Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, delivering an address on the prison industrial complex on Saturday, August 25, 2007. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Troy Davis Execution Raises Old Questions, New Challenges
White House, Supreme Court refuses to intervene despite appeals from millions
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Troy Davis was put to death by the State of Georgia with the complicity of the federal government in the United States. This was done even though millions of people came out in his defense across the country and around the world.
This blatant disregard of popular will speaks volumes as it relates to the commitment of the ruling class inside the U.S. to the maintenance and implementation of the death penalty. This form of punishment is largely reserved for the inmates coming from the nationally oppressed and working class.
Even the Associated Press noted that “Outside the prison, a crowd of more than 500 demonstrators cried, hugged, prayed and held candles. The small army represented hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide who took up the anti-death penalty cause as Davis’s final days ticked away.” (AP, September 22)
Although the crimes against humanity that are routinely carried out as state policy by the ruling class are not treated with the same prosecutorial vigor, the gross violations of human rights and civil rights against working people and the oppressed far outweigh the transgressions taking place among the proletariat that are largely the result of the exploitative conditions under which they live within capitalist society. At present the role of the bankers, transnational corporations, the state coercive institutions and the individual and collective acts of violence and discrimination against the oppressed and working class are not even pursued within the legal system or the capitalist-controlled media.
Despite the fact that the admitted racist killer of African American James Byrd, Jr. in Texas was executed the same day, this by no means deflects attention away from the injustice carried out against Troy Davis. The conviction and execution of white racists for the lynching of African Americans is extremely rare and does not contribute anything to the overall struggle against national oppression in the U.S.
Family members and supporters of Troy Davis raised the debate surrounding the death penalty inside the United States to new and unprecedented levels. Hundreds of thousands signed online petitions demanding clemency and a new trial for Davis who maintained his innocence to the very end.
In cities across the U.S. and the world people held demonstrations from September 16, designated as the international day of action, until the night of the execution as well as days afterwards. T-shirts, buttons, banners and slogans spoke out in solidarity with the campaign to end the death penalty proclaiming “I Am Troy Davis.”
Protesters outside the Jackson, Georgia prison chanted “They say death row, we say hell no!” In Washington outside the Supreme Court and the White House, where several people were arrested for acts of civil disobedience, people demanded that the life of this African American be spared, but to no avail.
Troy Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, pointed out just prior to the lethal injection that took her brother’s life prematurely that “Troy Davis has impacted the world. They say ‘I am Troy Davis,’ in languages he can’t speak.” (AP, September 22)
Correia said to her brother Troy prior to his death at the hands of the state that “”We’re not just fighting for your innocence; we’re fighting the judicial system here. We’re going to keep moving forward.” (Christian Post Contributor, September 23)
Troy’s younger sister Kim remarked that people were surprised that the family was not emotionally distraught. “Why aren’t you crying? Why aren’t you grieving?,” she said.
Kim went on to say that “My brother was at peace with God. He told us before, ‘Even though the state of Georgia may execute me, they will only take my physical body, never my soul.”
According to reports from Correia, in the days leading up to the execution in Jackson, her brother’s attitude remained positive and his spirits were high. She said during visits they discussed memories of the family and joked about past experiences within their lives.
States’ Rights and Federal Intervention
The execution of Troy Davis must not be solely viewed within the context of the State of Georgia and its death penalty laws. In fact the federal government played a pivotal role in his unnecessary legal lynching.
Although a federal court evidentiary hearing that was held in 2009, the judge in the case refused to overturn the death penalty despite the lack of physical evidence and the recanting of testimony by numerous witnesses in the initial trial in 1991. The execution of Davis was held up for over four hours after the U.S. Supreme Court failed to issue a stay of execution without providing any legal explanation.
The Obama administration refused to address the case until after Troy Davis was executed under the guise that it would not have been appropriate since this was a case involving legal issues within the Georgia judicial system. President Obama is not an opponent of the death penalty.
What was largely ignored by the corporate media was that under the Clinton administration, another Democratic president during the 1990s, there were restrictions placed on the ability of death row inmates to appeal their cases through the federal courts when there are serious legal discrepancies involved. It was during this period that the U.S. Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
However, prior to the assumption of office by former President Bill Clinton, while he was running for the highest political office in the land, he broke off campaigning to return to Arkansas in order to sign of death warrant against Ricky Ray Rector, a 40-year-old African American with brain damage who was convicted of killing a police officer.
In an essay published on the ThyBlackMan.com website it states that “Rector was executed although the Arkansas Supreme Court said that Rector’s was a case that should be considered for executive clemency.” This same article also notes that “Clinton continued to state his support for the death penalty after this period. In 1994 he pushed a crime bill through Congress that allowed prosecutors to seek the federal death penalty in 60 more crimes than they could prior, including murder of a law enforcement officer. He ignored critics who requested a nation-wide moratorium on federal executions.” (ThyBlackMan.com, September 19)
The article then stresses that “He (Clinton) made three-strikes-you’re-out the law of the land, so that criminals go to jail for life, with no chance of parole. Yes, the fate of Troy Davis is due to the Democratic Party and their hardline laws against crime, which when implemented, disparately impacts African Americans.”
Also the ThyBlackMan.com site points out that “In Clinton’s first six years as president, more than 300 people were executed compared to 185 during the 12 years of the Republican presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.” Under the Clinton administration during 1997 alone, there were 74 people executed the most in a single year since 1956.
Moreover, the argument that the federal government cannot intervene to override state laws and actions that violate constitutional law is the same rationale that was used during the Confederacy over the question of slavery. Even after the Civil War, the period of Reconstruction was marked by the former planters crying foul that the federal government could impose due process supposedly guaranteed under the 14th Amendment and voting rights mandated by the 15t Amendment.
Even during the struggle for civil rights, segregationists argued that the federal government had no right to mandate the breakdown of the Jim Crow because it was the law of the southern states. These same arguments against the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 have been recently advanced by conservative spokespersons in recent years.
It is ironic that the Obama administration would evoke the rights of states to impose the death penalty against oppressed people in 2011. The fact that there was the imposition and upholding of the death penalty despite there being reasonable doubt indicates clearly that the federal government even under a Democratic administration cannot be relied upon to protect the rights and interests of historically oppressed groups inside the U.S.
The Need to End the Prison Industrial Complex
In the United States today there are approximately 2.5 million people being held in local, state and federal detention centers. The laws and prison system in the U.S. negatively impacts the oppressed nations and the working class in general.
Africans and Latino/as are disproportionately impacted by the police, courts, prisons and parole boards due to the continuing legacy of racism and national discrimination. The prison system has become a huge reservoir of slave labor since large-scale production is carried out in cooperation with the corporate community and the state.
The execution of Troy Davis came on the heels of the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of George Jackson in August 1971 and the Attica Prison Rebellion of September that same year. Over the last several months the U.S. has witnessed a new wave of prison activism and solidarity with the inmates’ strike in Georgia, the hunger strike among the Lucasville 5 death row prisoners in Ohio and the recent strike by the people in Pelican Bay and other facilities in California.
Until the capitalist system in the U.S. is overthrown there can be no justice for the oppressed and workers in the criminal justice apparatus of the state. Only under a socialist system will the full rights of self-determination and equality for the oppressed and working people be enshrined in law and social practice.