the philosophactivist

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(in)justice and the death penalty or Kaput with Capital Punishment

So, two people were executed yesterday in the south- Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer. The latter was a white supremacist who brutally drug James Byrd. Jr. to his death in Jasper, TX. Davis was a man who was convicted of shooting both a man in a car and a police officer outside of Burger King. While Brewer obviously killed James Byrd, Jr., there were multiple discrepancies in the case against Troy Davis. Appeal upon appeal had been filed to introduce new evidence, including affidavits of witnesses recanting their testimony of what they had actually seen. The police seem to have coerced many witnesses and the justice system appears to have failed Troy Davis, as he was still executed  yesterday, 9/21/2011. Now, I've been thinking about the way I feel about the white supremacist's execution versus an innocent black man's execution and I've decided that there should just be no death penalty. I really don't think that this  draconian eye-for-an-eye tactic has ever assisted in bringing about any sense of real "justice". 

So I was wondering what the actual definition of justice is?I'm sure there are many but here's one from a quick google search:  a concept of moral rightness based on ethicsrationalitylawnatural lawreligionfairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

Apparently there are a number of variations of justice but two in particular caught my eye:

Retributive justice regulates proportionate response to crime proven by lawful evidence, so that punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally correct and fully deserved. The law of retaliation(lex talionis) is a military theory of retributive justice, which says that reciprocity should be equal to the wrong suffered; "life for life, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."[7]
Restorative justice is concerned not so much with retribution and punishment as with (a) making the victim whole and (b) reintegrating the offender into society. This approach frequently brings an offender and a victim together, so that the offender can better understand the effect his/her offense had on the victim.

But what happens when the justice system is corrupt. What happens when officials coerce witnesses and tamper with evidence? I'm left thinking that "morality" and "ethics" are not something that officers must adhere to. And what about judges? The woman holding the scales, Lady Justice, is blindfolded - meaning that she is unbiased and takes all into account? I conjecture.

But check this out- (from

The origin of the Goddess of Justice goes back to antiquity. She was referred to as Ma'at by the ancient Egyptians and was often depicted carrying a sword with an ostrich feather in her hair (but no scales) to symbolize truth and justice. The term magistrate is derived from Ma'at because she assisted Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts.

To the ancient Greeks she was known as Themis, originally the organizer of the "communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies." Her ability to foresee the future enabled her to become one of the oracles at Delphi, which in turn led to her establishment as the goddess of divine justice. Classical representations of Themis did not show her blindfolded (because of her talent for prophecy, she had no need to be blinded) nor was she holding a sword (because she represented common consent, not coercion). BUT...

The Roman goddess of justice was called Justitia and was often portrayed as evenly balancing both scales and a sword and wearing a blindfold. She was sometimes portrayed holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an ax symbolizing judicial authority) in one hand and a flame in the other (symbolizing truth).

Guess which one we inherited.

Unfortunately here in America lady Justice is not blind. She is not impartial. She is racist, classist, ableist, and sexist. And those scales are tipped in favor of the wealthy or those with great attorneys while people of color many times start out on the lower scale. Guilty until proven innocent because it is in our nature, right? Sometimes we even see ourselves in the way that these systems see us. The way we are portrayed in the media. I knew that Troy Davis did not stand a chance and it alarmed me that I was not surprised that he was not granted clemency while I was more shocked that the white supremacist was actually executed.

The death penalty is an antiquated and barbaric practice that tries to pass for a form of retributive justice. To me, it seems like just a revamped version of people sitting around in a coliseum waiting for a lion to devour some criminal or innocent bystander. Or maybe it's like the picnics that white southerners had as they sat around the black folks they had lynched. Now, I could sit here and talk about why we should abolish the death penalty in terms of risks and cost and that probably will be what wins state governments over. But, I can only think about the reasons in terms of compassion and morality. Killing someone who has killed someone solves nothing. We need to be addressing the roots of the cause which stem from the family unity, the community, the education system, and a deteriorating justice system and focus on more kinds of restorative justice. There are plenty of organizations out there working toward this goal and it's important that those of us who are passionate about civil rights and non-violence include advancement of restorative justice in our movement. We are living in a society where it is far too easy to see lives as expendable. This is obvious by the wars we wage and the lives taken during our occupation in other countries. It's also apparent in the way that innocent people of color and LGBT are attacked and gunned down by police officers and extremists in our own country.

Capital punishment is our problem. The prison system is our problem. The justice system is our problem. No matter how far we want to turn our heads in the other direction, this affects us all. The way allow these systems to disregard members of our society is a threat to us all. In Texas, more money is spent on new prisons and jails than education. You've got to see the irony.

For more info on the wrongfully executed and list of the exonerated and posthumous pardons go to:

State, National and International death penalty links:

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