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Let My People Go

Late in the day on Wednesday, September 21st, Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Georgia back in 1989.  It was reported that in Savannah, Georgia, MacPhail was attempting to defend a man who was being assaulted when he was shot by Davis.  Witnesses claimed they either saw Davis shoot MacPhail or that Davis later confessed.  The murder weapon was not found, but ballistics linked the bullets near the scene to another shooting involving Davis.  He was convicted and sentenced to death.

I’m not going to get into a debate on whether or not Davis was guilty because I wasn’t there, I haven’t researched the case, and at this point it doesn’t really matter because Davis has been executed and you don’t exactly come back from that.  I also can’t debate because from the little bit I know about the case, I can’t form an opinion on his guilt or innocence.  I’m just not sure.

What I’m Hearing…..

“If I knew then what I know now,” Brenda Davis, one of the jurors in the trial told CNN in a 2009 interview, “Troy Davis would not be on Death Row. The verdict would be ‘not guilty.'” – IBTimes

The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial.  Many witnesses stated they were coersed or pressured into testifying or signing statements against him.  The state of Georgia has killed Troy Davis.  – AmnestyUSA

If Troy Davis had been a high school principal or a funeral home director or the proprietor of a soul food restaurant, he probably wouldn’t have landed in the middle of an investigation into a police officer’s murder. Had he been a member of Savannah’s black middle-class, he likely would have been treated with a bit more deference by the criminal justice system. – TheGrio

Questions of guilt or innocence seem almost beside the point when you consider the fact that people of color often receive more harsh sentences for the same crimes as whites, especially when the victim is white.  Author William Jelani Cobb said, “The implication is that a white life is worth more.” – Colorlines

What I Know…..

The justice system isn’t perfect.  I know this first hand; I have to jump through hoops right now to change my son’s last name because I don’t have permission from his deadbeat “father” who hasn’t bothered with either of us for nearly all of my son’s life.  Sometimes the safeguards that are in place to protect us actually serve to harm us.  Guilty people go free and innocent people are punished.  Sadly, there really isn’t much that can be done about it, as people will continue to lie and be creatively deceptive and others will continue to be in the wrong places at the wrong times.

Troy Davis was a black man in Georgia in the late 80s accused of a crime against a white man, who (no disrespect) kind of looks like Nicholas Cage.  Georgia probably didn’t have a sign up saying “WELCOME ALL BLACK PEOPLE!” during the time of the crime; when I moved there in 1997, there were still KKK rallies near my home and Grand Wizard Whatever-they’re-called proudly marching around town insulting anyone who wasn’t their shade of pale.  It’s not exactly a secret that racism exists and that it’s more prevalent in certain areas of the world.  Racism is a fact, but it’s not the culprit and the scapegoat for every injustice against a person of color.  That includes Mr. Davis.

The case against Davis didn’t conclude back in 1991 when the sentence was handed down.  It was appealed and revisited time and time again.  There was adequate time for evidence of his innocence to come to light in the 20 years that followed, as well as time for new eyes to view the evidence and fresh ears to hear witness testimony.  If the prosecution was acting irresponsibly or investigators weren’t doing their jobs, there was enough time to prove it and fix it.  It didn’t happen.  Not enough people seemed to care until the last few days of Davis’ life, when it was too late to really make something happen.

What Should Have Happened…..

Troy Davis may or may not have gunned down a cop, but either way I don’t see what the point was in putting him to death.  If the case was truly relying heavily on witnesses, what they have to say at this point doesn’t matter too much; even an event as significant as watching someone get shot is going to become fuzzy as the years pass, making it somewhat understandable that their story changed many years after the fact.  There are obviously many doubts in the case, which now has the attention of the nation.  Let’s say some ambitious lawyer decides to dive into the case and discovers indisputable proof of Davis’ innocence.  You can let a man out of jail if he’s proven innocent.  You can’t undo an execution.

I’m not against the death penalty at all either.  Some people deserve to die.  Serial rapist who killed half his victims and mentally scarred the other half?  Kill him.  Pedophile and murderer?  Dead please.  Burn down a building and kill half its occupants?  String him up!  Any serial killer (except for Dexter) deserves to die.  Sometimes the crime is so severe that the only worthy punishment is death.  The one big exception I see to this is when a police officer is killed; it turns into an immediate death sentence for the accused.  If you commit one murder, even if the one murder is a cop, you don’t deserve to die.  Maybe you were afraid, maybe you were being spiteful, maybe you were an idiot who thought it would be cool and immediately regretted it, but either way it doesn’t warrant a death sentence.  One murder equals a serious sentence and lots of time behind bars, but shouldn’t equal death at the hands of the state.

Troy Davis, guilty or innocent, did not deserve to be executed and it’s a shame it happened.  But it did and there isn’t anything that anyone can do to change that course of events.  He will disappear from the news in a couple of weeks and disappear from the thoughts of most people soon afterwards.  He shouldn’t be automatically made into a great man by his supporters nor should he be drug through the mud by those sure of his guilt.  This shouldn’t be turned into a racism issue; not every negative thing that happens to a black person is due to their skin.

What Now?

We shouldn’t be so quick to jump on the death penalty unless it’s evident that letting the person live is a severe danger to society and the prison community and there is NO other option.  The people who obsess and involve themselves in these cases should stop and learn the name(s) of the victim(s) and not just focus on how horrible the accused is.  Movements that start due to cases like this for the rights of certain groups shouldn’t fade away when the case fades and also shouldn’t appear simply because the case garnered some attention.  News outlets need to be more responsible in their reporting and not get editorial when they should be reporting facts.

As I said earlier, give this a couple of weeks and it’ll fade from the news, then fade from most of our minds.  Something else will happen that is deemed an injustice and the process will repeat.  Same ignorant responses, same wasted efforts, same silly protests outside the courthouse.  People will get involved and sign petitions and take donations and once the novelty of the case wears down or the case itself draws to a close, people will forget and the process will again repeat itself.  Again and again.  A couple of months from now, Troy Davis will just be the black guy from Georgia who killed the white cop with a great mustache.  Soon afterward, we’ll forget he existed.  We’ll be too busy with the next Casey Anthony, or maybe something will happen with Amanda Knox and that will matter again.  Whatever the focus is, I’m sure we’ll all be plenty busy offering up theories that don’t matter and claiming injustices that probably don’t exist.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.  ~Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on September 23, 2011, in News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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