This time last week, the world was in shock that the United States had put Troy Davis to death.
Although he was convicted of killing a Georgia cop in 1989, Davis maintained his innocence the entire 22 years he was on death row.
America maintains a mentality that once convicted innocence no longer matters. America acts as if its criminal justice system is perfect. It goes without saying that it is not, but what should be said, or posed as a question, is: when does the system repent for it’s mistakes? It never does. Or it rarely does. Certainly not in Troy Davis’ case.
America readily admits the flaws in its criminal justice system, but continues to kill anyway. Arch-conservative, Anton Scalia, stated: “The law doesn’t allow for claims of innocence after a conviction.” Innocence is no defense after a conviction has been rendered. So the state of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court complicate the mistake by continuing to make mistakes based on flawed law. Two wrongs have never made a right…unless you’re the United States government assessing the death penalty. The U.S. won’t do what it knows is right. The execution of Davis was more than a mistake; It was a national travesty.
The real mistake in the Davis case was not giving him a new trial after seven of the witnesses who testified against him recanted their testimony, the same testimony that convicted Davis. Where is the sense here? What does recant mean? It means they took back what they said. Now, what credible evidence did the state have against Davis when two-thirds of the witnesses that testified against him perjured themselves. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” evaporated, and reasonable doubt replaced it. The state didn’t have a case against Davis. But that was alright…because they had a conviction, and that’s all they needed to put him to death.
So, they did. Even with so much doubt. Doubt is now the scar on our national conscience. It’s there to stay.
There were a lot of variables in this case that made Davis an example. A Black man killing a White man in the South, a convicted cop killer (who almost never goes free in any state), a cause celebre runs out of chances. (Davis had three previous stays of execution, a death-penalty inmate runs out of time.)
But this was a chance to make an example of America’s flawed death penalty system. We know Troy Davis is not the first innocent man put to death; nor will he be the last. We can only hope that Georgia and other death-penalty states follow the lead of Illinois, which banned the death penalty this year and commuted 15 death row inmates to life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Illinois banned the death penalty after a decade of controversial executions that turned up some innocent victims after they had been put to death. More than 130 death row inmates around the nation have been saved from execution, as DNA and other more modern discoveries bring cold cases to life. Illinois got it right, recognizing that if even one innocent man was put to death that was one too many. Georgia got it wrong. It was more important for them to make an example of bad law than to reconsider good law.
Davis asked that God bless the souls of the corrections personnel who were about to kill him, and that God save their souls after they kill him. In the aftermath of the execution, the media played this off as if it were some kind of sporting event. And it was on to the next thing. It was an ugly, sad commentary on American society.
Troy Davis was as close to a televised execution as we’ve seen recently. The next step is the camera in the death chamber. I hope America bans the death penalty before we start to kill for “ratings.” Cable television is the modern-day Rome Colosseum. We saw how Republican supporters cheered Texas Gov. Rick Perry when he acknowledged signing more death warrants than all the states of the nation combined. Have we become that bloodthirsty as a society that we will ignore the flaws in the law? Obviously so.
There’s only one thing left to kill in American society. Let’s kill the death penalty. God bless the soul of Troy Davis. God save the soul of America.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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