The state of Georgia has executed Troy Davis. Davis was a Black man who was accused of killing white police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991, but his trial was a classic case of a racist frame-up without any actual evidence against him. Davis has always proclaimed his innocence.
Last night, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Davis’s appeal, thereby allowing Georgia’s state-sponsored murder to go ahead. President Obama also refused to intervene or even comment on this monstrous miscarriage of justice. In the days leading up to the execution, tens of thousands demonstrated to protest this legal lynching. Numerous public figures in the U.S. and around the world called for clemency. Troy Davis is the latest victim of capitalism’s racist death penalty! His murder is a damning indictment of the U.S.’s system of justice.
The prosecutors’ case at Davis’s trial was riddled with holes: No murder weapon was found. There were no fingerprints, DNA, or any other physical evidence against Davis. The case was based entirely on the testimony of people who were pressured by prosecutors to identify Davis as the killer or to say he confessed to them. Of the nine witnesses at the original trial, seven have since recanted their testimony against Davis in sworn affidavits! Davis’s main accuser, who stands by his testimony, was the initial suspect in the case, Sylvester Coles. He obviously had a biased incentive to accuse another person of the crime.
Last year the Supreme Court granted Davis an evidentiary hearing before U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. Judge Moore’s ruling denying Davis’s appeal was a remarkably cynical example of the way the racist American criminal justice system works. Moore admitted that “the State’s case may not be ironclad,” and that “the evidence heard at trial was incomplete in some key manner,” but asserted that “most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr. Davis” anyway. [www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-less-than-ironclad-less-than-safe] Judge Moore apparently ignored the fact that a conviction is supposed to require a unanimous vote of all jurors, not just “most” jurors.
The state of Georgia urged Judge Moore to place an “extraordinarily high” burden of proof on Davis, and Moore explained that this “comports with the high level of respect society has for jury verdicts rendered subsequent to an uncorrupted process, while acknowledging that even the best efforts of society may occasionally yield results that later prove clearly incorrect”! Moore went even further: “If state prosecutors in Georgia are comfortable seeking the death penalty in cases of heinous crimes where their proof creates less than an absolute certainty of guilt, and the people of Georgia, through their validly enacted laws allow such a system knowing that it may occasionally result in the erroneous imposition of punishment, [US Supreme Court precedent] suggests that the Constitution will not interfere”! [Emphasis added]
In plain language, Judge Moore is saying he knows the evidence against Davis was lacking, and he knows Davis may very well be innocent, but he has no qualms about allowing the execution to proceed anyway. In doing so he bends over backwards to put the blame for the possible injustice on the jury, “society”, state prosecutors, and the people of Georgia. Moore thus washes his hands of personal responsibility for the execution. Pontius Pilate would be proud.
Judge Moore’s cynical and tortured reasoning is a typical example of the way racist injustice is given a thin cover of legality in the American judicial system. The reality is that prosecutors disproportionately seek the death penalty for poor Black people accused of killing white people. Black people are 12% of the U.S. population, but 42% of death row prisoners. About 50% of murder victims are Black, but 80% of the victims in death penalty cases are white. [www.nodeathpenalty.org/get-the-facts/five-reasons-oppose-death-penalty]
The gross injustice of death penalty cases is evident from the extraordinary fact that 123 people have been sentenced to death and later found innocent and released since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s. That is 10% of the total number of people executed during that period! And the example of Troy Davis highlights the reality that the actual number of innocent people on death row is much greater. No one knows how many innocent people have been executed in America in the last 35 years. We demand: Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!
These cold hard facts behind the death penalty show that racism is still rampant in America almost 50 years after the end of legal segregation in the South. The capitalist system needs racism: It is how the ruling class divides and conquers the working class, turning white workers against Black and Latino people to divert all workers from a struggle against the capitalists who exploit them. In this time of growing economic crisis, white workers must come to understand the poisonous danger of racism, and the need for working class unity on the basis of opposition to all forms of racism and national chauvinism. And to get rid of racism and the other ills of this sick society like joblessness and poverty, it is necessary to go to the root of the problem and get rid of the capitalist system altogether.
We revolutionary socialists explain these beliefs to our fellow workers as we fight together in all struggles, including struggles to free victims of racist injustice, such as Troy Davis. A stronger anti-death penalty movement can inspire broader struggles of workers and oppressed people. In turn, the growth of mass class struggles in this country will make it harder for the state to get away with racist crimes, like the threatened execution of Troy Davis.
We in the League for the Revolutionary Party have often raised the idea of calling a general strike to protest racist atrocities such as this one. That is one example of the kind of radical idea that workers and oppressed people will have to consider, as the racist and anti-worker attacks by both parties of capitalism, the Republicans and the Democrats, get more and more vicious.