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Why Did the Left Loudly Protest the Troy Davis Execution—and Few Others? | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Why Did the Left Loudly Protest the Troy Davis Execution—and Few Others?

In vivid contrast to the intense protests surrounding the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia—online, at the site of the state killing and in the media and political spheres—there was little clamor this week from the same quarters when Manuel Valle was put down in Florida. Progressives, who seemed to be re-energized in fighting capital punishment in America, went silent, for the most part. Remember those tens of thousands of tweets the day Troy Davis was executed? Almost nothing on Wednesday re Valle.

You might say that few chose to enter the Valle of death.

The next execution set for the US: Marcus Ray Johnson, next Wednesday in Georgia. Will progressives sit this one out as well? Of course, there are many other issues to be concerned about, and limited time. But the almost total absence of protest surrounding the vast majority of executions is troubling.

I’m afraid this kind of pick-the-easier-fights attitude is just the latest example of what has doomed efforts to abolish the death penalty in the United States in the past. You can’t be against capital punishment and then make exceptions for the death row prisoners who appear most deserving (if anyone does).

The Davis and Valle cases are perfect examples.

There was some, or much, doubt about Davis’s guilt, a long history of proclaiming his innocence and witnesses recanting left and right. He was a gentle figure in jail, charismatic, with an appealing family, who drew personal affection and support from visitors and celebrities. He was a poster boy for those who oppose the death penalty largely because they fear innocents may die along with the guilty.

Manuel Valle? The media in Florida delighted in referring to him continually as a “cop killer.” Well, from the evidence, that did seem to be true. He had also allegedly shot a second policeman. There appeared to be no strong grounds for doubting his guilt. He was a Cuban national whose story and personality were grim, and he drew little political or media attention. If anything, he was the poster boy for cop killers who deserved to die, perhaps several times over (if that was your belief).

So, on one level, it is easy to understand why Davis became a cause celebre for the left and Valle was basically ignored. But how can you be against state killing and yet make any exceptions? (See much more on this in my new book on this issue, Dead Reckoning.) Valle was executed in the exact same manner as Davis, with a lethal injection, after a brief, no doubt cruel (for the prisoner) last-minute delay for the inevitable US Supreme Court go-ahead.

One could cite other factors to consider. Valle had been on death row for 33 years, more than half his life. Does this amount to “cruel and unusual punishment”? Stephen Breyer certainly thought so (as I noted yesterday), in becoming the lone Supreme Court justice to vote for a stay of execution. Then there was this: Valle’s chance for a final clemency hearing never happened due to bureaucratic inefficiency.

And why had he, of all of the dozens on death row in Florida, been chosen as next to die? This illustrates one of the worst, and never-changing, aspects of capital punishment—it is always targeted arbitrarily, almost randomly. Few on death row ever get executed. You can’t even say, “Well, at least they kill all the cop killers,” because—they don’t.

I could go on, but to me it hardly matters: No matter the circumstances, the state should kill no one. Davis may have been a “beauty” of a death row inmate and Valle a “beast” but one should oppose the state killing anyone. And that’s why the silence on the left over the Valle killing, while understandable in part, was so disappointing. As Steve Earle says, “My deal with Troy Davis and everybody else like that is: I’m opposed to the death penalty for anybody.”

Greg Mitchell’s new e-book isDead Reckoning: Executions in America. It covers the issue right up to the Valle killing.

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