Georgia Carries Out Legal Lynching
Troy Davis Case Shows:
There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts
Mobilize Workers’ Power to Smash the Racist Death Penalty!
Troy Davis in
August 1991 during the frame-up trial that
sentenced him to death. (Photo: Savannah Morning News)
SEPTEMBER 21 – At 11:08 p.m. tonight, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis. There was a delay of several hours for the U.S. Supreme Court to give its seal of approval to this state murder. As Troy’s life hung in the balance, several hundred furious demonstrators marched through the streets of black Harlem and jammed into St. Mary’s Church chanting, “Stop the execution, free Troy Davis.”
Davis was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1989 shooting death of an off-duty Savannah police officer. There have been worldwide demonstrations demanding that he not be executed. Last week more than 630,000 letters were handed to the Board asking to stop the execution of Davis on the grounds that there is “too much doubt” about this case. Yet massive evidence shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt Troy Davis was innocent.
In recent days and earlier, the Internationalist Group, CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Class Struggle Education Workers joined in protests in New York calling to free Troy Davis and smash the racist death penalty. The execution was nothing less than a legal lynching. It showed, as a number of black Georgians bitterly remarked, that racist Jim Crow “justice” is alive and well in the state that was the lynching capital of the South in the 1920s. It demonstrated that for the racist U.S. injustice system, innocence is not a defense – especially for a black man accused of killing a white cop. It proved, again, that there is no justice in the capitalist courts.
Davis was convicted solely on the basis of witness testimony, and by now it is well-known that seven of the nine witnesses who testified in the 1991 trial later recanted their statements. Almost all said that they were pressured by the police to implicate Davis as the man who shot policeman Mark Allen MacPhail: “After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear,” one reported. Several said they never even read the statement the cops handed them to sign. An eighth witness told police before the trial that he wouldn’t recognize the shooter, but changed his story on the stand.
Yesterday, September 20, the Georgia Board of Pardons turned down Davis’s request for clemency after a day of hearings, in which a juror in the original trial said she would have decided differently knowing what she does now of the case, and the verdict on Davis would have been “not guilty.” Another reported she heard “witness” Sylvester Coles admit that he was the actual killer. Earlier, the 2007 Amnesty International document on the Davis case cited nine people who signed affidavits implicating Coles as the killer. Another man said he actually saw Coles shoot MacPhail. The incident occurred during an argument between Coles and a homeless man, Larry Young, who now says he believes it was Coles who pistol-whipped him and shot the cop.
As we have written previously (see our October 2008 leaflet, “Troy Davis Must Not Die!” reprinted in The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009), the factual evidence demonstrating Davis’s innocence is overwhelming. In addition, quite a list of luminaries have asked for clemency in his case, including Catholic pope Benedict XVI, former U.S. president and Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and Georgia congressman John Lewis. Moreover, among those opposing execution of Davis are prominent conservative supporters of the death penalty, including former FBI director William Sessions, former Texas governor Mark White and ultra-rightist former Georgia congressman Robert Barr.
Even the prosecuting attorney in the original Savannah trial admits that for 80 percent of the witnesses to recant may be a judicial record, and such an across-the-board appeal for clemency from a whole array of bourgeois figures is unprecedented. Yet it has not changed the outcome. Why not?
First, there is the perceived need by the capitalist ruling class to maintain the supposed infallibility of its “justice” system, with the myths about “checks and balances,” judicial review and “innocent until proven guilty.” All of these are constantly negated in reality, of course, but for the state to fulfill its function of repressing exploited and oppressed, it need to uphold the pretense. Thus the judicial system develops “rules of evidence” to exclude inconvenient facts. When the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal district court in Atlanta to review the case, the judge, William Moore (appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton), dismissed the numerous statements implicating Coles as the shooter on the grounds that they are “hearsay.”
Secondly, and more specifically, the unanimity of the witnesses’ statements saying that the cops coerced or pressured them into fingering Davis means that admitting their new testimony would mean in effect indicting the Savannah police of criminality. Moreover, since police around the country routinely gather their “evidence” using such coercive techniques, admitting the new testimony could call into question the modus operandi of the U.S. repressive apparatus. And a linchpin of the M.O. of that criminal enterprise – the police – is that when a cop is shot, someone must die, no matter who, particularly if it concerns a black ghetto or Latino barrio. Maintaining ruling-class domination in communities of the oppressed requires intimidation.
For the most fundamental factor in explaining this travesty is the racist nature of American capitalism. Not only was the United States founded on the bedrock of chattel slavery, from which it derived the profits that fueled its economic growth during the colonial period and the early period of independence. After the abolition of slave plantations as a result of the Civil War, rulers had to find a means to keep the oppressed black population in thrall. This gave rise to Ku Klux Klan nightriders in the 1870s and then the introduction of Jim Crow segregation, even more rigid than under slavery since it was necessary to counteract the democratic rights of the newly freed population, whether with poll taxes, lynch mobs or separate (inferior) public facilities.
Above: Martina Correia, who fought
tirelessly to save her brother Troy Davis,
speaking at meeting on “Racism, Repression and
Rebellion” at ILWU Local
10, February 2009. Below: Local 10 banner.
West Coast longshore union passed
resolution calling to free Davis. What’s needed is to
mobilize workers’ power.
