If you are inclined to question capital punishment, it is not hard to protest the scheduled execution tonight of Troy Davis in Georgia. His case contains much doubt about his guilt, and the racial aspect (black man as victim of white-dominated justice system) is undeniable. What really tests a principled position against the death penalty are cases like Lawrence Brewer.
That’s why I was happy to receive, just a few minutes ago, an e-mail from the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Of course, it calls for last-minute action to save Davis. But it also includes this key section:
“We should also note the odd juxtaposition of the two executions scheduled for exactly the same time this evening. At 7 pm EDT in Georgia, racism plays a part in the execution of Troy Davis. At 6 pm CDT in Texas, Lawrence Brewer is to be executed for his participation in the infamous racist hate crime dragging murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, in 1998. Please join NCADP in opposing the executions of both men. We stand against all executions without reservation.”
[UPDATE: Brewer was executed at 7:21 PM ET. He refused to make a final statement.]
The Brewer case certainly tests one principles (as did, for example, the McVeigh case). There is the matter of the brutality of the crime. Not only was it racist in origin but evidence suggests Byrd was alive for most of the ordeal, losing body parts as he was dragged and ultimately decapitated. Then there is the fact that Brewer (and at least one of his colleagues, also on death row) was a white supremacist.
Also: he is unrepentant. In July, in his only interview with the media since the arrest thirteen years ago, he told a Texas TV reporter: “I have no regrets. I’d do it all over again to tell you the truth.”
Nevertheless, Byrd’s only son, Ross, has campaigned against the execution of Brewer, as a member of Murder Victims For Reconciliation (a group profiled in the wide-ranging book I co-wrote with Robert Jay Lifton agianst capital punishment, Who Owns Death?). Yesterday he told Reuters: “You can’t fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”
It will be interesting to see how many of those who protest the Troy Davis execution will also raise their voices against the state murder of the horrid racist killer Lawrence Brewer.
Greg Mitchell’s latest book is Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagaski, and the Greatest Movie Never Made. His book with Robert Jay Lifton is titled Who Owns Death? Capital Punishment, The American Conscience and the End of Executions.