The Troy Davis Execution: From Great Shame Springs Great Hope
By executing Troy Davis upon the flimsiest of evidence, that is to say practically no evidence at all, the American (in)justice system has proven that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is merely a suggestion to be arbitrarily applied (see ‘Casey Anthony’), not the incorruptible foundation of our legal edifice, the highest standard of proof which has prevailed for centuries.
By executing Troy Davis despite the absolute dearth of physical evidence against him– no DNA, no fingerprints, no nothing, his killers (and their enablers) not only ignored this highest standard of proof but have also bypassed “clear and convincing evidence” as well as “preponderance of evidence”–‘more likely than not’– the intermediate and lowest levels of proof in our (in)justice system. Remember, now, this was a death penalty case, not a civil litigation. A man’s life was on the line, but for whatever reason, the system utterly abandoned its most cherished principles to make sure Troy Davis died.
By executing Troy Davis despite the fact that seven of the nine witnesses against him either recanted or changed their stories, with many of them citing police coercion as the reason for their perjury, and with the prosecution’s entire case against Davis relying upon eyewitness testimony to secure a conviction, Georgia’s capital punishment system has demonstrated to the world a shocking fallibility that ought to be grounds for an immediate moratorium on all executions in that state.
By refusing to allow those same witnesses, or the very fact that their original testimonies were so utterly corrupted, to aid in Davis’ defense on the grounds that they were “unreliable”– even though they were reliable enough to secure a conviction and a death sentence, American (in)justice has shown itself to be laden with hypocrisy.
By refusing to consider the eye-popping fact that the man who fingered Davis for the murder of Officer MacPhail was not only one of the two prosecution witnesses against Davis who stuck to their stories but was also identified by several eyewitnesses as the actual killer, our (in)justice system has proven itself to be worse than hypocritical– it is downright negligent. Andy Dufresne’s words to the diabolically pious Warden Norton in the face of the latter’s refusal to accept proof of the former’s innocence in the highly topical film The Shawshank Redemption (one of my favorites) spring immediately to mind: “How can you be so obtuse?”
By all of this, and more, the American (in)justice system has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it sometimes allows men who may very well be innocent to be executed.
The execution of Troy Davis is certainly a low point in American justice. The failure of the U.S. Supreme Court and President Obama to stop his death have caused worldwide indignation. The latter is, apparently, more concerned about protecting the rights of corporations and the former more focused on thwarting Palestinian statehood aspirations than they are with ensuring that an innocent man is not murdered by the State. Obama’s silence on the matter and his laisser-tuer states’ rights stance smacks of a pathetic, politically expedient cowardice that is totally unbefitting a moral leader. Shame on anyone who even thinks about voting for this fraud again next year.
The state-sanctioned murder of Troy Davis brings great shame upon our nation. America long ago lost almost all moral authority in the realm of human rights, but we have now sunk to a new low. But from great shame springs great hope. This very highly publicized case will certainly lead millions of Americans to question their support for capital punishment, an anachronistic barbarity that among Western nations is practiced by the United States alone. The fact that staunchly pro-death penalty figures– including former FBI director William Sessions, who cited “pervasive, persistent doubts” about Davis’ guilt, and prominent conservatives like Bob Barr, who echoed Sessions’ concerns– joined in the worldwide chorus of condemnation of this tragic execution is also cause for hope.
We’ve still got a long way to go, as the audience who heartily applauded Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 234 executions at the last Republican presidential debate attest, but the end of capital punishment in American is all but inevitable. Slavery was not abolished overnight, but rather over centuries. It took many decades of relentless struggle for women to earn the right to vote. And so it will go with capital punishment. But make no mistake: one day, students of history will read about the death penalty and its unconscionably discriminatory application with the same incredulous shock with which they now learn about witch hunts, the Native American genocide, slavery, child labor and back-alley abortions.
“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me,” Troy Davis wrote in a letter to supporters released after he exhausted his final legal appeal. It certainly does not, and Davis did not die in vain. In being forced to give his life for a crime he may not have committed, Troy Davis has become an unwilling martyr in the relentless fight against the medieval savagery of state-sanctioned murder. From the great shame of his unconscionable killing springs the great hope that the end of capital punishment is a bit closer, and that is good news for us all. The fate of Troy Davis could have been the fate of any of us. In that sense, we really all are Troy Davis.
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