It is with solemness that we mark the first anniversary of Troy Davis’s execution. Davis was convicted for the murder of Savannah, GA police officer Mark MacPhail, and his execution was the subject of much controversy a year ago. Of the nine witnesses who originally testified for the prosecution, seven recanted their testimony, with other witnesses claiming to have seen a man other than Davis shoot at and kill Officer MacPhail. Last year, the RAC, along with many other organizations including the ACLU, spoke out against Davis’s execution. Despite calls for clemency from former President Jimmy Carter and one time FBI Director William Sessions, Davis’s plea was unsuccessful.
The RAC’s actions last year were indicative of a long history of opposition to the death penalty. In 1959, years before the inclusion of DNA evidence in criminal cases, the Reform Movement proclaimed, “we believe that in light of recent scientific knowledge and concepts of humanity, the resort to or continuation of capital punishment either by a state or a national government is morally unjustifiable.”
Since the Movement drafted its resolution in 1959, 11 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, joining the six states that had already done so. In November, Californians will vote on a statewide ballot initiative with the intent to repeal the death penalty – and in numerous other states, similar legislation has been introduced.
Jewish tradition provides a unique lens through which we might view Davis’s execution. We mark the first anniversary of death with an unveiling, and the dedication of a tombstone. As the time for mourning closes, and as we recite the kadish one last time, we shift our focus from one of mourning to one of action. Although we cannot turn back the clock and reverse the course of history, we have an obligation to reflect on Davis’s execution and ask what we can do to prevent similar injustices from occurring.
Picture courtesy of Savannah Morning Paper/AP.