By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published September 29, 2011
Last week the identities of four American families were the frequent focal point of attention in the media: the family names of MacPhail, Davis, Byrd and Brewer. Two of those families have had to live for many years with the awful loss of a loved one who was taken from them suddenly and violently. Their anguish has been intense and should evoke every ounce of our compassion. Two of those families have lived for almost as many years with the impending loss of a son, a brother, or a father living on death row for numerous years. They too deserve our consideration. All four families have no doubt shed too many tears in deep sorrow. Here in Georgia the attention was largely focused on Mark MacPhail and Troy Davis—Georgia natives. The other two names were from Texas, and less local media attention was given to James Byrd Jr. and Lawrence Russell Brewer. Yet their families also suffered in spite of the imbalance of media exposure here regarding the tragedy that their lives endured.
The juxtaposition of these stories could not have been more thought provoking. Much attention was given to the fact that Troy Davis’ sentence was and still remains the object of intense international, national and local protest. There are too many issues to ignore that suggest that perhaps the sentence was wrong because so many of the witnesses in the original trial had changed their versions of what they actually had seen. Many people, including myself, feel that our justice system rushed the punishment of this man even in the face of looming serious doubt.
Little such uncertainty existed concerning the case of Lawrence Russell Brewer. He was charged with the brutal and despicable vehicular dragging death of James Byrd Jr. The evidence seemed incontrovertible. Still his sentence of capital punishment brought about another human death and added a second life to the brutality of this particular case. While Lawrence Russell Brewer’s execution did not elicit the sympathy and the doubt that Troy Davis’ did, his death brought sorrow to his family nonetheless. The death sentence always doubles the number of families who experience loss. It also leaves us a more violent society.
Lawrence Russell Brewer’s actions were filled with hatred, and he did not portray the type of persona that provokes public sympathy, as did Troy Davis. The dual executions last week presented the public with dual situations that suggest that on occasion capital punishment can be tolerated. We were presented with two different personalities and two different circumstances, and each brought the death sentence. Both of them ended in the death of a human being—perhaps one might have been innocent, while the other displayed few qualities that would evoke pity. Now there is no reversing either act of the state, no matter what might later be discovered.
In today’s society when we take a human life, we are often offered reasons that might seem to justify the action. Just consider the motives that have often been put forward to vindicate elective abortions: unplanned pregnancy, the possible malformation of the fetus, the incorrect gender of the child to be born, or the one that is often proposed—the health of the mother. The result is always the same no matter what the rationale: A child is killed within the womb.
The taking of a human life always leaves us a more debilitated society, a more violent community. We can consider personalities, circumstances or rationales, but the end is always the same—more deaths and less respect for human life—not a very desirable condition for the people that we want and hope to be and, even more importantly, that God wants us to be.