Troy Davis executed in Georgia
Troy Davis, an innocent man whose death sentence evoked widespread solidarity from hundreds of thousands both in the United States and around the world, was put to death at the 23rd hour on 21 September as family, friends, and hundreds of supporters held vigil outside. Outside of the US, many more people waited, hoping that he would be given a last minute reprieve. He received none.
This was the fourth and final attempt on Davis’ life. He had narrowly escaped before when the courts, with the help of an outpouring of public pressure – notably from the Pope, US Congressional leaders, and even arch-supporter of the death penalty William S. Sessions, a former director of the FBI – stayed his execution.
When the State Supreme Court of Georgia and then the US Supreme Court denied Davis’ request for another stay of execution, more than 630,000 signed a petition demanding clemency. “Big-name” signatures included former US president Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, Desmond Tutu, and some 51 members of Congress.
He had so much support because by this time the case against Davis had fallen completely apart. Key witnesses in the shooting of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989 that led to his conviction later changed all or part of their testimony. Many said they were coerced via “strong-arm police tactics” to testify against him. Also, there was never any DNA evidence that could definitely link Davis to the scene of the shooting. But due in large measure to the “Anti-terrorism and Effective Death-Penalty Act” passed in 1996 – which bars death-row inmates from bringing recent evid
ntiary discoveries that could have been presented (hardly possible considering the circumstances) at trial – a new hearing was ruled out, one that could have shown new light on events and proved Davis’ innocence. However, as far as the courts were concerned, a black man had been found who could be blamed for shooting a white cop.
And this is precisely where the racist nature of the US justice system comes in. The raising and surfacing of doubts, inconsistencies, and the mishandling and corruption of investigations, these crucial aspects of any legal proceeding – which would never be allowed to be written off under “typical” circumstances – are treated as completely incidental in situations where a black male is the main subject of interest. And this is especially true when the murder of a white policeman is involved. The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is just another high-profile example. But there are many more such incidents in which black men are convicted of crimes under the most dubious of premises and then sentenced to death. Despite being just 12.6 per cent of the US Population, blacks make up roughly 41 per cent of the prison population awaiting state-sponsored murder on death row.
More interestingly the number of exonerees – those convicted initially of a crime and sentenced to capital punishment but later found to be innocent – since 1974 are a majority black. It is a testament to the above-mentioned racist character of the capitalist government’s justice system that it is so quick to sentence so many black males to death when there is evidence of their innocence readily available to find.
In fact, in the last 40 years, 138 people on death row were later found to be innocent of the crimes that they were convicted of. Does this not reveal plainly the flaws inherent in the use of capital punishment as a deterrent and “executor” of justice? One sickening, inescapable thought cannot be shut from the mind: how many more throughout the years and decades have been consigned to death without cause? People who never had a campaign to defend them, never had a crusading lawyer to fight their corner. People who were simply murdered for the sake of the popular imagination that justice was served, that the supposedly guilty were punished.
We do not know the answer to that question and, perhaps, we never will. In a note that Troy Davis wrote just before his death he urged people to keep fighting. “There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state, and country by country.”
We cannot support the death penalty in the hands of a corrupt and elitist government and police. The abuse of powers by these politicians and law enforcement agencies is rife. There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime; it fosters an illusion of security, which is built on the corpses of people – often poor, mentally ill, or who just made too many mistakes in their lives. It executes people at huge expense but does not get to the cause of why people commit these anti-social acts. It wastes money on lethal injections and long stays on death row rather than tackling the poverty that leads to crime
The best way to honor the life and memory of Troy Davis, an innocent man slaughtered by a cruel and unjust system, is for the working class and oppressed to take up actively Davis’ call to action and develop our struggles to abolish the death penalty the world over once and for all. If we are successful, his death, and those of countless guiltless others who already met a similar fate, won’t be in vain.