Troy Davis’ funeral in Savannah, Ga., yesterday attracted more than 1,000 mourners, according to the Associated Press and The Washington Times.
Sent to death row 20 years ago as a convicted cop killer, Troy Davis was celebrated as “martyr and foot soldier” Saturday by more than 1,000 people who packed the pews at his funeral and pledged to keep fighting the death penalty.
Family, activists and supporters who spent years trying to persuade judges and Georgia prison officials that Davis was innocent were unable to prevent his execution Sept. 21. But the crowd that filled Savannah’s Jonesville Baptist Church on Saturday seemed less interested in pausing in remorse than showing a resolve to capitalize on the worldwide attention Davis‘ case brought to capital punishment in the U.S.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, national president of the NAACP, brought the crowd to its feet in a chant of “I am Troy Davis” — the slogan supporters used to paint Davis as an everyman forced to face the executioner by a faulty justice system. Jealous noted that Davis professed his innocence even in his final words.
In the midst of the controversy surrounding Davis’ recent execution, conservatives frequently reminded observers to mourn for murdered cop Mark MacPhail and his family — and, on this day, that reminder again seems salient and appropriate. Beyond that, commentary is difficult to offer: Capital punishment is anything but a comfy issue. My touchstone on the topic comes from the father of a victim of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, who once said he thought Timothy McVeigh’s execution would bring him peace and a sense of justice. Unexpectedly, it left him feeling only more hollow at the loss of his daughter. That’s always served as a poignant admonition to me to never support capital punishment out of a spirit of revenge or without regard to the value of human life.
Capital punishment in the service of justice — for the sake of exhibiting the serious consequences of serious crimes and for the sake of deterring such crime in both the executed and others — is appropriate and effective under certain circumstances (i.e. when no real question of guilt exists), but capital punishment employed without regard for the value of human life or the permanence of the punishment (i.e. when doubts as to guilt do exist) should be reconsidered. I’m not familiar enough with the specifics of Troy Davis’ case to know which category his execution really falls under — but I’m inclined to agree with Allah that lethal injection ought to be saved for the guys who are definitely guilty.
Nevertheless, it’s a little indecorous to me that Davis’ mourners are (a) using his funeral as an opportunity for activism and (b) calling for the abolition of capital punishment entirely. It’s a complex issue that deserves to be contemplated outside the realm of difficult-to-process emotions — outside the realm, in other words, of a highly charged funeral.