We have done some pretty barbaric things to each other in this country in the name of justice. We’ve hung, drawn and quartered, dipped in boiling oil, dragged by horses to Tythburn before hanging and beheaded. This list is not exhaustive but we can take some consolation in the fact that the history of many other civilised countries is peppered with similar acts.
We don’t have to look far into modern times to see that in some countries summary executions continue either at the hands of lawful governments or despotic dictators.
I got up this morning and whilst enjoying a boiled egg I read the tweets from overnight. There was much discussion about the Troy Davis case in Georgia. I had not kept up with the news yesterday but it was quite apparent this man was facing execution. Many of the tweets argued against this action and hopes appeared to be lifted when a possible stay was mooted. As I read on though the tone changed again and finally the inevitability of it all began to filter into my timeline. He was dead. Killed by lethal injection. No matter his crime and knowing nothing more about the case I sent up a small prayer. May he rest in peace. I then dragged on my uniform, jumped into the car and headed to work.
As is my routine I listened to the Today program on BBC radio 4 on the journey. I have little interest in the financial news and sport that precedes the 6.30 headlines. I pondered on the death penalty and concluded how wrong it is. I can’t quote case specifics but thought of a number of cases where incarcerated offenders have had their case overturned after many years in prison. Stefan Kiszko, the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6 and the Renault 5.
The criminal justice system is not flawless. It is good but not infallible and mistakes have been made. The beauty of the cases above (with one exception) was that when the cases were overturned the prisoners were releasable. They had not been executed.
As I drove the headlines turned to the execution. The announcer broadcast that Davis was convicted of the murder of a police officer. Suddenly my sensitivity changed. I understood why the death penalty had been applied. The police are our last line of defence from anarchy. A clear signal needs to go out that murdering a police officer carries the highest penalty.
I suddenly remembered an email I received a while ago. I have no evidence to authenticate it and have not searched for it. The basis was that a US police Sheriff was questioned at an inquest as to why his officers shot a male accused of killing a police officer 70 times. His reply, allegedly, ” Because we ran out of bullets.” The humour was not lost on me in the typical black humour of the police.
This soliloquy lasted no more than a few seconds before I pulled myself up short. What was I thinking? Those of you that know me will know also of my faith. I’m not perfect… far from it but “thou shalt not kill” slapped me between the eyes. No matter the crime and whether 100% guilty, or not as the reports are now indicating, even if this person killed we do not have the right to do the same. Even if we masquerade it under the banner of justice. I was always told that two wrongs don’t make a right. What he may have done was wrong but what the state of Georgia and the USA have done to him is just as wrong.
Try him yes. Convict him yes. Imprison him yes. Execute him? No. He may spend the rest of his days in prison and he will face the ultimate judge one day but that is not us. Execution cannot be appealed. I only know of one person who was resurrected from the dead.
The death penalty is final. Even after 21yrs in prison there is still considerable doubt about the Troy Davis case. If we can’t get to the truth in 21 years then it gives us a great example that ultimately, no matter how sure we are, we can still be very, very wrong.
The arguments to return the death penalty to the UK died today with Troy Davis on a gurney in a prison in Georgia.