by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1432)
Troy Davis was executed on the night of September 21, 2011 as hundreds of people maintained vigil outside the Jackson, Georgia prison hoping the Supreme Court would grant a stay of execution. It was all very civilized; he was killed by a large dose of lethal injection administered at 7pm.
Troy Davis was executed on the night of September 21, 2011 as hundreds of people maintained vigil outside the Jackson, Georgia prison hoping the Supreme Court would grant a stay of execution. It was all very civilized; he was killed by a large dose of lethal injection administered at 7pm. He went to his death still proclaiming his innocence of the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah (Georgia) police officer. Davis’s conviction was based on “evidence” from the testimony of nine eyewitnesses, seven of whom later recanted. Brian Kammer, a lawyer for Davis, said in seeking a stay from the Supreme Court that newly available evidence revealed false, misleading and inaccurate information was presented at the trial, “rendering the convictions and death sentence fundamentally unreliable.” The ballistics evidence linking Davis to the crime was also deeply flawed. Yet the execution was still carried out.
Based on such discrepencies in the evidence, and the huge publicity the case garnered, there were appeals from around the world including from Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa as well as former US President and Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Parliamentarians and government ministers from the Council of Europe, the EU’s human rights watchdog, had earlier called for Davis’s sentence to be commuted. Others joining the appeal included Pope Benedict XVI but US President Barack Obama was unmoved. A White House spokesman said: “It is not appropriate for the president of the United States to weigh in on specific cases.” One wonders under what circumstances would Obama intervene? Every case would be specific. Edward DuBose, a leader of the Georgia branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said it was not an execution, but a “murder”. Perhaps, he should have said it was a state sponsored lynching.
Why did Davis’s case attract so much attention? His may be a particular case but the reality is that in the US, the justice system is deeply biased against African Americans. For the same crime, an African American is three times more likely to be convicted than a white person.
The number of African Americans on death row far exceeds their population ratio as does the overall prison population, all because of the racist environment that is so pervasive in the US despite the Civil Rights movement and legislation as well as the election of Obama as president. It is far more difficult to erase the deeply-ingrained belief that African Americans are inherently inferior and prone to violence. A poor African American man suspected of killing a white man can expect the full weight of the law and the ponderous machinery of justice to bear down on him and deliver the only verdict that is considered his due: death. Usually, such an African American confronts two prosecutors in court: the state attorney as well as the judge! Troy Davis just found this out as did many others before him and no doubt a great many others will do so after him. In the US, it is virtually a crime to be black; and to be poor means he is destined for the death row.
Consider the flip side of this coin. Johannes Mehserle, a white police officer — who shot Oscar Grant, an unarmed African American male, in broad daylight as the victim lay face down, surrounded by other law enforcement officers, in the presence of numerous witnesses — walked away free in a few months. This is the American reality nearly five decades after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Or consider the case of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant shot 19 times by plainclothes police officers as he was entering his apartment vestibule in the Bronx, New York, on the night of 2-4-1999. Diallo had committed no crime; he had never had a conviction and was merely trying to make ends meet. Were the four police officers convicted? No. Or the case of Joshua Claus, an American soldier who beat to death Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, whose only crime was that he happened to drive by a place where a bomb had exploded an hour earlier. An American soldier was wounded in the April 2002 Kabul blast. Claus was given a five-month sentence and discharged from the army.
When dehumanization of the “other” becomes the norm, fairness and justice are bound to suffer. Troy Davis became its latest victim; he will certainly not be the last in America, the land of the free and home of the brave.