September 28, 2011

Reflecting on the murder of Troy Davis

After Troy Anthony Davis was murdered last week by the State of Georgia, a close friend who has been active in both the labor movement and the struggle for civil & human rights for many decades shared her observations. Her heartfelt examination, her humanity, these are the elements of any capital murder case that are missing in in what some folks insist on calling the "justice system." I invite both long-time and new readers of Fire on the Mountain, to ponder this and share their thoughts…

The Troy Davis Execution

On the Wednesday night of the Troy Davis execution I was glued to the television with my 30 year old son, at his home.  We were both holding our breath waiting for the Supreme Court decision, and could not hold back tears when they refused to give him a stay of execution.

We have not lived together for 7 years, so we rarely watch TV together.  So on this night we reverted to a much younger version of ourselves with him asking me for assurance that would I come save him if he was on death row; like any mother wouldn’t want to be able to say “yes” to that question.

I thought the NAACP was at its best.  Executive Director, Ben Jealous was totally sympathetic and respectful of the family of the police officer who had been killed.  At the same time he was a staunch advocate for Davis saying that justice had to be “precise”; that executing Davis when there were so many doubts was not justice for either Davis or the victim.

As remarkable, were the scores of people who agreed with the NAACP---Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy Carter included. There was even a letter from past and present executioners talking about the horrible psychological toll executing a person takes on a “person of conscience”, only made worse when that person maintains their innocence and their guilt is in doubt. Davis’ last words were to the officers’ family declaring that he did not have a gun the night their son or brother was killed.

The officer’s mother could not bear to watch the execution but she was interviewed by TV reporters.  She insisted she needed Davis killed so she could get closure. Though I truly felt sorry for her that she had lost her son, and the indignity of him being killed while trying to protect a homeless person, I found her statement incomprehensible.  If my son, were to die before me, I do not think I would ever get closure. Its so against nature for a child to die before their parents. And clearly this poor mother had not gotten closure in the 22 years since his death. For her to think she would get closure by the execution of Davis is against all reason. Studies show that victims families do not get relief from these executions; and certainly the doubt raised about Davis being the killer had to undermine any satisfaction.

In Texas, that same night, another execution was going on. It was the execution of a  young white man who had purposely killed a Black man-James Byrd- by chaining him to the back of a truck until his body was totally mutilated to the point that the highway police originally thought he was a dead animal run over by many vehicles. That family put out a statement that said: They were not advocating that this killer be executed. He could not harm their family from the prison; that violence in response to violence only perpetuates it; and finally that executions historically in this country had been of Black men, and this execution of a white men did not take away that history, or make it fairer by evening the score.

To me, the difference in consciousness between the 2 families was stunning. From the ugliness of the centuries of discrimination and lynchings, the Black family had emerged with a generous spirit and a historical perspective.  The white family had not gotten past the Barbaric “an eye for an eye”. Its this difference in consciousness; that regressive consciousness that has defined this country since its inception, this ongoing legacy of  slavery and Jim Crow that keeps this country socially backward, despite all our riches.

1 comment:

Juliet said...

Thanks, Joy for these insights. I think the contrast between the responses of the two families is very telling and can be used broadly when we discuss the death penalty. It offers a good response to the argument, "Well, if it was someone you love who was killed, you would want the killer to be executed." Actually, not everybody does....and not just in hypotheticals.