Was it when it was after 10 pm and the Supreme Court still hadn’t issued a decision? Was it when the Supreme Court issued a “temporary reprieve” instead of a stay of execution and left people emotionally on edge outside the prison? Or was it when there was an abrupt flurry of sirens that pulled up and police storm troopers marched over to provide reinforcement for a line of police, which had been standing on guard? Was that when it became apparent Troy Davis was going to be killed Wednesday night?
The state calls it the Georgia Diagnostic Prison. It is where Davis was taken and prepped and then placed on a gurney and he laid there with an IV in his arm strapped down for hours waiting to hear what would happen to him. He refused his last meal. He did not make a statement. Davis had unshakable faith in miracles and believed that he would be granted some kind of a miracle and not be put to death; instead he experienced cruel and unusual punishment—torture—in his final hours of life.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas allegedly took a last minute appeal from Troy Davis and began to discuss it with his eight colleagues. As Davis and supporters were in agony, they feigned interest in the case of Troy Davis. But, the Court didn’t really care. If it did, the execution would not have unfolded as it did Wednesday night. People from all over the world would not have been demonstrating at embassies around the world wondering what the US would do because there would have been some serious intervention taken—intervention that would properly review new evidence that had come to the fore after his conviction.
The murder of Troy Davis, defenders of the act will say, provided closure to the family of Officer MacPhail, whom Davis was convicted of killing with, as people have been repeating for the past week, “too much doubt.” If Davis is not the killer, the family has no closure. The person who really committed the crime is still on the loose. Putting Davis to death just gave the MacPhails and others a reason to move on and abandon a quest for legalized vengeance. And, so, what society and citizens who have no problem with this atrocity are in effect saying is as long as someone can be found to be cast as the convict and as long as the state can carry out the death sentence to the end result, which involves state-sanctioned murder, justice will be done.
The act was sanitized. Troy Davis had to get a physical before he was killed. Once he was injected and unconscious, they then had to inject him with more lethal fluid to make sure he was dead. They put rubbing alcohol on his arm before inserting the needle.
What kind of a society has prison facilities with such bland innocuous names as the Georgia Diagnostic Prison? One almost wonders if they refer to lethal injections within the prison as “diagnostic procedures” like perhaps the tests one runs on a computer to see how it is functioning. With each human being put to death, does the prison get a better sense of how it is performing and not performing? Does it then hold meetings so “diagnostics” are much better when the next Troy Davis needs to be killed?
The precautionary measures taken to give the execution a veneer of compassion are comparable to the measures taken to have psychologists present for interrogations of detainees subjected to torture. Somehow it is acceptable if there is some level of decorum.
The officer that Davis was convicted of killing was white. The racial and class bias is impossible to ignore. As Michelle Alexander details in her seminal book, The New Jim Crow, the US criminal justice system has developed a tolerance of racism:
Warren McCleskey was a black man facing the death penalty for killing a white police officer during an armed robbery in Georgia. Represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, McCleskey challenged his death sentence on the grounds that Georgia’s death penalty scheme was infected with racial bias and thus violated the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments. In support of his claim, he offered an exhaustive study of more than two thousand murder cases in Georgia. The study was known as the Baldus study—named after Professor David Baldus, who was its lead author. The study found that defendants charged with killing white victims received the death penalty eleven times more often than defendants charged with killing black victims. Georgia prosecutors seemed largely to blame for the disparity; they sought the death penalty in 70 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 19 percent of cases involving white defendants and black victims.
Not only did, McCleskey v. Kemp, show the criminal justice system was willing to tolerate racism but it showed the Court was unwillingly to admit it was racist. McCleskey’s study was rejected by the Court, which maintained “statistical evidence of race discrimination in Georgia’s death penalty system did not prove unequal treatment under the law.”
[Here is a letter written by Troy Davis just before his execution.]
The killing of Troy Davis was ugly and grotesque. Executive Director of Amnesty International Larry Cox said on Democracy Now!’s exceptional coverage of the execution that a human being had just been systematically killed. “The deliberate cold-blooded killing of a human being, who poses no threat to no one,” Cox said, had just taken place.
Cox added the blame belongs to a system that is wrong, broken, cruel and inhumane. He said just like slavery the death penalty is something that can no longer be ended and capital punishment cannot be defended in any form.
The United States government likes to stand before the world and claim to be a beacon for human rights. But it cannot directly confront other nation’s leaders or peoples on human rights issues and claim to be some moral and respectable role model on human rights when it allows atrocities such as this to be committed.
The US was placed fifth in “2010’s global executions race,” according to Amnesty International. The US carried out 46 state-sanctioned killings. China executed the most with 1,000-plus killed, then Iran with 252 killings, then North Korea with 60 killings and then Yemen with 53 killings. And, China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen all have one thing in common: very poor records on human rights.
As the people’s historian Howard Zinn wrote in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress in Chapter 10, “Killing People to ‘Send a Message’”:
There are societies that do not pretend to be “civilized”—military dictatorships and totalitarian states—and execute their victims without ceremony. Then there are nations like the United States, whose claim to be civilized rests on the fact that its punishments are legitimized by a complex set of judicial procedures. This is called “due process,” despite the fact that each step in this process is tainted by racial prejudice, class bias or political discrimination.
The death penalty itself is only one manifestation of the violence by the state against those whom it considers dispensable, either because they are poor, nonwhite or part of a movement that threatens the existing structure of wealth and power. In the case, for instance of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, he embodies all of those expendable characteristics—being poor, black and a self-proclaimed revolutionary.
He concluded the chapter with the following, “Is not the death penalty a kind of terror waged by the state, one death at a time, an attempt to instill fear and obedience in the population? That is the perverted sense of morality which now rules and will go on ruling, until Americans decide that it will no longer be tolerated.”
Is the murder of Troy Davis the moment that Americans will remember as the instance in history when they refused to no longer tolerate the death penalty? Will political and social cynicism be abandoned for the sake of instilling some much-needed humanity into American society?
The state of Georgia and the US Supreme Court went ahead and made certain Davis was put to death Wednesday night and not tomorrow and not next month or a year from now. The resolve showed a belief in the death penalty and its utility in meting out justice and bringing “closure.” But, the shock and awe experienced by Troy Davis and his family, by supporters, by human rights defenders, by people who demonstrated all over the world, by the more than thirty thousand who tuned in to watch Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and by the people following the news on the Internet may lead to the abolition of capital punishment.
With the same doggedness individuals displayed in their effort to ensure Troy Davis’ death warrant was carried out, numerous citizens of the United States will now go to work. They will re-double efforts and escalate campaigns so that one day people in this country may be able to doggedly ensure the delivery of a death warrant to all state governments, which metaphorically speaking lethally injects the death penalty and kills it once and for all in the United States.