Ashley Baxstrom and Amy Levin: A man was murdered last night. Troy Davis, 42, was put to death, having been convicted more than two decades ago for the murder of a Georgia police officer. For 22 years, he maintained his innocence. Last night at 11pm, his sentence was carried out. At 11:08, he died.
We murdered Troy Davis. All of us. His sentence was imposed and commuted by America, as a nation. We’re responsible for his death. He wasn’t the only person executed yesterday, but he was a person executed despite overwhelming doubt. There were questions about his innocence which may never be answered; and while there were hundreds – thousands – of people who rallied to support him in the last few days, every single one of us played a role in his death.
We accept a justice system that does not follow its own rules. We are participants in a government that does not treat individuals equally. We engage with a media that focuses an arbitrary lens on the controversial, exciting and tragic outcomes at the end of the day, without questioning the multifaceted issues that brought that outcome to a close.
There was no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime for which he was convicted; seven of nine key witnesses withdrew or changed their statements; members of the jury have since stated their doubt or even overturned their own verdicts on the matter of his guilt. But Troy Davis was still executed.
He was a black man: the most overrepresented identity in the prison system. Black men represent more than 40% of American inmates, while they make up only 12% of the U.S. population. The simplistic and misleading attitude that “black men commit more crimes” has been interrogated and disputed by so many studies that it is no longer an acceptable excuse from anyone.
Troy Davis was executed in the heat of electoral primary session, without examination of the Georgia governor’s political agenda; and beyond, the relation of this execution to the national political scene. What are the social and political connections between a “Let him die” contingent, the audience who cheered for the death of people lacking heath insurance, and the pro-death-penalty-anti-abortion-activists who would encourage the assassination of doctors? Who deserves violence, neglect, abuse, apathy? Who dies? Who is killed? What for? And how?
It is twenty-four hours past high time to examine the system of inequality and the culture of violence that intersected to cause the death of Troy Davis. We are a culture that trusts the government more than we trust each other as individuals. We diagnose injustice before we know the details of a story. Then we assume that if enough of the masses speak out at the last minute – Amnesty International circulated a petition that collected almost one million signatures – those in power will do the right thing. We were wrong.
Yes, the prison system and America’s split ethics on death represent one of the many issues plaguing us, but it is one that can no longer be ignored. Troy Davis is a name we will never forget – not just for the horrifying injustice he suffered, but because his story ignited an emotional outcry pleading against the inhumanity of the death penalty, enduring racism, and the inexcusable flaws of our justice system.