Pointing Fingers on Human Rights Abuses
Of course he is only a black man and it is Georgia.
Of course he is only a black man and it is Georgia.
And if that makes your Georgians angry, you can forget about
e-mailing me and pick up your phone. Take a glance at your watch. You
have until 7pm tomorrow (July 17). Just as Entertainment Tonight comes on WTVQ, the state of Georgia will be putting to death an inarguably innocent man.
Troy Davis is that man. At the Burger King where he had stopped,
late one night, a white security guard was shot and killed in the
parking lot. Everyone took off, which is what you do when you’re black
and a white cop is shot. That’s not particular to Savannah, it happens
in Chicago, Detroit and Burlington, Iowa.
That Davis was not the shooter won’t keep him from dying for it.
The Georgia state Board of Pardons and Paroles may commute
Davis’s sentence. After eighteen years, they’re meeting today,
Monday–the Board has its own sense of drama. Troy is, in his words,
“just trying to hold myself together.” The odds are not with him. Since
1973, the Board has voted 42-8 in favor of death.
The fact is that we (the collective, holier-than-thou, we) need not
point in the direction of Russia or China for human rights abuses, when
we can find just such perversions across America. And like Russia and
China, America finds itself in an international spotlight.
I’ve been to Savannah. Lovely small city, setting for John Berendt’s best-selling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. 216 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and not a word in it about (then) 20 year-old (now 38) Troy Davis.
Midnight’s plot is based on real-life events that occurred in 1980s
Savannah and the city would like to ‘move on’ from those heady old
days. The book is classified as nonfiction, but Troy’s night in the Garden happened in ’89 and was probably just a tad too late to become a John Berendt plot twist.
Savannah is deep South and although racial prejudice is certainly
not limited to the South, genteel small cities like Savannah tend to
arrange themselves between extremes of cultured civility and coon-dog
racism. Martin Luther King’s words no longer ring in this part of the
South, if indeed they ever rang at all. I don’t point that out with the
innocence and sanctimony of a Northerner, because we are none of us
innocent. I have lived in eight decades and remember with a degree of
pain and embarrassment my own casual racism in the then-segregated city
of Evanston, Illinois.
Interestingly, when the Duke University
men’s lacrosse team hired strippers for a party and got nailed by an
over-ambitious prosecutor who mishandled evidence, their ‘agony of
trial’ lasted a year before the prosecutor was brought up on charges,
the case dismissed and the University came up with undisclosed
restitution. The whole nation followed the case breathlessly, through
constant commentary and updates on TV. The prosecuting attorney, Mike
Nifong, was ultimately disbarred and disgraced.
Harm done, but not irreparable harm. No such luck for Davis.
Mel Wilson, the prosecuting attorney who turned a blind eye to
coerced false testimony in order to railroad Troy Davis onto death row,
has not been disbarred and is not disgraced (unless his
conscience rags at him tomorrow night at seven). There’s precious
little evidence of that. Mel has declined to stand for reelection.
Thirty years is enough for him. Just over half of those years (18),
Troy Davis had every meal on death row. Almost 20,000 prison meals
attributable to a late-night snack at Burger King and Mel Wilson’s
criminally unpunished disregard of the law he was elected to uphold.
prosecution based its case on the testimony of purported “witnesses,”
many of whom allege police coercion. Seven of the nine non-police
witnesses for the prosecution have recanted their testimony in sworn
affidavits. One witness signed a police statement declaring that Davis
was the assailant, then later said, “I did not read it because I cannot read.” In another case a witness stated that the police “were
telling me that I was an accessory to murder and that I would … go to
jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I ever got out, especially
because a police officer got killed … I was only 16 and was so scared
of going to jail.”
There are also several witnesses who have implicated another man in the murder. According to one woman, “People
on the streets were talking about Sylvester Coles being involved with
killing the police officer, so one day I asked him … Sylvester told
me that he did shoot the officer.”
One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is
Sylvester “Red” Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to
the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the
gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester
Coles. (Amnesty International)
Harm done, this time irreparable, at least by a court. Third-world harm
to an innocent American citizen because of a gutless, legally flawed,
ethically indefensible and mean-spirited Supreme Court decision.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the death penalty, mostly
because it is so often misused and applied with discrimination against
minorities. I wrote about Tookie Wilson
because that was a death-penalty case in which I thought Wilson had
been substantially rehabilitated. I was pleased when the outgoing
Illinois governor commuted all the death-row sentences at Stateville,
because of his belief that too many had been brought there by means of
But faulty evidence or rehabilitation is not the issue with Troy
Davis. Hubris on the part of a racially biased southern court and
police system, unsupportably supported by the highest court in the
land, is the issue.
How come successive courts, all the way to the Supreme Court have turned their backs on such obvious injustice? The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, precursor to the Patriot Act,
both of them rushed into law by a stupid, vicious and panicked
Congress, is largely to blame. The former Act has a neat little caveat
that precludes reopening a habeas corpus petition in any court if a ruling has already been made.
New evidence? Confessions? Tough shit. Bad law, terrible law and the Supremes turned their backs and went off to lunch.
The stated purpose of the Act was to
“deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.”
purposes apparently include imprisoning and then executing the falsely
accused when improperly found guilty. It called itself the Effective Death Penalty Act and no possibility of appeals is certainly effective.
Stopping off for a Whopper at
midnight can be injurious to your health. If it’s dark as hell, you’re
black as the night, the scene is confused and a white cop ends up dead,
it can be fatal.
In 2006, the federal appeals court in Atlanta turned down a Davis
appeal. Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, issuing a statement,
lauded that ruling, saying he was pleased the state “was close to seeing justice done in this case.”
You want fries with that?
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution-Rep. Lewis’ statement at Davis hearing
- International Herald-Tribune-Georgia man facing death for killing officer seeks clemency
- Democracy Now-NY-Is Georgia about to Execute an Innocent Man? The Story of Troy Davis
- Reuters-Campaign grows to halt execution of U.S. inmate
- Los Angeles Times-11th-hour plea for Georgia inmate’s life