many. I can hear tearful commemorations from family members of those who were on the planes, the fire fighters and the paramedics, the pedestrians going about their daily business. I hear the loss in their voices still fresh as though this event occurred yesterday. It occurs to me as I sit here, that while America remembers its collective losses as a result of that event, there are those who remember personal losses and harbor private grief. While collectively America remembers the sacrifices that have since been made in order to secure the homeland, there are those who reflect on the loss of sons and daughters of mothers and fathers of brothers and sisters in wars fought on foreign soil. While there are those, who on this day are criticizing American foreign policy and are talking about “how the chickens came home to roost” there are those who are puzzled by the fact that there are people so hateful that they would destroy innocent lives in order to make a point, which to many is still very unclear. It occurs to me too, that while this attack was on America, it took with it people from all over  the world and today a family is without a member, somewhere in the world, thanks to that attack on 9/11. Whether it be loss of life due to the subsequent wars that have been and are being waged, or due to the first terrorist attack, human life continues to be wasted. In Afghanistan and Iraq, innocent civilians are casualties of air strikes and suicide bombings. It makes me think about the fact that grief knows no geographical boundaries. Grief has no color. Loss knows no religious affiliation or ideology. Grief comes to all humans and today I remember with all those who grieve their loss, in America and abroad. I remember too all those who continue to suffer under tyranny and reflect on the waste of human life the whole world over, due to unnecessary, man made wars, famine, environmental degradation and political instability and the lunacy of fanaticism.

I remember too, that no one is invulnerable to death and to the vagaries of living on this planet, and hope that with remembering comes some action, to stop the killing, the bombings and carnage that has made a graveyard out of this earth. I hope that 9/11 will not be just another day to indulge in melancholy and sadness, but a day on which individually we purpose to do whatever we can to secure a better world for those coming long after we are gone. Whether our purpose is translated into action is a topic for another blog, but for today, let us all reflect with purpose as we remember all those who fell on 9/11 and those who have fallen since.