Don’t Mourn. Organize!

Posted: September 22, 2011 in human rights, murder, Obama, oppression, people power, protest, Racism, US
Tags: , , , , , ,

Troy Anthony Davis was lynched this evening by the State of Georgia.

That’s the only word for it.  I won’t call what happened to him an “execution” or even a “killing.”  Lynching is the only word that comes close to adequately describing the depth and breadth of the injustices that were committed against him and that have been committed against far too many other people.

If you hadn’t heard about the case (unlikely), here’s a place where you can buff up.  The basic outline?  Troy Davis was a Black man falsely accused of killing a white cop in the state of Georgia, and despite the fact that there was never any physical evidence linking him to the crime, despite the fact that seven out of nine eyewitnesses in his trial changed or recanted their testimony, many claiming police coercion, he was executed anyway after running out of appeals.  The final appeal was before the Supreme Court, which “deliberated” the petition for four hours.  I’m not exactly sure what they were discussing, since it was obviously not the facts of the case.  Perhaps Troy’s appeal interrupted their Klan meeting?

Because it was so painfully obvious that Troy was innocent, and because millions of people had stepped up around the world to support him and his fight for justice, the media has been forced to admit there were “serious doubts” about his guilt, that perhaps Georgia made a mistake.  A September 20 editorial in the New York Times (“A Grievous Wrong on Georgia’s Death Row”) said:

Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday for the 1989 killing of a police officer in Savannah, Ga. The Georgia pardon and parole board’s refusal to grant him clemency is appalling in light of developments after his conviction: reports about police misconduct, the recantation of testimony by a string of eyewitnesses and reports from other witnesses that another person had confessed to the crime.

The Times would not, of course, go so far as to say that Davis should be considered for full exoneration.  They merely stated that the Parole and Pardons board should have commuted his sentence to “life without parole.”  It’s exactly this sort of spinelessness that masquerades as “objective journalism” we’ll have to confront in the coming days as they tell us that Troy Davis’s case is unusual (the only thing unusual about Troy’s case was that people like Jimmy Carter, the Pope, and otherwise pro-death penalty Bob Barr were on his side), as they try to manufacture myths that every avenue was “exhausted.”

That is a flat-out, unambiguous lie.  As Sherry Wolf wrote today at

Bullshit.  In the last decade alone, presidents have declared multiple wars without Congressional approval, they have defied international law through special renditions torture program, they have run a gulag at Guantánamo Bay, they have ripped up civil liberties to read our e-mails and rifle through our trash. Obama himself has just waged a months-long extra-legal war on Libya.

And that’s just Presidents. In order for something to be “exhausted,” you must go until you can go no further.  But Obama just flat out didn’t bother getting involved.  Just like every other moment people in the United States have asked him to take a stand against racism, Obama has opted out, and this time, his hands are covered in the blood of Troy Davis.  President Obama is the first African-American president, which was a milestone to be sure.  However, he has been used to justify the continual undermining of programs like affirmative action, the continuation of racist policies, and the evasive attitude toward cultural racism that pervades every aspect of our lives.  The “colorblind” racists love Obama and constantly parade with him as proof of our “post-racial” society.

And now it’s my turn to say it.  BULLSHIT.

Because for the one Black man who’s sitting in the White House, there are several thousand on Death Row.  The exception to the rule is used to excuse the larger injustice of institutional racism.  Institutional racism is very useful to the people at the top of our society, who pay people of color lower wages (in turn lowering everyone’s wages), who hone another tool to divide us by convincing workers who fall into what is categorized as “white” that racism is to their benefit and actively encourage it among them.

It was institutional racism that killed Troy Davis.  Not just a bad judge.  Not just some Supreme Court justices who should never get a moment’s rest for the rest of their lives.  It was even just the “spirit of the old South.”  Certainly all those things played a role, but Troy could have been executed anywhere–from Georgia to Cook County (Illinois only recently abolished the Death Penalty after long years of work by activists), Troy could have been pulled from any moment in history.  Cases like this happen all the time.

So what was different this time?

Troy has an army at his back.  I won’t use the past tense, because this fight is not over.

It wasn’t just “notables” like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Pope, Jimmy Carter, and other celebrities speaking out for.  It’s likely those people wouldn’t have gotten involved in Troy’s cases if there hadn’t been so many thousands of people bringing his case forward, refusing to let it die.  More than 600,000 petitions to stop the execution were delivered to Georgia on Friday.  Hundreds of thousands more signed other petitions, called or emailed, or demonstrated against the execution.

The impact of the movement to save Troy was seen clearly when Georgia Senate Democratic Whip Vincent Fort issued a joint statement with the Southern Center for Human Rights calling for individuals charged with carrying out Troy’s execution to refuse to participate.  After all, when was the last time you heard a Democrat voluntarily make statements like this:

They can refuse to kill Troy Davis.  We call on…the organization contracted by the Georgia Department of Corrections to oversee executions, to decline to participate and not allow any physician or other medical personnel associated with his companies to participate in the immoral execution of a possibly innocent man, Troy Davis….We are calling for a general strike or sick-out by all but a skeleton staff of the Georgia Diagnostic Prison on September 21st, 2011.

This statement is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that an elected official for once tried to unite prisoners and prison workers rather than divide them.  This shows that at least the Georgia Senate Democratic Whip realized there was far more to be lost by allowing the state to execute an innocent man when the case had such a high profile.  Not only did he stand to lose re-election, but it’s likely the memories of the London summer riots were still fresh in his mind.  How would the people respond to such a brazenly public lynching?

Now the time is here.  Now we must respond.

Thousands of people who demonstrated around the world tonight–from Georgia to Boston to Paris.  Tomorrow is quickly turning into a day of protest called the Day of Outrage, with more demonstrations planned around the world, including Dallas, TX; Portland, OR; NYC; Chicago just to name a few.  Campaign to End the Death Penalty is holding its 12th annual march to end the death penalty in Austin, TX in October.

Here in Greensboro, NC a massive march is being planned for Saturday.  We will be marching from Dudley Memorial on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University to the Woolworth’s store (of Sit-In fame) downtown, using the same route the Greensboro Four followed on February 1, 1960 as they began their fight to end segregation at the Woolworth’s lunch counter–an act that ignited a wave of protest and struggle that became known as the Civil Rights movement.

This is our Woolworth’s moment.  Fifty years has passed since those four men took a stand against the injustice of racism, but too little has changed.  If racism is to end, it must be confronted by direct action.  The courts and the politicians have proven they do not have the will.  We must make them have the will.  As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has, and it never will.”

The movement against the death penalty and institutional racism engendered by it is becoming stronger.  It is easy to want to shrink away from the injustices committed this evening.  It is easy to wrap ourselves in the cozy lies of American “justice” and “democracy.”  But we cannot.

We cannot because we must live in this world, a world which will continue to slaughter us if we do not radically–fundamentally–change the way it is structured.  Just as there can be no reforms to make the death penalty more “humane,” there can be no reform that eradicates racism without changing the structure that creates and necessitates it.  It is us who are the victims–especially those among us of African descent.  The state believed it could get away with lynching Troy Davis.  We cannot let this be true, because if they can lynch Troy, they can do the same to any one of us.

We cannot go back about our lives and hope for the best because Troy Davis died an innocent man, and we cannot allow him to have died in vain.  It is not enough for us to simply remember him.  We must make the people and the system that killed him remember Troy Davis.

Troy knew this fight was bigger than him.  He knew he was fighting not just for his own freedom, but for the end of a system known around the world for violent, hateful oppression.

Troy Davis’s body may be dead as of 11:08 PM, but his spirit lives on in all of us. We are Troy Davis, and we will keep fighting. This racist system will fall, and capitalism will fall with it.

I am Troy Davis, and I’m marching this weekend so someday soon, I can say:

“I am Troy Davis, and I am free.”

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