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 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!
This piece, written in July 2011 at the height of the first Pelican Bay hunger strike, analyzes the strategic importance of prison struggles in the context of contemporary capitalism.
Update: Dan Meltzer, a comrade in DC, designed a PDF version of this article, which is available for download here. If you know someone currently incarcerated in the U.S. who would like to receive a copy, please contact us at ruckus[at]bringtheruckus.org.
Every Crook Can Govern:
Prison Rebellions as a Window to the New World
By George Ciccariello-Maher and Jeff St. Andrews
As we write this, thousands of inmates across California--spearheaded by an organized bloc in the Pelican Bay secure housing unit (SHU)--are refusing meals and risking their bodies and lives in the struggle to reform the atrocious conditions prevalent across the state penitentiary system. But this struggle is about more than reforming incarceration and improving conditions: the hunger strike speaks to the struggle for revolutionary change across society as a whole an offers a preliminary glimpse of the new world gestating in the hellish bowels of the old.
Lumpenization and Unemployability
In Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois emphasized the “strategic” position of the Black slave, one which made possible the “general strike” of deserting slaves that would both transform the Civil War into a war for abolition and ensure a Northern victory. Black workers, “the ultimate exploited,” represented the “founding stone of a new economic system”: on them it stood and by their autonomous action it would come crashing down.
A century later, this picture had changed, and Black Panther founder Huey Newton took the seemingly contradictory position that Blacks were both central to and increasingly unnecessary for economic production in the United States. In 1967, he had written of Black Americans as both the “oil” without which the U.S. war machine “cannot function” and as the “driving shaft” of that same machinery: “we are in such a strategic position in this machinery that, once we become dislocated, the functioning of the remainder of the machinery breaks down,” he insisted. Black Americans, in short, “can, because of their intimacy with the mechanism, destroy the engine that is enslaving the world.” But just four years later, Newton would document a growing distance between these former slaves and the “machinery” of the U.S. economy: “blacks and third world people,” he argued, had become displaced from their central economic function, and were increasingly rendered what he called “the unemployables.”
But for Newton, this declining economic position of the Black population did not correspond to a declining political importance. Instead, these “unemployables”--which he used as synonymous with the controversial concept of the lumpen--would become, by virtue of sheer numbers, a new revolutionary agent capably of overthrowing U.S. capitalism:
The [revolutionary] thrust will come from the growing number of what we call the “unemployables” in this society…The proletarian will become the lumpen proletariat. It is this future change--the increase of the lumpen proletariat and the decrease of the proletariat--which makes us say that the lumpen proletariat is the majority and carries the revolutionary banner (“Intercommunalism”).
Were these two arguments in contradiction with one another, or was this shift simply a reflection of momentous economic transformation and the increasing “unemployability” of many poor Americans, specifically people of color and even more specifically the Black population? Have communities of color been increasingly “lumpenized” as Huey predicted?