TCADP Founder David Atwood wrote the following essay to explain why he and long-time activist Dick Gregory felt obligated to protest the execution of Lawrence Brewer, as part of their unconditional opposition to the death penalty:
Two executions took place on September 21 – Troy Davis was executed in Georgia and Lawrence Brewer was executed in Huntsville, Texas. Davis’ case received national media attention because of strong doubts about his guilt. Brewer, on the other hand, participated in the racist murder of James Byrd Jr. in 1998 and was unrepentant for the crime. Few people had any sympathy for Brewer.
Noted civil rights activist, Dick Gregory, who is fast approaching the age of 80, chose to go to Huntsville on September 21 to hold an 18-hour fast and vigil to protest the execution of Brewer. He was joined in the vigil by me and Ricky Jason, an abolitionist from Beaumont, Texas, who has made a film about James Byrd, Jr.
Why did Dick Gregory choose Huntsville? Did he have his priorities wrong? After all, Troy Davis was African-American and probably innocent while Lawrence Brewer was an avowed racist who committed a horrible crime. No, Gregory did not have his priorities wrong. He wanted to make a strong statement that all killing is wrong and that includes killing by the state. Gregory wanted to make the point that the execution of Brewer was wrong even though he had committed a horrific, racist murder. Gregory knew that Brewer could be severely punished and society could be protected by a sentence of life in prison.
I don’t think that many in the news media really caught the significance of Gregory’s choice of Huntsville. But Ricky Jason and I did, and so did many others in Huntsville and across the state who protested the execution of Brewer that day.
If we want to be a civilized society, we must do away with capital punishment for all people and all crimes.
And the Bryan College Station Eagle features this letter from TCADP Board Member Rich Woodward:
Lessons learned from two more executions
On Wednesday, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia for the 1989 killing of a police officer and, in Texas, Lawrence Brewer was executed for the 1998 killing of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper. These executions highlight two separate reasons why the death penalty should be eliminated.
The first lesson we learn is that although many believe that our appeals process will ensure that only the guilty are executed, that is simply not true. Once mistakes have been made, getting a second chance is incredibly difficult.
Davis’ case shows this. The evidence against him consisted almost entirely of witness testimony, yet many of the witnesses recanted, some swearing that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying. Moreover, nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating someone else. To say that there are problems with this case is an understatement.
Despite these problems, authorities denied Davis clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court could not halt his execution. There remain great doubts about whether Troy Davis committed that murder, but we killed him anyway.
The second lesson we learn is that the death penalty is not about the victims. In 1998 Brewer and two other men chained James Byrd Jr. to a pickup truck and brutally dragged him to his death. Amazingly however, Byrd’s son Ross fought to try to save Brewer’s life. The younger Byrd’s simple and profound words sum up the feelings of many family members of murder victims, “You can’t fight murder with murder.”
The execution of Troy Davis shows the cracks in our criminal justice system. The execution of Lawrence Brewer shows that even when there is no doubt, execution is not the solution.
Murder is a horrible crime and must be punished. But the death penalty is flawed, it’s wrong and it needs to be ended.