Almost 20 years after his shooting rampage that left two dead and two others wounded, Harry Mitts Jr. faced his long-awaited execution Wednesday morning. The incident has gained notoriety in large part due to the fact that an African-American man and a police officer were victims of this brutal act and died as a result. The deaths of these two men, as well as the serious injuries sustained by two other police officers on the scene, are appalling and justice must be served. However, it remains to be seen how capital punishment fulfills this objective.
Let's be clear about this: I'm not a Harry Mitts fan, even relative to other shady profiles on death row. Mitts, apparently reeling over a divorce, was in a drunken state at the time of his shooting spree. Antagonizing a neighbor and her African American boyfriend John Bryant, Mitts screamed out racial epithets before shooting and killing Bryant. Police officer Dennis Glivar, upon responding to the scene, was fatally shot by Mitts as well. Mitts would shoot several other police officers before eventually being apprehended. The racial aspect of this particular crime is quite visible and disgusting, as well as the indiscriminate shooting of police officers.
Compare that to the case of Troy Davis — a trial plagued by uncertainty, a distinct lack of DNA evidence, and unreliable eyewitness accounts, but which resulted in an execution nonetheless. Or even consider the case of Marvin Wilson, an execution of a Texas man with a whopping IQ score of 61, as well as a case in which no forensic evidence or eyewitness accounts verified the identity of the criminal. All that is to say, on the spectrum of capital punishment cases, I am relatively unsympathetic to whatever defense Mitts and his camp may generate.
And yet, the logic of capital punishment is one that remains deeply flawed. "Killing murderers will teach people not to murder," so the logic goes. But capital punishment advances the notion that killing is a desirable moral end. This is a fundamental point often gets lost as the debate moves into the interpretative and economic realm. The recognition that the ending of someone's life is in fact an adequate punitive measure communicates to the broader society that killing is in fact ok in certain instances.
Harry Mitts' actions are repulsive and he likely won't draw much sympathy from anyone. But an eye for an eye is not the answer. After all, as Gandhi famously once said, "An eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind."