‘I am Troy Davis’

December 16, 2011

From the November-December 2011 issue of News & Letters:

‘I am Troy Davis’

The State of Georgia murdered Troy Davis at 11:08 p.m., Sept. 21. His execution was carried out in the face of world outrage—large demonstrations throughout the U.S. and Europe, which called attention to the wealth of evidence casting doubt upon Davis’ guilt in the shoot­ing death of a white police officer in 1989.

Seven of the nine trial witnesses against Davis recanted their testimony, five of them saying it was coerced by law enforcement at the time. There was no physical evidence connecting him to the shooting. As his attorney said, “This night the state of Georgia legal­ly lynched a brave, a good and indeed an innocent man.”

The invocation of lynching is accurate. Georgia pio­neered the disgusting “three strikes” laws of today with its statute from the 1700s which said that any slave convicted a third time of striking a white person would be put to death. Before the Civil War, simply publish­ing a paper like News & Letters in Georgia, advocating the uprising of the oppressed, would also have been a capital offense. In 1972, it was the Furman v. Georgia case demonstrating the racist application of the death penalty which led to its brief prohibition in the U.S.

Troy Davis’ execution was part of a long history of racist injustice. The modern history of the death pen­alty is also a measure of the racist wrong turn this country took in the 1970s. Again, Georgia provides the illustration in the case of Warren McClesky, who was executed in 1991.

His lawyer argued that institutionalized racism made a Black defendant more likely to receive a death sentence than a white—which is supported by all sta­tistics. But the Supreme Court held that McClesky would have to prove that only his individual rights were violated, the absurdity of which was pointed out by Jus­tice William Brennan in his dissenting opinion.

It was a defense of institutional racism that has been used to deal with capitalism’s intractable prob­lems in this period, the criminalizing of poverty and the warehousing of millions in the criminal injustice system. The aggressive presence of riot police Sept. 21 to intimidate the peaceful demonstration outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison where ex­ecutions are carried out shows that the State means to continue down this totalitarian path.


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