Troy Davis and the Liberal Politics of Executions

This piece was written by TJ, a member of Bring the Ruckus in Atlanta.

Update: Our comrades at Gathering Forces have published a reflection on the mobilization against Troy Davis' execution, including a thoughtful engagement with the piece below.


Troy Davis and the Liberal Politics of Executions

Troy Davis is dead. He is not dead because the system failed him, he is not dead because we didn’t have enough petitions, he is not dead because we didn’t put in enough phone calls to the parole board--he is dead because he is a black man in the United states who does not stand a chance of living. Mr. Davis along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of black men are dead today. State mandated violence is a sad and true reality survived in black communities nation wide. Yet somehow in the political fervor staged by liberals and leftists alike to save the life of Mr. Davis we are blind to the realities of our country. We have put on the figurative blinders, blocking the faces of those other men and women who are dealt a physical or social death at the hands of the state. Really, what is the difference between physical death and social death? One puts you in the ground, and the other puts you in a cage. But, at this moment we don’t have names for all those people, or popular twitter tags, we see only Mr. Davis.

This is not an attempt at disgracing the life and struggles of Mr. Davis, he is a black man who is being killed by the state eerily close to the anniversary of the Scottsboro boys. And at no point is it correct to assume the authors of this statement are not heart broken over the death of Mr. Davis. In fact, the exact opposite is true, yet the obvious questions are still unavoidable. Why is their such outrage over the execution of this one black man’s life? And why do we as a community and a country continue to ignore the names and faces of black people who are killed everyday.

What does innocence really mean?

The dichotomy between innocence and guilt as being messaged by activists is trying to hold a “broken” judicial system accountable, but it is this very system that has created the false “innocent or guilty” classifications. Instead it strengthens the titles of guilty or innocent as defined by the very system they believe is broken. Thus far in the battle to save Mr. Davis’s life activists have rested their campaign on his innocence saying their is “too much doubt” to put him to death. Spouting various facts such as seven of the nine witnesses coming forward to state that there were pressured in 1989 by police officers investigating the death of Police Officer Mark MacPhail to accuse Mr. Davis, looking for a quick scapegoat for the death of one of their own. Others have come forward to say that another man, Sylvester Coles, is the actual person who killed the officer. Witnesses claim he was bragged about it at a party after Mr. Davis had been named the defendant. In the twenty-two years since the original case no DNA evidence or weapon has ever been found to prove Mr. Davis’s guilt. While all of this may be true, the question is: does it even matter?

Innocence is a subjective classification and it is the “innocence” of Mr. Davis that has propelled him to the front and center of the media. Political radicals must see through the muck and the mire of this individual claim and seek freedom and life for all of people who are dying in the prison system today.

I am Troy Davis

No one can claim they are Troy Davis unless they have experienced living in a constant state of fear of being stopped and searched because you look like a “criminal”, or have had to say good-bye to friends and loved ones to be locked up in a cage and taken away for good. The only people who can legitimately represent being Mr. Davis are the black men, women and in-between who are constantly harassed by the police and live in fear that they too will suffer death at the hands of the state--on death row, in the streets or in their homes. The individual decree by non- black peoples of the world declaring “I Am Troy Davis” unfairly places Mr. Davis as a token for white liberals and leftists, allowing for individuals to seek personal redemption for the guilt of Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the War on Drugs. The individual nature of the whole campaign, through the petitions and calls to various officials, has further emphasized the individual, leading to a sort of political impotency placing all the power in the hands of the state and the system. Let's take power instead of asking for it and break down these systems that insist upon killing black and brown bodies.

If not, what then?

Mr. Davis’s death is a continuation of legacy of slavery in this country. It is nothing more then a modern day lynching by the “mob” called the United States judicial system. Instead of focusing on the individual (Mr. Davis) who has been wronged in the eyes of the activists and the media, we should take this moment where the whole world is looking to us, and shine light on the injustices of the police and prison system of our society and insist upon true freedom.

Peace to the villages, war to the palaces! One day we will all be free!