On Wednesday evening, at 11:08 pm, Troy Anthony Davis was executed, murdered, killed by lethal injection ““ whichever you feel best describes what exactly happened – in Jackson, Georgia. He had been imprisoned for twenty-two years, had three separate executions stayed, was a coach in the Savannah Police Athletic League, a once soon-to-be United States Marine Corp, a son, a brother, and an uncle. He was forty-two.
For all the disturbing aspects of this case ““ the lack of evidence, the recanting of multiple testimonies, the political pressure to make someone “pay” for the death of a cop, the many attempts to put Davis to death, the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same, nothing was more frightening than the reaction of the state of Georgia and the Supreme Court, as they deliberated for over three hours while Davis was strapped to an execution gurney. Three hours strapped to a gurney, waiting while an invisible “justice” force decided his fate. Three hours. I do not think we need to dwell on the outright cruelty of this action. Or maybe we do to realize why exactly it is so sinister.
“If you support the death penalty and only one single innocent person is killed and killing an innocent person is murder, then you also become murderers. So, you also deserve to be killed. This is the paradox of the death penalty and you cannot avoid this paradox.” Agnes Heller
Of course, this type of control did not just extend to Davis. At 7:05 pm, a cheer went through the crowd, as news spread that Davis’s execution was stayed. As emotions begin to pour forth, the news was pulled back and people were left in a state of tense confusion as to what exactly was going on. It was a manipulation that was nothing more than a cowardly attempt to wait to kill a man after everyone’s bedtime.
” It is a grotesque spectacle. Let us be ashamed of the State of Georgia. Weep for Georgia and for our nation.” Larry Cox, Amnesty International
To assume this incident is shocking is to overlook a very large amount of history, which is actually a considerably easy action to take if you have the privilege in doing so. The Troy Davis case isn’t an anomaly, but it is the most publicized case in a history that exemplifies everything that is precisely broken about our legal system. This case had no hidden truths, no questionable moments, no grey area of what his imprisonment and execution meant. A man can be convicted to death on reasonable doubt. His appeal, which was the first for the Supreme Court in fifty years, was one which he had to prove, beyond a doubt, his absolute innocence. If there was ever a contradiction that was beyond mind-boggling, I believe this would be it.
“I’m kind of numb. I can’t believe that it’s really happened. All the feelings of relief and peace I’ve been waiting for all these years, they will come later. I certainly do want some peace”¦[as for Davis’s claims of innocence] He’s been telling himself that for 22 years. You know how it is, he can talk himself into anything” – Anneliese MacPhail, mother of Mark McPhail
“The death penalty is grounded in White supremacy, part of a system of institutionalized racism… Our results suggest that the death penalty has become a sort of legal replacement for the lynchings in the past… Notably among the 38 states that allow the death penalty, approximately 98% of the prosecutors are white,” said the ACLU in an official statement that drove home the obviousness of what so many already knew. The ACLU also released data that claimed that Georgia sought the death penalty for 70% of its black defendants whose victims had been white, only 15% of white defendants whose victims were black were recommended for the death penalty (ACLU). One only has to look at the pardon of Samuel David Crowe, who murdered store manager Joseph Pala in 1988. Or better yet, look at the execution of Derrick Mason in Alabama, coming only one night after Davis, for the supposed murder of a white woman. In his case, Mason’s own judge had requested clemency due to the fact that he was represented by an inexperienced lawyer.
“I would argue that the system is so flawed that advocating the killing of a white supremacist only allows us to pretend that we have equality. It’s like, ‘We’ll use this one instance to rationalize this entire system.’ To me, that’s the criminal justice version of tokenism.” William Jelani Cobb on the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist who chained and dragged the body of James Byrd Jr. behind his pickup truck.
Furthermore, a 1990 report, also highlighted on Amnesty International reveals that the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim. The studies included the following:
- A report sponsored by the American Bar Association in 2007 concluded that one-third of African-American death row inmates in Philadelphia would have received sentences of life imprisonment if they had not been African-American.
- A January 2003 study released by the University of Maryland concluded that race and geography are major factors in death penalty decisions. Specifically, prosecutors are more likely to seek a death sentence when the race of the victim is white and are less likely to seek a death sentence when the victim is African-American.
- A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.
Now let me be very clear on this next part. I am not Troy Davis. I do not know what it is like to fear that I will be thrown into a legal system that sees my personhood as disposable. I do not know what it is to have my racial autonomy systematically overruled. I do not know because I do not live in that reality. To assume otherwise is willfully ignorant, and not only continues to deny that I, myself, or any white person are “NOT RACIST!” and attempts to exempt ourselves from a larger system of privilege and power by considering ourselves “separate,” thus the playing field more equal. Not only is this far from bearing any sort of realistic semblance, its also just selfish and arrogant. And while Facebook statuses and handmade shirts by white activists declaring I AM TROY DAVIS often have the best of intentions, it is a claim that has absolutely no ground to stand on. This has to be made very, very clear, because what happened to Davis will happen again. And again. And again. Whether as activists or really, just as people, there are certain experiences we just cannot know. We can imagine, we can empathize, and moralize, but when the it comes down to the truth of the matter, we just do not know the things that do not color our lives, whatever that issue may be.
“We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment. Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man. They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.” The Family of James Craig Anderson, in a letter asking state and federal officials not to seek the death penalty in the case against Deryl Dedmon.
The funny thing about life is that it goes on, with absolute no regard to anybody. This of course is easier if your life is safe, quiet ““ if you have won a random jackpot that ensures that while you may have some hard times in your life, you will never experience some of the systematic erasure, policing or discrimination that many do. It is a fortunate position, one that often goes actively unnoticed.
“To the people taking my life, May God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls. To the McHale family; I am not responsible for what happened that night. I did not have a gun. I did not kill your son, brother, father. I am innocent.” Troy Davis
To lend your support to end the death penalty, please check out the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty for a list on ways you can help. Also, check out The Innocence Project, Amnesty International, and The Equal Justice Intiative. If there are any other organizations you think should be included, please include them in the comments section below.