Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Taking Responsibility

The State of Georgia is going to execute Troy Davis today. That means that a man or a woman, employed by the State, is going to kill him. This case has earned legendary acclaim. There are a slew of inconsistencies, witness recantations and questions that lead to an abundance of doubt regarding Mr. Davis’ guilt. Despite that, and appeals from former United States President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, and the Pope of the Catholic Church and countless others, a man or woman working on behalf of the State of Georgia is going to kill Troy Davis.

At the moment the United States is involved in a series of wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Our supposed objectives in these places are to introduce democracy and civil society. It is easy to make the argument that we are hypocritical in purporting that we are the standard bearers of civilization while allowing state sanctioned killing here in the United States. Pointing out hypocrisy; however, to people who support murder as a form of vengeance dressed as justice is ineffective. I argue that supporters of capital punishment should not hide behind false claims of Western Civility and human decency.

If the Governor, who has the unique authority to prevent the killing of a man, chooses not to save his life, then he should be responsible for taking it. If he so supports capital punishment as an element of state justice, then he should demonstrate his core beliefs and publicly shoot Troy Davis himself. He would not hesitate to volunteer for a day to teach a 2nd grade class in support of his belief in education. He surely wouldn’t pause to throw out the first pitch for the Braves in support of his belief in sport as a critical component of society. He should personally bear the responsibility of publicly taking another man’s life. Lead by example and take his support of capital punishment to its logical and literal end.

Doing so would unmask the philosophy so we, as a nation, can be more clear about who we really are. We can align behind our leaders based on their public acts. We would be clear that our government kills people despite questions about their innocence. Regarding immigration, we could be clear that we are a nation that will round up tens of millions of working people based on their ethnicity and deport them in an Idi Amin model.

Pointing out hypocrisy to the zealotry is futile. I would encourage public leaders to simply take on more personal and public responsibility about their beliefs. Their doing so would bring some honesty to the state murder of Troy Davis and some clarity to the rest of us on the meaning of being an American.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I was recently invited to the Atlanta Motor Speedway by some representatives of Nascar and a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education group. They wanted me to see a program for high school students and essentially try to partner with Georgia Tech. That was all upfull and right.

Nascar, on the other hand, does not have an image that, shall we say, resonates with me and my world view. To be frank, I hold the stereotype of Nascar fans as drunk, sunburned, sweaty southern rednecks. I know that in a crowd of nearly 110,000 people that cannot be universally true, but stereotypes being what they are, that doesn’t really matter. The truth is that all stereotypes hold a kernel of truth somewhere; however, ugly they may be or inapplicable to every individual in the group.

At the Atlanta Motor Speedway on this particular Friday afternoon during the pre-race practice runs, the temperature was about 60 zillion degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently Nascar fans go to the races in Winnebago’s, trailers and tents and camp out for the few race days in this excruciating heat. Also, there are no trees within at least a mile of the track, so everyone is camped out directly in the crosshairs of the sun. Hence the sweaty and sunburned sections of the stereotype.

What struck me as I drove onto the grounds, was the number of confederate flags. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many per capita in my life. Indeed some of them were on extra thick poles, which may have been crosses in their former lives, and were at least 10 or 15ft long. At least the breeze had sense enough not to blow, so all the flags were forced to bow down as I drove by. In addition to that, I even saw a poster asking people to join the “Sons of the Confederacy.” I really was shocked by that. I thought the Sons went out with Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind. I didn’t know they were still around in Madea’s modern world free of stereotypes. Maybe it is Tyler Perry's fault.

The whole time I was trying to be quiet and inconspicuous. After the demonstration with the students I was standing reading some of the program’s brochures. I was wearing a Tech shirt and a guy came up to me and said, “So you go to Georgia Tech?”

Think of the most stereotypical southern drawl you can and then replay the question in your mind so you can hear what I heard. The guy was a scruffy looking white man with a huge belly that hung down below his belt. His t-shirt had a race car on it with smoke coming from the exhausts in the form of a rebel flag. He had on shorts, work boots and a hunting hat. He was both sunburned and sweating. This is a non-fiction account.

“No.” That was enough for me, keep it short and don’t say anything more than the answer to the question – standard procedure with New York’s Finest and the Sons of the Confederacy.

“So whaduya do there?”

“I work there.”

He kept pressing me. Once I explained what I did, what he said next took me in a Nascar ride back in time.

He turned to look directly at me and lowered his head so he could see me above his shades and under the brim of his hunting hat.

“So yer one of those highfalutin fellers ain’ cha?”