In 1991, Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Mark A. MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. On Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, the Supreme Court rejected his appeals. The execution date was hastily reset by the Georgia Department of Corrections for Oct. 27.
Davis' ruling has cast outpouring support for him and raised eyebrows at the legal system's ultimate indifference and unwillingness to move on the facts: Seven of nine witnesses who initially testified against him have recanted their testimonies — with two disclosing that the police coerced them into testifying against the defendant and another three revealing that another man admitted to the crime. Even more so, during the trial, prosecutors presented no physical evidence or murder weapon.
For the record, I am not an advocate of capital punishment and this case is a prime example for my position against the decree: Even in lieu of detrimental facts that would greatly alter the outcome of this particular situation—and save a human life, an innocent man will still possibly be put to death. No stone should be left unturned in pursuit of one's innocence—regardless of the time expended on this quest or when the truth is finally discovered. The revelation has fallen upon unconcerned ears and numb spirits contented with the current judgment—no matter how wrong it may be.
Since the days of emancipation, the U.S. penal system has been arguably viewed as a veiled intermediary—or an invisible net — for the captivity, oppression, and control of the poor and Black disadvantaged. White America was outraged when it appeared to them that a Black man — O.J. Simpson — slipped through one of the loops in their net. Yet, no protest is expressed for the tens of thousands of innocent Blacks placed behind bars for crimes they did not commit; no outrage is dispelled for the legal system's disproportionate incarceration and unjust sentencing of African Americans; no gripe is made for legal authorities' arbitrary, brute force and mistreatment of African Americans relative to other racial groups.
As with Davis, a vast list of African Americans' innocence has been or can be proven. For instance, after 20 years of incarceration, Rubin Hurricane Carter was finally found innocent; however, his case is far from being an aberration. Assata Shakur, currently one of the FBI's most wanted, has fled the country even though evidence overwhelmingly supports her innocence. Other political prisoners such as Geronimo Pratt, George Jackson, Leonard Peltier, and Mumia Abu-Jamal unjustly remain victims of crimes they did not commit.
Some argue that the system has improved significantly since its inception, which may be true. In 2001, figures showed that Blacks who killed Whites were three times more likely to be sentenced to death than were Whites who killed Whites. In a study of almost 20,000 executions in the U.S., only 31, less than one percent, of these executions were for a White killing a Black. As well, of 455 men executed for rape, 405, or 89 percent, were Black; disparately, no White man has ever been executed for raping a Black woman.
Not many decades ago, the American society blatantly and unabashedly categorized a people as sub-human and 3/5 a person, or a "n**ger." As a result it was acceptable and faddish to look upon Blacks as fair hunting game and condemn them to death on a whim. Taking the life of Blacks was not considered the same as taking the life of a human being, for the Blacks was likened to an ox, an animal. In this 21st century, under the thinly veiled disguise of law and order, is this provincial custom still alive and well? Actions always speak louder than words.
H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc., and author of "Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word."