Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Executing the Innocent: Time to Boycott Georgia and Texas

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 tonight (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 US 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.

Its 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.


irish crim said...

I'd say there is time for the ASC to pull its planned 2013 conference out of Atlanta. I wonder if the Society could be motivated to do so on these grounds. Would make for an interesting (and telling) debate among the ASC exec anyhow.

Johann Koehler said...

@irish crim: If you started a petition, I'd sign it.