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TROY DAVIS: An Exercise in Empathy


To my family, friends and loved ones,

            I hope today we can all take a moment and conscientiously reflect on the recent execution of Troy Davis. Though he was convicted in 1991 for the murder of a Georgian police officer, since then 7 out of 9 witnesses have recanted or contradicted their original testimony. Additionally, many of these witnesses confessed they were pressured and coerced by police officers into testifying against Troy Davis. One of the two witnesses who didn’t recant his testimony is the principle alternative suspect who 9 other individuals signed affidavits against.

            In the United States, a person can only be executed if there is evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This was not the case with Troy Davis. In any other case, this new information would be enough to exonerate him from the crime, or at least warrant a deeper investigation which would then probably find him innocent.

            This is a shameful day for America. The United States is the only Western democracy that does not recognize capital punishment as a human rights violation. Worse than that, the justice system failed this man who was most likely innocent.

            And now I ask you to take a moment and participate in this exercise of empathy. For a moment, put yourself in these hypothetical situations and reflect on your initial reaction:

1)      A family member (mother, father, wife, son, daughter, etc.) of the person on death row. Before his execution date, new information was presented that could possible exonerate him. So there is still a chance that your loved one is innocent. Yet when the Supreme Court, the highest form of judicial decision making in the country still decides to go ahead with the execution, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there is now nothing you can do to stop them from killing him.

2)      The family member of the victim who was supposedly murdered by this man. Could you sentence a man to death with even the slightest bit of doubt, let alone an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to his innocence? Are you willing to let a most likely innocent man die just so you can feel closure to the unfair loss of your loved one? Are you going to sleep more soundly at night knowing he is dead? Or are you not going to sleep because you’re still haunted by the small tinge of doubt that an innocent man was killed?

3)      Troy Davis himself: you’ve spent the last 22 years of your life caught up in the circuitous judicial system of the United States, waiting and waiting for your fate to arrive with the full conscious knowledge that you are innocent. Then on the night of your execution, it’s delayed another three hours while some rich white men you’ve never met brood over the amount of evidence that would set you free as innocent. After one last glimmer of hope, that after so long of suffering injustice you might be rewarded for your time served, darkness settles and you have to accept your life will be taken from you despite you know you did not commit a crime.

Hopefully most of you will have felt something along the lines of fear, hopelessness, injustice, despair, desperation, panic or grief? If you did, then I applaud you for being able to feel empathy and compassion, and for actually participating in this common bond of humanity. And if you didn’t, then I feel sorry for you that you are so riddled with hate and prejudice that you can’t rise beyond your primitive emotions to embrace a higher state of mind: one that “loves the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that person does”.

How can we expect to work towards making this world a better place if we ourselves don't live up to our own standards? What kind of example is this setting for future generations? The whole "eye for an eye" mentality is archaic, barbaric and below what we are capable of achieving as intelligent, empathetic beings. Yes the first reaction we might have to murderers is "they deserve to die" however why not try looking deeper into your heart and try to rise above it: because if you don't you are no better than the murderer himself as you both harbor the belief that regardless of circumstance it is okay to take another human's life.

Thank you for taking the time to participate in my exercise and I encourage you to spread this discussion to your own family and friends: as through dialogue and discussion maybe we can reach a new understanding; one that might collectively unite us all for peace, love and justice.

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -Martin Luther King Jr.

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