LaGuardia’s “Lesson” Forum


(Ten Years and Four Years)

Ten Years ago Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.  Four years ago LaGuardia Community College chose Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project as its common reading.  I raise this here because the 2004-5 common reading and A Lesson Before Dying are not unrelated.  The intolerance that killed Mr. Shepard is at the root of the unjust trial that convicted Jefferson in Gaines’s novel.  I really wish that 10/4 could mean “over and out” as it does in radio slang.

Lynching is Terrorism; imagination is just as powerful as truth.  While this year’s pick, A Lesson Before Dying, is fictional, it is all too true in terms of the underlying prejudice it covers/exposes. As I was reading A Lesson Before Dying this morning in preparation for class tomorrow I was struck with the idea that the underlying tragedy of the kangaroo court that convicted Jefferson was that it, the trial, civil justice, was actually an improvement over the lynch law it replaced.  The intolerant and (over-)empowered majority has little faith in its institutions.  This might be because they are based on the Constitution and enforced by (often) impartial professionals.

Matthew Shepard was Lynched.  Make no mistake about it.  This was brought home to me as I listened to this timely and intelligent report on NPR.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw a theme of A Lesson Before Dying that I had overlooked.  The reason that there is a trial is because there is enough confidence in the white supremacist system in the 1940s Louisiana Cajun community that they didn’t need to take him out and string him up immediately.  As I looked over the LaGuardia site compiled by the library and Will Koolsbergen I was struck by how far we have come: the status of hetero supremacy has been chased far enough into the corner that the bigots were eventually brought to justice.

On a tangentially related note I heard this story on On The Media about how there is a whispering campaign that undermines one of the presidential candidates “American-ness.”  This innuendo is like the undermining of Matthew Shepard’s humanity by challenging his masculinity.  Now I am not saying that one political camp is calling for the assassination of the standard-bearer of the other, but this type of sub-conscious challenge (in the minds of sociopaths) is what led to the crucifixion of Matthew Shepard.

I am interested in how, or why, you think these cases are like or unlike one another.


October 13, 2008 Posted by | a lesson before dying, circumstantial evidence, Common Reading, crucifixion, death penalty, homophobia, innuendo, laguardia community college, LaGuardia Community College Common Reading, laramie project, lynch law, masculinity, Matthew Shepard | Leave a comment

Lessons Learned Again (New Lessons?)

“The Supremes” have stayed, for a week(seven days, 168 hours), the execution of Mr. Davis.  Thank you to all of you who sent letters and emails to “the powers that be.”  I have to believe that, like prayers, these missives add unquantifiable power to a position: in this case, “life.”  Here is what the NYTimes reported:

With 2 Hours to Spare, Justices Stay Execution

ATLANTA — The United States Supreme Court issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for a Georgia inmate convicted of killing a police officer in 1989, two hours before his scheduled death by lethal injection.

Troy Davis had been scheduled to be executed Tuesday evening in Georgia.

The inmate, Troy A. Davis, 39, was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. The Supreme Court, which issued the stay without explanation, will decide Monday whether to grant Mr. Davis’s appeal for a new trial.

Again, thank you for your prayers.

Here is another death-penalty case in the news today. I have two conflicting opinions (and links) of what the case centers on. Is “eyewitness testimony” enough to condemn a man to death? Please read (at least) the excerpts, preferably the entirety of the two cited “articles” (opinion pieces), and write a few sentences about what your opinion is.

The first excerpt is from a passionate editorial in the New York Times on Saturday by Bob Herbert:

Nine witnesses testified against Mr. Davis at his trial in 1991, but seven of the nine have since changed their stories. One of the recanting witnesses, Dorothy Ferrell, said she was on parole when she testified and was afraid that she’d be sent back to prison if she didn’t agree to finger Mr. Davis.

Further Reading on Troy Davis

This second Pro-Death-Penalty Account is from a blog that digests another site to which it is linked. This is a fairly graphic and opinionated “article.” It has this account, which (I think) the Herbert column refutes, or at least calls into question:

Officer MacPhail, wearing his police uniform — including badge, shoulder patches, gun belt, .38 revolver and nightstick — ran to the scene of the disturbance. Davis fled. When Officer MacPhail ordered him to halt, Davis turned around and shot him. Officer MacPhail fell to the ground. Davis, smiling, walked up to the stricken officer and shot him several more times.

Further Reading on Mark Allan McPhail

Please decide whether you think that Troy Anthony Davis should be executed this week for the murder of Mark Allen McPhail. Have your say by typing a few sentences in the comments section of this post.

September 22, 2008 Posted by | a lesson before dying, capital punishment, circumstantial evidence, death penalty, georgia, Uncategorized | 4 Comments