The Legal Lynching of Troy Anthony Davis
Today, September 22, 2011, is a day of mourning throughout the world. Last evening the government of the United States of America murdered Troy Anthony Davis. The newspapers argue that this was an act of the Georgia state government, but the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the administration of President Barack Obama also had a hand in this legalized lynching. In my opinion, in order to begin to understand why this horrendous act happened, we need to take a look at the history of the United States.
The United States became a nation as a result of a political revolution against British rule. While the revolutionary government outlawed chattel slavery in several states, slavery continued in the nation that claims to represent “liberty and justice for all.”
During the years when slavery was the law, the Democratic Party was the political party of the slave owners. Although the murder of slaves was illegal, this crime was rarely, if ever, prosecuted. The Fugitive Slave Act required state governments that had outlawed slavery to apprehend escaped slaves and transport them back to individuals who claimed they owned human beings. This is why an escaped slave by the name of Frederick Douglass needed to leave the United States when he published his autobiography.
For several years after the Civil War the Reconstruction Governments were the legal authorities in the former slave states. These governments were the most democratic in the history of the United States and gave legal rights to former slaves as well as women and Native Americans. However, these Reconstruction Governments were overthrown by terrorist organizations that united to become the Ku Klux Klan. The federal government did nothing to stop the seizure of power by the Klan and developed a cozy relationship with these terrorists.
What does all of this have to do with the legal lynching of Troy Anthony Davis? During the years when the Ku Klux Klan and the Democratic Party ruled the states where Jim Crow was the law, thousands of Black people were lynched. The people who carried out these lynchings didn’t pretend that they had any legal authority. In other words, all of these lynchings were criminal acts of murder, but the federal government rarely, if ever, prosecuted these mass murderers.
Ida Wells is credited for inventing investigative journalism in this country. Wells investigated 728 lynchings and found that most Blacks were usually lynched for so-called crimes like “incendiarism,” “race prejudice,” “quarreling with Whites,” and “making threats.” Wells also documented the lynching of thirteen-year-old Mildrey Brown, who was lynched in Columbia, South Carolina.
The abolition of chattel slavery as well as the outlawing of Jim Crow segregation were two of the most important achievements of working people and farmers in this country. However, the execution of Troy Anthony Davis spotlights the fact that these advances were incomplete.
Today, anyone who lives in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world. Black people, as well as Latinos are grossly over-represented in the approximately seven million human beings who are either in prison, on probation, or in parole, as well as those who are on death row. Approximately 90 to 95 percent of the prison population is serving time because of plea bargains and have never been convicted of a crime.
When we understand this reality, the role of District Attorneys is more often than not to make a deal rather than prosecute alleged criminals. This is one reason why several of the witnesses who testified against Troy Davis came forward to state that they were pressured by the prosecution to make their original testimonies. We have seen this tactic used by District Attorneys in numerous other cases. Two witnesses came forward to argue that they had been pressured by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to testify against Mumia Abu Jamal.
We have also seen prosecutors withhold evidence from defense attorneys that might exonerate their defendants. These are clear examples of how District Attorneys have used their powers to advance a similar agenda as those members of the Ku Klux Klan who used to murder Blacks and others who they found to be objectionable.
President Barack Obama became the first Black person to be elected to that office. Certainly this election registered the fact that racist attitudes, while they clearly continue to exist, have been mollified to a certain extent. However, Obama was held up as the great hope for the future and thousands of Black people attended his inauguration.
In the over two years that Obama has been President there wasn’t a day that went by where he could have made a statement in opposition to the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. Eric Holder, the first Black Attorney General of the United States could have indicted the District Attorney who prosecuted Davis for pressuring witnesses, but he chose to not interfere with this lynching.
We might also consider that President Obama is setting records for most deportations by a President in this country. I believe that last year there were more than 400,000 deportations. Most people are deported to Mexico where wages might be two dollars per day.
These deportations are similar to the apprehension of former slaves under the old Fugitive Slave Act. We might ask the question of how much it cost a slave owner in today’s dollars to maintain a slave. In the old days slaves were sent back to chattel slavery. Today, President Obama sends workers back to a condition of wage slavery in nations where they might starve to death.
Ida Wells gave the following reason for why Black people were lynched:
“lynching was merely an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down.’”
Today the capitalist system is literally falling apart. After the government has invested literally trillions of dollars to stimulate the economy, unemployment continues to hover around ten percent.
The reason why the United States government has such a treacherous criminal justice system is to keep working people from acquiring the vast wealth that exists in this country. Capitalists view workers as nothing more than appendages to machines, whose so-called rights can be routinely compromised. Anyone who feels that this statement is an exaggeration might consider the lack of evidence against Troy Anthony Davis. This means that any of us can be accused and convicted of a crime we didn’t commit.
We also might consider that leaders of the labor movement such as Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, and Bill Haywood served time in prison. The four Haymarket martyrs were executed in Illinois for protesting for an eight-hour workday.
Yes, Ida Wells words continue to ring true. The execution of Troy Anthony Davis had absolutely nothing to do with justice. This execution was about keeping all working people down. However, history has also shown that these executions will fail to intimidate working people. We will continue to struggle until we have a government that truly works to achieve human dignity for all.