Skip to main content

Executing the innocent: Time to boycott Georgia and Texas

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | September 23, 2011

I believe the death penalty is an inherently degrading and dehumanizing punishment that should not be used even on the most heinous criminals. But when a state executes individuals with substantial doubt about their actual innocence they have crossed a different line. They are not only human rights violators, they are a clear present danger to every person who lives in or visits them.

With the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia (read the Guardian account of the final moves here); and the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas in 2004 (read David Grann’s account in the New Yorker from 2009 here), two U.S. states have now carried out executions in cases where the major prosecution evidence against defendants who have consistently insisted on their innocence has collapsed.

Despite an outpouring of global attention and emails, don’t expect Georgia or Rick Perry’s Texas to mend their ways soon. Solid majorities in those states not only support the death penalty, but celebrate a vigilante culture in which questions of due process and innocence count for little in the face of demands for vengeance. Politicians in those states will not respond until they feel powerful economic pain. In the meantime the attrition of the death penalty elsewhere may eventually lead the Supreme Court to strike down the death penalty as a regional eccentricity, but not in my lifetime.

It’s time to focus on these two major human rights abusers with the only language they understand, money. Its time for a grassroots boycott of these states. The tens of thousands around the world who sent emails and letters opposing Troy Davis’ execution should now direct their activism in a new direction, to mobilize their fellow citizens for a boycott of the entire economy of each these two states until they declare a moratorium on executions.

That means circulating lists of products made in those states (Georgia peaches, and Dell computers in Texas for example). That means avoiding tourism, conferences, or investments in any businesses in those two states. Let Georgia and Texas understand what it means to be an international pariah.

It is true that these means letting other states go on executing prisoners. That is hard. Death is different, but so is executing the innocent. The boycott, as it grows will help keep the focus on these revealing cases and pressure on both states to justify their outlier status.

Cross-posted from Jonathan Simon’s blog Governing Through Crime.

Comments to “Executing the innocent: Time to boycott Georgia and Texas

  1. Go ahead and do your boycot. Maybe some of your buddies who are so dead set against Georgia who live here will leave and open up jobs for those faithful Georgia people who don’t go along with every band wagon that comes along. If not jobs, maybe it would open up some Public assistance for people who really need it.

  2. I have a Facebook post re Troy Davis and Man’s Inhumanity. It is a much more emotional piece than yours. I agree with your focus as a strategy for moving forward.

    Here is a print version and introduction:

    In case you do not recognize my name I was a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford with Bill Clinton, and I am (or was before I relinquished the role) Clinton’s press/media-anointed “arch-enemy” and “nemesis”.
    — Cliff Jackson


    “They cling to guns or religion.” Barack Hussein Obama

    I am about to bare my soul to you, reveal what humanity, if any, that is within me.

    Eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable, and even if one thinks a person is guilty—even if one believes beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused is guilty—in my opinion, IF the death penalty is to be applied (and I have been ambivalent about it to date), given the finality of it, ANY scintilla of doubt should be resolved in favor of not executing.

    This is a commonsense and humane position.

    That is my minimum standard.

    However, whether one believes in the death penalty is best discerned with how one thinks about the Texas execution last night of the white supremacist, Lawrence Russell Brewer, who dragged a black man, James Byrd, Jr., to death behind his pickup.

    Should he have been executed? At least some of the victim’s family say “no”.

    Increasingly, I am inclined to agree: killing is simply wrong no matter who does it. No matter whether it is in war or state-sanctioned. Moreover, the state, when it executes a person, does it in the name of its citizens. I do NOT want Arkansas executing anyone, however heinous the crime, in MY name.

    That makes me complicit in the death and, yes, the pack’s bloodlust, and I do not want to be.

    Yes, I see how survivors of the murdered say they want “justice”, but is killing anyone justice or merely revenge and blood-lust? I think the latter.

