Free Troy Davis! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!
There’s No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!
By Steven Argue
During slavery a slave named Dred Scott was taken by his master to what is now Minnesota and Illinois. Slavery was illegal in those territories so Dred Scott took his master to court to sue for his freedom. In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott saying that a Black man “has no legal rights that any white man was bound to respect”.
Since that time the Civil War has abolished chattel slavery and the heroic struggles of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements have abolished the most blatant forms of Jim Crow segregation. Yet, the death penalty, a hold-over of the class terror of slavery, continues. Likewise, racist injustice is alive and well in the American judicial system.
“Innocence is no Bar to Upholding a Jury Conviction”
In the tradition of Dred Scott, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1993 case of Herrara v Collins that the execution of an innocent man did not violate the Constitution. Judge Scalia stated of the case that "Innocence is no bar to upholding a jury conviction". As a result, strong new evidence that Leonel Herara was innocent was never allowed to be heard in a court of law. Instead, Leonel Herara was executed in 1993 in the state of Texas with his last words being, "I am innocent, innocent, innocent. I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight."
So a standard has been set where those who have been appointed to the highest court in the land don’t think that the execution of an innocent person is a violation of their constitutional rights. It is on this standard that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Troy Davis on March 28, 2011, denying his appeal without comment.
Troy Davis was sentenced to death in 1991 for the killing of an off-duty Savannah policeman. Davis was found “guilty” based on dubious accounts that he confessed to the killing and questionable “eyewitness” identifications that included false eyewitness testimony coerced by the cops. Seven of the prosecution’s nine “eyewitnesses” have since recanted. The only holdouts are one man who may be the actual killer and another who initially denied being able to identify the shooter only to pin it on Davis two years later. Three of the eyewitnesses say their testimony was coerced by the police. New eyewitnesses have come forth identifying another suspect.
Amnesty International said of his case, "Troy Davis was convicted of murder in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row — even though the case against him has fallen apart."
Now Troy Davis may be executed on Wednesday, September 21st of this week. On September 6th a Chatham County, Georgia Judge issued a death warrant for Troy Davis. The so-called “Department of Corrections” then set the date for the execution. This Monday, September 19th the Georgia parole board heard arguments for and against execution. That five person panel is given the power to issue a ruling on whether Troy Davis lives or is legally lynched. They pronounced no decision Monday and gave no indication on when they will.
How Bill Clinton Prevented the Evidence from Being Heard
For over a decade, state and federal courts refused to hear evidence that Troy Davis is innocent. This included a federal court ruling against Troy Davis on April 16, 2009. A dissenting federal judge said the execution of Davis “in the face of a significant amount of the proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence” was “unconscionable.” Yet the majority decision cited Bill Clinton’s 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, an act which virtually eliminates the right of federal habeas corpus (i.e. federal review of state legal cases).
The right to federal habeas corpus was a gain of the Civil War passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The act gave the federal government authority to intervene in cases of racial injustice. This included federal habeas corpus giving the federal courts authority to review state legal decisions. Federal habeas corpus was further expanded during the Civil Rights and Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s.
Bill Clinton’s 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, on the other hand, virtually eliminated the right to federal habeas corpus. The act bars federal reconsideration of most factual and legal findings of the state courts. It also puts a six month statute of limitations on new evidence in death penalty cases (one year for other cases).
The same 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that has been used against Troy Davis was also cited as cause against federal review of evidence of the innocence of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is political activist, award winning journalist, and political prisoner on death row in the United States. Mumia was framed by the Philadelphia police and DA's Office. To convict Mumia they produced a crudely falsified “confession” which didn’t surface until two months after the killing; tampered with ballistics “evidence”; and produced “eyewitness” accounts that were secured through police manipulation, coercion, and blatant terror. During the trial the Philadelphia DA’s Office knowingly used perjured testimony and hid essential evidence to procure a conviction. That frame-up case was then presented in a court presided over by Judge Sabo who was heard by a court stenographer during the time of the trial saying, "Ill help you fry the nigger".
After investigation, Amnesty International stated of the trial, “Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards." Yet, like in the racist frame-up case of Troy Davis, the federal courts have cited the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act as pretext not to hear evidence of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s innocence.
As the historian Howard Zinn stated of Mumia Abu-Jamal in April 2009:
“To me, the Mumia Abu-Jamal case is another instance in the history of American injustice. Our judicial system is stacked against people of color, radicals, and people who are not wealthy, and Mumia fits all three categories.
“It is shameful that he has been in prison, and on death row, for such a large part of his life. He has shown immense courage in refusing to be beaten down by this cruel system.
“I hope that justice will be done in his case, but that will only happen if large numbers of Americans speak out loudly on his behalf, and on behalf of the principle — so much ignored — of equal justice before the law.”
A Continuing Pattern of Racist Injustice
Blacks have long faced political repression in the United States. For many decades the KKK, Democratic Party, and local police ruled over half of the country as a semi-fascist state where Blacks were denied the right to vote and murdered for speaking their minds. With victories won against that system the FBI orchestrated a reign of terror against the most radical Blacks who stood up against racism, class inequalities, and imperialism.
In the 1960’s and 70’s the U.S. government liquidated the Black Panther Party through the murders of 39 members, including the FBI organized police shooting of Fred Hampton in his sleep, and through political frame-ups such as that of Geronimo (Ji. Jaga) Pratt who was finally exonerated (i.e. found innocent) after 30 years in prison. Other framed Black Panthers still sit in prison and Black Panther Assata Shakur lives in exile, granted political asylum by Cuba, but with a one million dollar bounty put on her head by the New Jersey government. Mumia Abu-Jamal, a target of FBI surveillance from the time of his youth in the Black Panther Party, survived the FBI’s physical liquidation of his party, only to be framed-up in the 1980’s after exposing violent police repression against Black radicals in an organization called Move.
Similarly, the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota who supported the culturally and politically nationalist American Indian Movement faced brutal counter-insurgency tactics complete with FBI-armed and -trained death squads that murdered 61 political activists and their children on the reservation between 1973 and 1976. As part of that terror war against America’s first nations, American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier was framed by the FBI and remains in prison to this day. Many of Leonard Peltier’s supporters had hoped that Bill Clinton would pardon Leonard Peltier as he left office, but Clinton refused to do so.
Today, a world movement hopes that Troy Davis is not executed. In the last few days over 300 protests have been held for Troy Davis in cities around the world. Nearly a million petitions have been signed demanding Troy Davis not be executed. He is supported by many important organizations including the NAACP, Amnesty International, and the International Longshore and Warehouseman’s Union
Troy Davis has sat in prison for 20 years in a case that not only shows cause for reasonable doubt, the legal definition of innocence, but also shows the classic symptoms of a racist police frame-up including police coercion of witnesses. Whatever happens in the next couple days, justice in this case will not mean just stopping his execution, it will also mean freeing Troy Davis. Yet, we should be clear, the U.S. government is capable of the worst, it is capable of the murder of innocents, and it is even capable of producing legal arguments like "Innocence is no bar to upholding a jury conviction” to justify state sanctioned murder.
From Dred Scott to Troy Davis
In his May 1857 “Speech on the Dred Scott Decision” Frederick Douglass, a former slave and activist for the abolition of slavery, denounced the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that a Black man “has no legal rights that any white man was bound to respect” by saying,
“If it were at all likely that the people of these free States would tamely submit to this demoniacal judgment, I might feel gloomy and sad over it, and possibly it might be necessary for my people to look for a home in some other country. But as the case stands, we have nothing to fear.
“In one point of view, we, the abolitionists and colored people, should meet this decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, in a cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the downfall and complete overthrow of the whole slave system.”
The unpopular Dred Scott decision is widely seen as playing a role in bringing on the Civil War. It was the Civil War that completed the abolition of slavery, a task that had begun in the north with the American Revolution. With U.S. courts now openly ruling that it’s OK to murder innocent people, it is now time to prepare for a second American Revolution. It is with such radical conclusions we should confront government atrocities like what is being done to Troy Davis. In doing so, we make the government pay for its crimes.
By revolution I don’t mean blow things up or any other form of individual terrorism. A revolution is a change in who rules society. Presently the wealthy capitalists rule America through their ownership of the economy; through their political parties, the Democrats and Republicans; and through the repressive actions of their cops, courts, prisons, and military. That entire system must be swept away in a mass proletarian revolution.
Liberation News is dedicated to building a socialist party that has goals like eliminating the dictatorial control of our society by the wealthy, bringing about true workers democracy, ending imperialist wars, and bringing Black liberation through socialist revolution. While capitalism is leading us into an oblivion of economic decay, austerity, unemployment, ever more wars, and environmental catastrophe, a socialist economy can be geared for full employment, free health care, free education, housing for all, and better environmental protection because it will not be run for capitalist profit. A party that fights for such a socialist future also exposes and fights for immediate demands like freeing Troy Davis and abolishing the racist death penalty. In building such a movement that helps people draw the deeper radical conclusions of the injustices perpetrated by this system and the fight that is needed for liberation, we make the capitalist system pay for its crimes.