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Wounding Ourselves

Friday, 16 September 2011 11:10 By James L Knoll IV, Robert Wilbur and MD, Truthout | Op-Ed
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People fear death because death is an instrument of fate.
When people are killed by execution rather than by fate,
This is like carving wood in the place of a carpenter.
Those who carve wood in place of a carpenter
Often injure their hands. -Lao Tzu (circa Sixth Century BC)

In 2011, in the United States of America, we make ceremonial decisions to kill another human being. We do this because it feels right. It feels right because these decisions are motivated by emotions. Emotions are transient, capricious states of mind.

Believing life is sacred, we rely on our emotions to undo what life has created. Believing we are wise and adept, we rush to precede life and preside over death. We teach this lesson: we may kill and the killing may be done based upon an emotion.

Vengeance is a satisfying emotion to us in 2011, and in Georgia, a man named Troy Davis awaits his state-sanctioned vengeance. When his execution date was set, it was for the fourth time. He has been on death row for some 18 years, once coming within half an hour of execution.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ordered a Georgia federal judge to conduct an "extraordinary" evidentiary hearing to decide whether Davis deserved a new trial. The judge concluded that such an extraordinary hearing required an "extraordinarily high" burden to prove that Davis merits a new trial. Though the judge acknowledged certain problems with the prosecution case, he ruled against Davis.

Davis was condemned to death for killing a police officer in 1989. There was no physical evidence of his guilt and his conviction relied entirely on eyewitness testimony. Forensic science now tells us that eyewitness testimony may be quite unreliable. The majority of the witnesses have recanted their testimony, reporting they were frightened into identifying Davis by police. One of the original witnesses, Darrell Collins, said: "The police were telling me I was an accessory to murder and that I would go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I got out ... I was only 16 and I was so scared of going to jail."

An emotion that guides us with uncompromising force is fear. More fearful than a loss of faith in criminal justice system is the notion of putting a potentially innocent man to death. Having exhausted his court appeals, Davis will be ushered into the death chamber. Once he is on the death gurney, we will rush ahead of fate to irrevocably carve an end to his life. Let us not continue to wound ourselves and future generations. Let us put an end to perpetuating this lesson of emotionally driven vengeance and killing.

Davis' sister, Kim David, has a petition at she intends to present to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles Monday September 19 at a hearing scheduled two days before Troy's execution. You may sign that appeal for clemency here.

James L Knoll IV

James L. Knoll IV, MD is director, Division of Forensic Psychiatry, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York.


David K. Cundiff, MD is the author of previous books such as The Right Medicine: How to Make Health Care Reform Work Today, co-written with Mary Ellen McCarthy, Humana Press (1994), and Money Driven Medicine – Tests and Treatments That Don’t Work, by David Cundiff, MD, published by Cundiff (2006). He was employed in the 1990s at Los Angeles County - USC Medical Center Hospital in oncology and internal medicine for hospice patients. David's work quantifying the astronomical health and financial cost of car dependence and use of fossil fuels appeared in the Auto-Free Times magazine (now in the mid-1990s. Culture Change's Jan Lundberg has been serving as editor of David Cundiff's book The Health Economy.

Robert Wilbur

Robert Wilbur did research in biological psychiatry for many years. He also writes for popular magazines and newsletters. He is active in progressive politics, especially opposition to the Middle East wars and capital punishment, and fighting for animal rights.

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