Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Witness for Troy Davis: a Legalized Lynching

Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2011
From: blackaugustrebellion@gmail.com

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

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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