Rev Dr Jude


I Am Troy Davis
November 30, 2011, 12:57 am
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A Witness for Troy Davis: a Legalized Lynching
Thomas Ruffin, Jr., Esquire © October-November 2011

“Stand Up! Testify! We Won’t Let Troy Davis Die!”
The militant chant of hundreds of mainly black, but also many white, protesters marching on the state capitol building to a somber NAACP-Amnesty-International prayer vigil in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, the night before the Troy Davis execution on September 21, 2011.

On September 21, 2011, I witnessed the legalized lynching of my client, Troy Anthony Davis, who died by “lethal injection” shortly before his forty-third birthday. A funny man, and, indeed, a religious and politically sensitive black man, Troy Davis assumed a very public role that he never wanted: that of facing execution for a crime someone else committed. Before then, he braved through the ordeal of being falsely accused and tried in Savannah, Georgia, for the senseless murder of a white police officer. After being convicted and sentenced to death in August 1991, Troy realized that, notwithstanding this nation’s simplistic claims of equality and fairness, American courts do not provide an invisible barrier called “justice” as protection for the wrongly accused, especially those who are black and poor. After all, in the United States, poor people, especially blacks and Latinos, face imprisonment and suffering, including execution, at a rate vastly disproportionate to our numbers in American society.
For example, in Georgia, where black males make up no more than about 15% of the state’s population, black men comprise about 48.4% of Georgia’s death row. In fact, in Georgia, where black people in general constitute about 30% of the state’s population, we make up about 61.5% of Georgia’s prison population. That is to say, about 33,669 of Georgia’s prison population are black. After a close reading of history, we should not be surprised. After all, from 1882 through 1923, white mobs in Georgia publicly lynched 458 people, 95% or 435 of whom were black people of African descent. Afterwards, from 1924 through the present, Georgia “legally” executed 471 people, 74.9% or 353 of whom were black. Most, if not all, of the executed, like the lynched victims before, never received the protections in the law that well-to-do whites receive in Georgia. However, in a system based in its origins on a form of white capital supremacy, elected policy makers and other such elites seldom worry about adequate legal protections for blacks and the poor.

In fact, in the United States, black people of African descent, or rather those born in this country and whose first language is English, comprise an estimated 12.2% to 13% of the American populace. However, black males make up about fifty percent of the American prison population and, as of January 1, 2011, about 41.8% of America’s total death row population. To be sure, for every 100,000 black males living in the United States on June 30, 2009, about 4,749 were imprisoned. Hence, a total of perhaps 1,021,000 black men (not including Hispanic black men) were imprisoned in June 2009. As of August 27, 2011, federal prisons incarcerated about 217,582 people, about 37.9% of whom were black. As a matter of fact, by January 1, 2011, the federal government imprisoned sixty-seven people on its death row, about 50.7% or thirty-four of whom were black men.

For similar examples, we should look at Maryland and Virginia, two mid-Atlantic states. In Maryland, where black males make up about 14% of the state population, and where the total black population constitutes no more than about 28% of the state populace, the total prison and jail population equals about 23,285 people, with about 77% of that number being black. In the meantime, Maryland’s death row imprisons five men, 80% or four of whom are black. Similarly, in Virginia, where black people constitute about 20% of the state’s population, we make up about 68% of the state’s prison and jail population of about 35,564. Furthermore, black men, who constitute about 10% of Virginia’s population, make up at least 45.4% of the condemned on Virginia’s death row. In sum, for every 100,000 black people in Maryland, 1,579 live in Maryland prisons or jails. As for Virginia, for every 100,000 black people, 2,331 are imprisoned by the Virginia commonwealth. In contrast, for every 100,000 white people in Maryland, merely 288 are incarcerated by the state. Similarly, for every 100,000 white people in Virginia, merely 396 are imprisoned by the commonwealth.
This pattern of racial bias persists throughout much of the United States, at least where black people make up a sizable percentage of the state population. In North Carolina, where black people make up about 21.5% of the population, we make up about 51.5% of its death row population and about 64% of its prison population. In South Carolina, where black people constitute 29.5% of the populace, we comprise about 52.4% of the state’s death row population and about 69% of its prison population. While these and other examples from the south may be instructive, little difference will come from a review of the north. In Ohio, for example, where black people constitute about 11.8% of the population, we make up about 51.5% of Ohio’s death row. Similarly, we make up about 52% of the state’s prison population. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, where black people make up about 10.8% of the population, we provide a little more than 60.7% of the state’s death row population and about 56% of its prison population.

Despite these numbers, black people do not commit most of the crimes in the United States. As a matter of fact, black people never committed most of the felony or misdemeanor offenses in the United States. Rather, we simply faced in a racially disparate fashion deliberate targeting by American police. In fact, according to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report titled Race of Prisoners Admitted to State and Federal Institutions, 1926-86, black people, in 1926, during some of the harshest conditions of so-called “Jim Crow” or apartheid segregation, constituted no more than about 21.4% of the American prison population. By 1950, the percentage increased to 29.7%. Apparently, the trend towards focusing the government’s police powers on black communities for prosecution and imprisonment gradually increased over the last century, probably as lynch-law and racial segregation waned while more discreet forms of oppression became preferable. Over the years, this racially bigoted pattern of policing resulted in a number of injustices.

At the end of the day, these injustices included the wrongful prosecution, the twenty-two-year imprisonment, and, ultimately, the legalized lynching of Troy Anthony Davis. As a result, many of us proclaim as an act of solidarity that “I am Troy Davis”. Meanwhile, the insidious nature of the machine that poisoned Troy to death can best be identified by the politicians, the judges, the lawyers, the police, the prison employees, the lobbyists, and the contractors who benefit from the system and who make sure that it functions. These people long for a morally acceptable forum for their constituencies’ blood lust. While never admitting to racial bias, they can never escape the statistics that outline their collective ambition for racially disproportionate executions. Nor can they credibly dispute the sworn recantations by seven of the nine surviving witnesses who, at first, testified against Troy Davis in August 1991 on the murder charge,
but who later confessed that they lied at trial against Troy and often did so because of illegal pressures or suasion from local police. In addition, the Georgia politicians and judges who maintain the death penalty ignored the sworn proof offered by additional eyewitnesses who saw Officer MacPhail’s murder, or who heard a confession to the crime, and who ultimately disclosed under oath that Sylvester “Red” Coles, a police informant, actually committed the murder or confessed to the crime, not Troy Davis.

For those offended by Troy’s murder, we should honor the words “I am Troy Davis” by working to abolish the American death penalty, and we should insist upon achieving that goal within three to five years of Troy’s execution. While pursuing this goal, we should also eliminate racially disparate imprisonment in American society. As a partial remedy to the fiscal troubles of the United States, we should demand that racially disparate imprisonment and policing come to an end within three to five years, if not immediately. As a matter of conscience and sound public policy, the two causes must be linked. After all, the scourge of America’s death penalty must end, and the pervasive system of police state apartheid must be crushed into nonexistence, if the United States would atone for its biased prosecutions against those who, because of incarceration, embody the words “I am Troy Davis”.

At the end of the day, racial minorities should not be targeted for prison. Innocents and the poor should not be legally lynched on America’s death row. The American police state, with its history of racial slavery and other forms of oppression, should not be trusted with seemingly unlimited power to torment the poor and peoples of color. In other words, the enforcement of the law should not be based upon its violation by the state. Hence, if constitutional precepts such as “due process” and “equal protection of the law” mean anything, then racially disparate prosecutions and callous indifference to innocence should not be the norm. We should oppose these evils until they no longer exist. In his last words, Troy Davis issued more or less this same mandate late at night on September 21, 2011, while strapped down to a gurney in a rural Georgia prison. Many of us heard Troy’s mandate. The question before us today is whether we will fulfill it.

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