Outsiders often wonder how the same jovial, kind-hearted Americans they meet can support the massive violence that the American government unleashes throughout the world. A few moments clarify how these two seeming opposites can co-exist. The proposed execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia death-row prisoner, is one of those moments. If the US government can do something so heinous to one of its own citizens, and if the American people allow it to happen, the same government must be capable of unspeakable horrors beyond its own borders. Here is this critical link – putting an end to such violence within our borders goes hand in hand with eliminating the terrors perpetrated beyond them. Here are three reasons why we should act to save the life of Troy Davis.
Troy Davis is Innocent
Many death row cases vacillate between presenting a case for innocence and falling back on general anti-death penalty sentiments. The less the evidence the more the sentimental appeal. In Davis’ case the approach is clear. He is an innocent man being set up and if all the evidence was allowed to be aired in open court, he would certainly be released.
The details of the case make this clear. No physical evidence was retrieved from the crime scene, so the prosecution of Davis was based entirely on witness testimony. Since the initial conviction, all but two of the witnesses have recanted their testimony, many claiming that they were coerced by the police. One of those who maintains Davis’ guilt is Sylvester “Red” Coles, who happens to be person fingered by several of the witnesses who recanted. If aired in court, this evidence could result in the conviction of Coles and the release of Davis.
The Death Penalty is Racist
Beyond the argument for innocence lies a deeper moral dilemma of the death penalty itself. The death sentence clearly targets African-Americans. A recent study of the Georgia penal system found that African-Americans are 1.7 times more likely than Whites to face the death penalty. Further, those who killed whites were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed African-Americans. These numbers hold true for nearly every state that has implemented this penalty.
Class is also at issue, since death penalty victims are overwhelmingly poor and thus locked out of decent legal defense options. As death penalty expert David Dow stated, “If you’re going to commit murder, you want to be white, and you want to be wealthy — so that you can hire a first-class lawyer — and you want to kill a black person. And if [you are], the odds of your being sentenced to death are basically zero.”
Simply put, no society that considers itself civilized can tolerate an institution that so blatantly enforces race and class discrimination. This weapon has been used arbitrarily against those who are poor and African-American and purposefully against political dissidents. Think back to the execution of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzietti or the cruel punishment inflicted on Julius and Ethel Rosenburg. What begins as general repression can quickly be utilized for the purposes of stifling dissent.
The Preciousness of Human Life – Why We Need Socialism
The death penalty may be the place where the morals and values of capitalism and democratic socialism are most clearly in contradiction with one another. In capitalist society, human beings are inputs or economic factors or excess population. In democratic socialism the unique preciousness of each human life is placed at the center of the system. Where capitalism seeks to maximize profits by efficiently exploiting human labor, democratic socialism concerns itself with the full development of each human being, a development that becomes the basis for the freedom of all.
There is no place for the death penalty in a democratic socialist society. This is one of the great lessons that should be learned from the 20th century. Socialism can not be imposed by regulations, or by terror, or by proclamation. It must grow organically from the democratic revolution made by everyday people. And all institutions that prevent this – and the death penalty is certainly one- must be overturned. Democratic socialist tools of negotiation, compromise and democracy in the name of justice must be emphasized.
Saving Troy – Saving Ourselves
So, as Troy Davis faces execution tomorrow people all over the world will be reminded of the violence the US government is capable of. And a human life will be extinguished in another senseless sacrifice to a system that has no respect for humanity. If even a semblance of morality remains in the prison guards and doctors slated to administer the execution, they should refuse to participate. We should help them refuse by continuing to pressure the state of Georgia. Show them through our actions and words that the death penalty is racist, classist and barbarous. Humanity deserves far more.
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Become a FAN on Facebook.