Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open letter to Marion County (Indiana) Prosecutor Terry Curry

Dear Mr. Curry,

I am writing this open letter for the purpose of suggesting that you reconsider pursuing the death penalty in your case against Major Davis Jr. in the shooting death of Officer Perry Renn. As you yourself have indicated, executing Mr. Davis probably won't deter further acts of violence and murder targeting police officers, a hunch borne out by FBI statistics showing that states with the death penalty experience a much higher rate of violent crime (by a margin as high as 46% in some years) than those without.

 (I should clarify that it does not appear that Mr. Davis was ‘targeting’ Officer Renn per se, as online reports indicate the officers on the scene fired first, and that Mr. Davis was simply firing back in what he may have believed was legitimate self-defense. Please correct me if my understanding on this is wrong.)

Therefore, if not serving as a deterrent, what reason could the state possibly have for ending a citizen’s life? If it is for the purpose of ensuring that justice is served, as you have also stated, I would ask that you clarify what you mean by ‘justice’.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the commonly misunderstood sense of “an eye for an eye”, you should think again, as this is revenge, justice’s hot-headed second cousin. While there may be some shared DNA between the two, one is not synonymous with the other. Revenge is an appeal to anger and emotionalism, rather than reason, and by setting such an example for your constituents, you infantilize them.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the dictionary sense, consistent with Merriam-Webster’s definition, “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals”, I would urge you to think again on this point as well. While Mr. Davis may deserve a sentence appropriate to the severity of his crime (if found guilty), the crime itself occurred within a milieu where a vastly disproportionate amount of violent crime is committed by young black men with limited prospects and a strong sense of alienation from mainstream society due to socioeconomic factors.

The extent to which these factors play a role in this case is for a jury to decide, though recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, as just one example, indicate that America has a racial disparity problem with serious public safety implications. As I’m sure you already know, Census Bureau figures show that an astounding 86% of those on Death Row are either black or latino. And given that death penalty states for the most part also happen to be ones that spend less on education than the others, it is evident that there are underlying social issues needing to be addressed beyond the personal guilt or innocence of someone like Mr. Davis.

By not addressing poverty and inequality, does the state do right by its citizens? What social costs are exacted in the name of austerity policies that reduce access to quality health services and education among those who happen to go on to commit the lion’s share of violent crime? And is it really fair to judge and punish Mr. Davis as if his alleged crime occurred in a societal vacuum, with something as final and brutal as the death penalty?

I’m not saying it’s up to you to rectify all of these social ills, as they are above and beyond your station as prosecutor. What you can do, however, is take a broader look at the situation and ask yourself if all of your constituents are truly being served by having yet another black man face state execution, an outcome you have already admitted will do nothing to save lives.

Sincerely,

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada