One of the contributory factors to the overwhelming wave of gloom was the death last week of Troy Davis in the US state of Georgia. I say death, but the most accurate description is judicial murder.

Execution by whatever method, in a supposedly democratic society, is always judicial murder of course. Using killing to punish the crime of killing – when killing is itself perceived to be the ultimate crime – is a paradox that supporters of the death penalty have never succeeded in properly explaining, except by recourse to the biblical call for ‘an eye for an eye’. It suggests that killing is not, after all, so bad, as long as enough people think it’s OK. It certainly leaves no room for reform or rehabilitation.

The USA, which so laughably prides itself on its democratic credentials, is one of the world’s great killers (and I’m talking only about within its own borders here). In the league table of executions it’s up there with the world’s great beacons of democracy, like China and Saudi Arabia. And, surprise surprise, the majority of those judicially killed in the USA are black, and the majority of those killings take place in the Southern states, like Texas and Georgia.

Troy Davis was black, naturally.

Now I don’t know whether Davis was guilty (though if he was, killing him would still be morally indefensible). But the details of his case ought to have been enough to cause any supporter of the death penalty to have a few sneaking doubts. Since his initial conviction – achieved without any forensic or DNA evidence – eight of the ten ‘eye witnesses’ withdrew their testimony, claiming they were pressured by the police into incriminating Davis. A witness had come forward claiming that a fellow prisoner had admitted to being the real perpetrator. Members of the original jury had testified that had they been in possession of these facts, they would not have convicted.

An open and shut case for a retrial, at least, one would have thought. But the US judicial system doesn’t work like that, especially in the south. A conviction is a conviction, however flawed. Your defence lawyer could have been a mentally retarded spider monkey in a clown suit; the judge could have been wearing a KKK bedsheet; the (black) defendant could have been recorded on CCTV munching a burger at Disneyland at the time of the offence… It doesn’t matter, they must have got it right the first time, so even the Supreme Court cops out.

It’s true that a number of Death Row prisoners have had their convictions overturned in recent years as a result of the more advanced analysis of DNA evidence now available. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, there was no DNA evidence in the first place, so that avenue was not available. As far as the witnesses were concerned… well…

The fact is, the victim of the crime for which Davis was convicted was a cop. In the wake of the crime, his fellow officers wanted a scapegoat and as is so often the case (not just in the States), having someone to blame as quickly as possible is the most important objective. The first person in line is often the unlucky one on whom all attention becomes focused, and logic, commonsense and good investigative practice goes out of the window. The perceived perpetrator becomes the criminal because of the need for immediate gratification; minds become blocked against any suspicion that the real killer is getting away, because that would mean gratification would be delayed. I’m sure that once that need for quick gratification kicked in the cops really believed Davis was the killer, because they needed to, whatever evidence was lacking. And in the absence of evidence, because of their no doubt sincere, but hysterical and dishonest belief, the only solution was to create the evidence. Hence the eight witnesses who later recanted.

Having been the probable victim of the cops’ and prosecutors’ psychological failings, Davis’s even greater tragic problem – apart from being black, of course – was that the judicial system could not admit, even in the face of the most blatant evidence, that the forces of law and order (cops, prosecutors and judges) are so flawed that they could conspire in the conviction of an innocent man simply because they needed someone to convict. This is as true in Britain as it is in the US – consider how long it took the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6 and the Maguire 7 to overturn their convictions. They were fortunate that Britain had dispensed with the death penalty; Davis had no chance, being both black and convicted in one of the majority of US states that still kill prisoners.

It was clear to anyone with half a brain cell still intact that Davis’s conviction was unsafe, yet the need of the police, judicial system and victim’s family for vengeance overrode any sense of justice or moral responsibility – proof enough not only that the death penalty, setting aside any moral qualms, is indefensible in its irrevocability, but also that victims or victims’ families, however much sympathy we may have for their suffering, should never, ever be allowed a role in judicial proceedings.

Even more shocking and shameful, though, despite the pleas of the usual suspects, like Amnesty and the ACLU, and the less predictable intervention of figures such as the Pope, was the total lack of any political will to challenge the murder of Davis. The majority of the population in favour of the death penalty may have been falling in recent years, but it is still perceived that there are no votes to be won by opposing it (but some to won, as Bill Clinton surmised, by imposing it).

The Governor of Georgia may not have had the power in that state to commute the death sentence, but he may have had an effect had he put pressure on the Parole Board to do so. The same applies to the President. That Obama (supposedly an opponent of the death penalty) did not even make a comment on the affair, let alone lend his support to the campaign to reprieve Davis, is a measure of how unspeakably cowardly this great hope of American liberalism has become during his three years in office (don’t forget Guantanamo, Armenia and Palestine as well). Well, I suppose an election year is approaching. What’s the weight of one dead, probably innocent black man on the scales of political opportunism, when measured against the weight of the votes of ‘middle America’. Is America’s black population suddenly going to rise up as one and vote in revenge for Bachman, Perry or Romney …?

The small  fall in support for the death penalty (64% now, down from 68% in 2001) is believed to be at least partly due to the convictions, mentioned earlier, that have been overturned as a result of new DNA evidence. But supporters of execution have a twinkle in their eye since they argue that the same advances in DNA technology now make convictions safer, and fewer ‘wrong’ people are likely to be killed. But, of course, there was no DNA evidence in Davis’s case … no evidence at all, in fact. So what can help people like him, other than the moral courage and political conviction of those elected, supposedly, to serve all, not just fearful white reactionaries…?

There are few things that make me pleased to British. The general opposition of the political class to the death penalty (with some notable exceptions) in the face of public support for it is one of them. I hope a possible Tory landslide at the next election doesn’t change that.

 


Comments

11/23/2016 04:34

VERY WELL POST FOR ME.

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This post is very unique and crimes. Government should care about criminal and also kill them. Because criminal has master plan and his team is spread in all over the world. We should care about any person.

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02/12/2017 05:33

I am very upset about it just like you. It's a sad situation indeed.

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