On Wednesday, the state of Georgia will execute Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of police office Mark MacPhail. Since Davis was convicted in 1991, 7 of the prosecution’s 9 witnesses have recanted their statements, and have repeatedly given testimony to courts and to the media that their testimony was coerced. Additional witnesses have come forward implicating Sylvester “Redd” Coles, another person at the scene for the murder. Not only did Coles brag to others about the crime, but he was the first to finger Troy Davis for the murder. Three of the original jurors have also come forward with signed affidavits which indicate that they would not have voted for Troy Davis’ guilt had they known then what they know now. Finally, there is no physical evidence of any sort linking Davis to the crime.
We cannot understand the killing Davis outside of a long history of lynching Black men (and women and children) for crimes that they didn’t commit and often, when no crimes were even alleged. Lynchings were frequently committed just for sport, while white families brought their children along and hosted picnics as happy spectators. These days conservative (white) Americans fancy themselves more civilized than their bloodthirsty ancestors, but I submit that the state sanctioned murder of Black men based on dubious, trumped up, and coerced evidence is just lynching remixed for a new generation. Lest we forget, the state (i.e. police officers and sheriffs deputies who were present at many lynchings) frequently sanctioned mob killings as well. This go around, the willfully naive can self-sooth with narratives of “justice being served.” Let me be clear. Mark MacPhail’s family deserves justice. But no one deserves justice at the expense of a potentially innocent man.
Let me offer one contrasting difference in approaches to the death penalty. In June 2011, Daryl Dedmon, Jr, a 19 year old white Mississippi teen, along with two truckloads of his friends, drove from his hometown of Brandon, MS into Jackson to “go fuck with some niggers.” After locating James Craig Anderson, a plant worker leaving work at 4 in the morning, the teens assaulted him, yelled racial epithets like “white power” at him, and then left him to stagger back to his truck. Dedmon, however, couldn’t leave bad enough alone, and looped back, savagely running over and killing James Anderson. He then called his friends and bragged about it. The national fervor this summer over The Help, a racially romanticized narrative of Jackson, MS, overshadowed James Anderson’s murder, a tragic modern day Jackson, MS tale that would have forced us to confront the racial realities of Black folk in this 2nd decade of the 20th century.
The supreme irony, however, is that last week James Anderson’s family sent a letter to the Hinds County district attorney asking them not to seek the death penalty in Dedmon’s case:
“Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well,” the letter states. …”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,” the letter states. “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.” (source: CNN.com)
(Black folks are the most forgiving people I know. #Jesuswalks)
In their courageous act of petitioning the state to not avenge the killing of their beloved family member by taking another life, the Anderson family powerfully demonstrates the ways historically and currently that the death penalty has been/is used to punish Black men, ostensibly for being a threat to white women, men, and children. In addition to their moral conviction against the death penalty, they have a political conviction against it, namely that if it is not applied fairly, then it shouldn’t be applied at all. Even if, by chance, you morally believe in the death penalty, you can still be politically opposed to its use. Their self-sacrificial act, in the face of overwhelming evidence of Daryl Dedmon’s guilt, should challenge us all to think more critically about the death penalty, about racism, about policing, about state coercion and violence–in short, about what we really mean when we say “justice.”
For the state of Georgia to proceed with the killing of Troy Davis in the name of justice when so much reasonable doubt exists is for them to thumb their noses at the very concept.
Today, the State Board of Paroles and Pardons will hear Davis’ attorneys plea for a grant of clemency. Last week over 600,000 petition signatures were delivered to the board in support of Troy Davis.
To Troy, we send out this effort of love and energy to you in the spirit of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Pauli Murray, Mary Church Terrell, W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White, and all those ancestors and freedom fighters who have fought fearlessly for justice, past and present.
If you want to call and express your support, or sign the petition, see info below.
To get involved, contact:
Gov. Deal of Georgia: 404-656-1776
State Board of Pardons and Paroles: 404-656-5651
Sign Sign On.org’s online petition.
Sign Amnesty International’s petition.