The American South, since the conception of the Union has had an unhealthy obsession with ‘States rights’. This abstract notion of a State having rights has been used to justify slavery, it has been used to justify creationism taught as science in schools, it has been used to justify segregation, and it has been used to justify banning same-sex marriage. In other words, it is often used when a White Christian heterosexual population wishes to block the rights of people who are not White, Christian or heterosexual. It is a weapon of segregation much of the time, a tool of racism, homophobia and sexism. In 1962 Democrat Governor from Alabama in a famous speech said:
“Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
– He later noted that he would have received far more support, if he’d have used the words:
“States’ rights now! States’ rights tomorrow! States’ rights forever!”
– ‘States Rights’ is synonymous with the politics of segregation.
Today, it is being used to impose the death penalty on what would appear to be an innocent man.
It is certainly my opinion that when a US State murders an innocent man, that US State can no longer be trusted to act in the interests of its people. The Federal Government has a duty to step in, and prevent a murder. The death penalty is cruel and archaic; any right thinking person knows this. It is a tool of revenge, a quick solution to a problem that encompasses poverty, the tail end of Capitalism, underdevelopment and lack of a decent education or healthcare. America seemingly wishes the World to ignore its problem of poverty, and instead wishes the World to focus on how luxurious the lives of its richest are. The argument for the death penalty presents problems that become apparent when we note that the justice system is not perfect. A non-perfect, prone to mistakes justice system cannot be given the ability to decide who lives and who dies. A study by ACLU in Virginia found that there is mountains of evidence to suggest the death penalty is unequally applied across socio-economic backgrounds, affecting the poorest the most. Poor quality legal representation is key. The study stated:
“In one of every ten trials resulting in a death sentence, the defendant was represented by a lawyer who would later lose his license to practice law.”
The Troy Davis case is the perfect case against the death penalty.
Troy Davis was convicted in 1989 of the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail. MacPhail came to the aid of a homeless man who was being harassed by a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles. Nine witnesses testified against Davis, resulting in Davis being convicted and put on death row. (Even the phrase ‘death row’ makes me feel like I am commenting on a 16th Century form of punishment, it is astonishing to me that the US still uses it). Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have retracted their witness statements, claiming to have been forced by the police into giving false statements. One of the witnesses was a man named Stephan Sanders. Originally, Sanders said he would not be able to identify the shooter, because it was too dark. Months later, when asked if he recalled anything from that night that might identify the shooter, he said no. Two years later, at the trial, out of nowhere, Sanders pointed to Davis, a man whose face had been all over the news, and said:
“You don’t forget someone that stands over and shoots someone.”
– The Jury were not aware that for two years, Sanders was not able to identify the killer.
Another witness, Harriet Murray, originally said that she had heard Sylvester “Redd” Coles shout “I’ll shoot you” and remove his gun, before attacking a homeless man. She unequivocally did not place Davis as the shooter. She was made to do a reenactment, and place people where she remembers seeing them, including Davis. Here, she was sketchy, she wasn’t sure where he was stood. She did not select him as the shooter. Yet, at the trial, she straight the way pointed to Davis as the shooter. She has since recanted this, citing police intimidation.
Another witness, Dorothy Ferrell said:
“I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t know who shot the officer.”
– She claims to have been under pressure to testify against Davis, as the police know of her parole for shoplifting.
Apart from that, there is also absolutely no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder. One of the two remaining witnesses is……. Sylvester “Redd” Coles. Several people have came forward and alleged that Coles had been the shooter, going so far as to brag about it ever since. During the investigation, police pinned wanted pictures up of Davis around Savannah Georgia. Five days later, they asked “witnesses” to point to the man in a line up of pictures who was at the scene. None of the photos included Coles. Even though we know for certain that Coles started the fight with a homeless man that lead to Officer MacPhail walking over and being shot. Incidentally, the homeless man did not point to Davis as the killer, and recalls hearing Coles shout “I’ll shoot you” before pistol whipping him. The case smacks of Police corruption, incompetence and racism.
The Georgia board of Pardons and Paroles refused clemency for Davis, despite the quite obvious flaws in the case against him on Tuesday and Davis is set to be executed today.
It isn’t simply execution that is the problem; what would appear to be an innocent man has been locked up on death row, for 19 years. I was five years old when he went to prison. Georgia, and its obsession with States Rights has taken this mans life away from him. And if he’s innocent, the DA, the entire board of Pardons and Paroles, and everyone involved in this mans conviction should, at the very least resign, and preferably be thrown in jail themselves. They are murderers.
The fact is, there is doubt. Massive doubt. No one knows for sure. I ask, how can the death penalty be used on a case where such extreme doubt exists? In fact, how can anyone justify the death penalty at all. If Troy Davis went on trial to day, with all the evidence, with one witness statement from the man that most people point to as the killer, and with absolutely no physical evidence linking him to the scene, he would be acquitted instantly. Instead, the utterly appalling justice system in the American South is going to kill him.
The death penalty is abhorrent. For weak, circumstantial cases, it is simply cold blooded murder. The State of Georgia should be utterly ashamed. President Obama should be ashamed.