Death penalty bigger than Davis

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The state of Georgia put Troy Davis to death last week.

The state of Georgia put Troy Davis to death last week.

Davis went to his death proclaiming his innocence. He and his lawyers spent years in court, unearthing new evidence and noting that several of the prosecution’s witnesses recanted their testimony. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices refused to grant an 11th-hour stay.

Davis refused his last meal, prayed for the family of the police officer he was convicted of killing and died with his head up.

Amidst all of the protests and outrage centering upon Davis’ execution, with former President (and Georgia Governor) Jimmy Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions and a host of other activists, politicians, organizations and private citizens weighing in, they seem to have missed the point.

It is not Troy Davis’ execution that anyone should be protesting.

It is the death penalty.

Certainly, we understand the heartfelt emotions involved when a loved one is killed, and the desire for “justice” manifests itself in retribution, or “an eye for an eye.” We even understand the idea that the death penalty removes the possibility that a killer will kill again.

But the state of Illinois no longer has a death penalty because, finally, a majority of legislators recognized that it is a barbaric practice that has no place in a civilized society.

They also recognized, along with at least two former Illinois governors, that the system of justice is so flawed that too many people who might be innocent were sitting on death row, awaiting their execution. We had former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge, who tortured Black men to get them to admit to crimes they did not commit. Some of them ended up on death row, some with lengthy prison sentences. We know that Burge did not commit these acts in a vacuum and that others, higher up, new about them, but no one stepped forward to keep those men off death row.

We know that the best way to avoid death row (aside from not doing the crime) is to be rich and white. Poor representation, lack of money for costly appeals, and lack of education, along with a judicial system that regards Black men as guilty first, works to populate prison cells and death rows around the country, not just in Georgia.

That’s why protestors should have also been in Texas, where Lawrence Brewer was put to death a few hours after Davis. There was no question Brewer did what prosecutors said he did – chain a Black man, James Byrd Jr. to the back of a pick up truck and drag him to his death. There was no exculpatory evidence, no witnesses recanting. We just had a white supremacist put to death. But even as heinous as that crime, death penalty opponents should have had a vigil even for Brewer.

One of these days, a court will determine that we’ve put an innocent person to death.

Certainly we have already. Troy Davis said he didn’t do it, even as they were administering the lethal dosages. If we find out he was telling the truth tomorrow, we can’t undo his execution. In a system so flawed, no one, not in Georgia, not in Texas, not anywhere in America, should be put to death.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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