This piece from today in the New Republic situates the Troy Davis execution in the context of the recent history of the movement to end the death penalty. Professors Carol and Jordan Steiker offer a useful overview of this recent history as the reasoning behind their own (cautiously) optimistic position. Along the way, they helpfully outline the major moving pieces of legal and legislative strategy in this struggle.
The piece is prompted by the Troy Davis execution, and accordingly, highlights two potential ways that highly publicized “particular executions” can make an impact, which are in tension with each other: it expresses concern that such publicity can make “the American death penalty appear more entrenched and routine than it truly is, and [obscure] the broader trends and transformations,” at the same time that it has the potential to generate awareness, motivate people to act and “accelerate the movement toward abolition.” This particular article takes up the task of speaking to the first concern– it would seem, in light of the perception that the second is taking care of itself.
I wonder if it is, if we really believe that the public outcry against Troy Davis’ execution was “enough”– or “too much,” balanced against the proposition of some negative effect that could issue from public overestimation of America’s weddedness to the death penalty (?). I wonder if it was because there is already “enough” of a movement that, for example, that no faculty from Harvard attended the student organized vigil the eve of Davis’ death– because of some countervailing interest in helping balance public opinion? Some of the hundred-some students gathered there did notice this absence and may be looking for a way to understand it, give it meaning. But I can guarantee that many, many more people would have noticed if there had been faculty present to share that moment with outraged and grieving students. And I think that the meaning and mobilizing effect this participation would have had on a rising generation of advocates is not to be underestimated. What, again, was the concern that could outweigh this?