Rilwan Ameen, Staff Writer
“We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country, we sanction those who trample on human rights abroad and we will always serve as a voice for those who have been silenced.” President Barack Obama made these remarks at a conference held at the United Nations; the same day as the set execution date of an African-American man accused of killing police officer Mark MacPhail in the state of Georgia in 1989. This man was Troy Davis, and he awaited death at the hands of the United States on September 21, 2011.
Although you may or may not have heard his name before this execution date, it is imperative that we at least identify with his case. Killed by lethal injection, Davis’ case raises questions about our judicial system and our method of capital punishment.
Despite the number of appeals from Amnesty International, the Pope and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter as well as millions of protestors around the world, the state of Georgia still decided that Davis be put to death even with the cloud of doubt that surrounded the case. The U.S. District Court stated on August 24, 2010, “While Mr. Davis’ new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction; it is largely smoke and mirrors.”
The question is why? No physical DNA evidence linked him to the crime and seven of the nine eyewitnesses in his case recanted their original testimony with five saying they were coerced into statements. The Georgia Pardons Board rejected last minute requests to halt Davis’ execution. The trial judge decided that the recantations of the witnesses were unreliable and therefore they could not prove his innocence.
A real sign of how sick and twisted our justice system can be is where human rights come into place through the actions of the state. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty,” or “beyond a reasonable doubt?” In the big picture, this case shows how there is a serious need of an overhaul to our judicious system. In a country that is supposed to be “the land of freedom and liberty,” how is it that the United States, according to CNN, ranks in the top five countries with the highest execution rates, amongst nations such as China, North Korea and Yemen?
This startling statistic gives you an idea of just how anti-human rights we are when it comes to the death penalty. The fact that we are on the same playing field with these countries who we, the United States, are constantly condemning for their human rights abuses is telling. Was killing Troy Davis a substitute for death of MacPhail? Whatever the case may be, the way the judicial system failed him is an embarrassment and America’s moral authority was truly weakened in terms of global perception.
For people wondering why President Obama didn’t step in and stop this, the president of the U.S. only has the power to pardon federal convicts in the U.S. and this case was at a state level. This trial was a complicated one on many levels; it shows that even if you agree with the death penalty in theory you can’t support it in the United States without supporting the executions of innocent people.
This particular situation provides a landmark moment in terms of raising questions for people who aren’t against the death penalty in theory and in practice. Realize that in practice, the death penalty is racist, classist and applied unfairly. There have been 273 exonerations of people using DNA evidence and 17 of these people have been on Death Row. This doesn’t mean the system we have is working, just that these are the cases we know about.
It’s difficult to track which imprisoned people are innocent, because after an execution no one puts resources and time into proving one’s innocence because there are many other similar cases. Using this one as an example we can now ask how to fix this broken system. With the governor in Georgia not allowed to intervene with sentencing and the president unable to grant clemency to non-federal convicts, we see this is not merely an isolated incident due to our justice system’s failure to self-correct. When it comes to the thought of being sentenced to death there are many thoughts that clutter the mind: unjust, not definitive or immoral. As Judge Greg Mathis stated best “We need a nationwide ban on the death penalty, one innocent man put to death is one too many. If we can’t be certain of the legitimacy of the convictions, the practice must be halted.”
There is someone out there who is the real murderer of Officer Mark MacPhail. Unfortunately Davis, just like so many that have come before him and that will come after him is no longer here to be able to exonerate himself in the court of law. The state of Georgia, under the biggest state of them all (The United States of America), decided he should not have the opportunity. This is a much broader issue in America than just this one case. We must not let this pattern of injustice continue. All those who have perished as a result of capital punishment must not have perished in vain, we always remember Troy Davis.