    When I think of the evil that, historically, governments, the Church in the name of Love and God and ignorant Dogma (Inquisition, Salem witch trials, etc), the Nazi regime, the Communists (Pol Pot in Cambodia, Stalin, Mao), the Islamists (with stonings continuing for minor offenses), we Southerners (how many untold lynchings of innocent blacks in the name of White Supremacy?), the United States (currently the world’s leader in state-sanctioned killings), and Gov. Perry in Texas (235 to date), I am repulsed.

    How savage! How barbaric! How eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth that Jesus condemned and replaced with unconditional love (even for one’s enemies), compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace!

    Humanity is a bloody species, savage and animalistic, and we kill indiscriminately with no sympathy much less any empathy.

    We do this by distancing ourselves from the killing via euphemism (“collateral damage” is an example) and by defining the victim in “Otherness” terms (“We” versus “Them”). Euphemisms and Otherness dehumanize and reduce the murdered to a “thing”, an object, rather than a human being. That we find it necessary to use euphemisms speaks to some better nature in us that, subconsciously, is repulsed by our barbaric nature.

    All this makes me sick, wanna puke actually, and in times like this I seriously question whether we, as a species, deserve to survive. Does our need to use euphemisms give me hope? Precious little.

    Furthermore, I have not even gotten to the mass taking of the lives of “lower” species in so-called “sports hunting” and “trophy hunting” (as opposed to killing for food that, nevertheless, we feel, at some level guilty about because we employ the euphemism “harvesting” to distance ourselves from our barbarity in inflicting pain for pleasure or even food).

    Yes, I cling to guns not for sport or trophies or even hunting but for self-defense and defense of those I love, but I would regret the causing of even necessary pain and death for the rest of my days.

    Nor have I gotten to the acts, more precisely the non-acts, of omission, failure to act, when humanity, if we had any, would compel us into action. In not acting to prevent suffering and death we are compositely complicit.

    Example: Somalia and its dying children. While we spend trillions for “defense” (that is not defense but nothing more than a projection of American power to protect the economic interests of the multi-national corporations, the Big Dogs who wag Washington’s scrawny-ass tail).

    I am sickened to the core and ashamed of Man. I capitalize to indicate that we, Lord and Masters by Divine fiat, rule as gods over Planet Earth.

    May God forgive us our barbarism and infantileism.

    And may that Sucker do some explainin’ and repentin’ for setting up such a barbaric and non-Christ-like syestem of existence.

    One final comment: coming into Austin, TX to visit my daughter last week I saw multiple deer crowding the highway in search of food. One huge buck had been hit and, I hope (to prevent his lying there and suffering), killed. I had to swerve to avoid his wrecking my little Prius. Talking with Texans in the area, I learned that deer and other wildlife are starving for lack of food and water. Does are deserting their fawns because they have no milk.

    Then leaving Austin to come home a squirrel darted into the road. Squirrels are neither decisive nor intelligent. The car ahead of me hit him. As I looked in my rear-view mirror until I was out of sight I saw him writhing in pain in the middle of the road. No Lord of this Planet, including myself, stopped to put him out of his misery.

    But I could not get his pain and agony out of my mind. It clouded my day. I am too empathic, perhaps?

    Given my failure to stop and end pain, why would I expect any mercy from a Creator God to whom we are less than an atom in a bacterium in that squirrel’s guts?

    Yet I do.

    Yet I cling to the notion of a loving and compassionate God—despite evidence abounding in His creation that such is not the case. Yes, I cling to faith, barely.

    To believe otherwise is to despair. It is to give up not only what Christians call “that blessed hope” but also any hope at all. So I choose belief over unbelief, faith over doubt (maybe in spite of doubt or even because of it). This is in reference to God. Jesus, I admire and accept implicitly.

    Where Man is concerned, I have lost my faith. I am a non-believer, an atheist if you will. I despair. And I mourn the loss of any scintilla of hope that we, as a species, are capable of sympathy, empathy, and change.

    We are not.

    What’s it all about, Alfie? I haven’t a clue and little hope of finding one. Do you? If so, please explain.

    I mourn the death of Troy Davis—and of Lawrence Russell Brewer.

Comments are closed.