Then, when formal segregation was finally eliminated with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, once again it was necessary to find new methods of keeping African Americans down. A select few were incorporated into the ruling class, such as Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Colin Powell, while some would be allowed to move to (segregated) suburbs to create the illusion of mobility for the middle class. But the large mass of the impoverished black population was to be subjugated by police-state rule of the inner cities, even more pervasive than before, because once again it was necessary to counter formal democratic rights.
This is more than cop brutality, it is a system of police occupation that has meant massive arrests for everything from drugs to petty “quality of life crimes” which have put close to a third of young black men in prison, on parole or probation (almost half in Washington, D.C.). It has meant massive police intimidation, as in New York City where according to the New York Civil Liberties Union last year over 600,000 people were stopped and frisked, overwhelmingly (85 percent) black and Latino youth. And it has led to a 600 percent increase in the number of death sentences over then last 40 years, so that today there are more than 3,250 prisoners on death row, well over half of them black or Latino.
The death penalty in the United States is a legacy of slavery and its administration has always been racist. Recent news reports have revealed that the former chief psychologist of the Texas jail system has routinely testified in death penalty hearings for the last 20 years that black men are more likely to be violent in the future, and therefore should be executed. Georgia and Texas have always been high on the list of states that kill prisoners, and Republican right-wingers are big supporters of the death penalty. But it is the American capitalist ruling class as a whole that upholds the system of state murder as a key element of its domination. As our Internationalist have emphasized: “Imperialist War Abroad Means Racist Repression ‘At Home’.”
In recent protests, speakers from reformist left groups (Workers World Party, Revolutionary Communist Party) have highlighted that Republican presidential frontrunner, Texas governor Rick Perry, has presided over 234 executions. Nothing about the fact that when he was governor of Georgia, Democrat Jimmy Carter signed the state’s death penalty act which had been rewritten to pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor did they mention that Democratic president Bill Clinton authored the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that eliminated most habeas corpus appeals by death row inmates (or that he launched his 1992 presidential campaign by presiding over the execution of a brain-damaged black man).
But most notable was the lack of criticism of Democratic president Barack Obama. In fact the NAACP called on Obama to do something, like launch a federal civil rights investigation, in hopes that this might stay the execution of Troy Davis. Yet Obama is an avowed supporter of the death penalty, especially when it is used against those convicted of killing police. He made this clear when questioned about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and radical journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless” who has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for the last 29 years. Even so the reformists have thrown their efforts into a misdirected effort to get Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder to launch an investigation of Mumia’s case.
In contrast, IG signs have proclaimed: “Down with the Democrats and Republicans – Racist Parties of Death and Imperialist War, For a Revolutionary Workers Party.” Another read: “Obama’s U.S.A., Prison Nation: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lynne Stewart, Leonard Peltier and Thousands More, Free All Class-War Prisoners!” The list could be extended to include the Cuban Five, the Angola (Louisiana) Three and many others. While making clear that we were for Davis’s legal team using every avenue available to them to stave off the execution, rather than forlorn appeals to the capitalist rulers, we call to “Mobilize Workers Power to Free Troy Davis Now!” This are not just words, but a perspective for concrete action.
contingent at September 16 NYC rally to
stop execution of Troy Davis. (Internationalist photo)
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have spearheaded efforts for workers strikes to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has come to symbolize the struggle against the racist death penalty. Our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil sparked an April 1999 work stoppage (and several stoppages since then) for Mumia’s freedom by teachers in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The 1999 action was carried out in conjunction with U.S. longshore workers of the ILWU who the next day shut down every port on the West Coast, saying “An injury to one is an injury to all, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” The 2009 ILWU convention passed a resolution opposing the death penalty, “a vestige of slavery, which is the ultimate form of government oppression,” and calling for the freedom of Mumia, Leonard Peltier and Troy Anthony Davis. But what was and is needed is workers’ action.
On Troy Davis, our October 2008 article noted that the president of Local 1414 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (the East Coast dock union) had spoken at a meeting of several hundred at Savannah State University protesting the scheduled execution of Troy Davis. In February 2010, we spoke with some militant longshoremen from Savannah at an international dock workers convention in Charleston, South Carolina. We asked if it would be possible to undertake any kind of labor-led mobilization to stop the execution of Davis. They responded that they had called on the union to protest, but received phone calls from the International in New York informing them that if they did so they would be in big trouble.
This is the response of the labor bureaucracy, which sits atop the unions and seeks to hold them in check and prevent militant action by the working class. It does this by tying labor to the capitalist Democratic Party, and by subjugating the workers to the bosses’ laws. They won’t mobilize for Troy Davis or Mumia Abu-Jamal any more than they would defy union-busting witchhunting legislation like the Taft-Hartley Act. And that is why for decades the unions have been suffering one defeat after another, to the point of disappearing in many cases. But these misleaders, the “labor lieutenants of capital,” can be swept away if the ranks mobilize on a program of sharp class struggle.
As an IG speaker noted at the rally for Troy Davis yesterday (September 20) in the financial district of New York, where an “anti-capitalist” mobilization against the banks is underway, an example of the kind of labor action that is needed and possible was the recent mobilization of hundreds of ILWU longshoremen in Longview, Washington this past September 8, when they “stormed” the port, according to the big business press, which complained of thousands of tons of tons of grain dumped onto railroad tracks to prevent it being loaded by scab labor. The leaders of the ILWU and ILA have vowed to act to defend threatened longshore jobs, but it is up to the workers to make sure this happens.
As our spokesman at the Wall Street area rally noted, that requires the leadership of a revolutionary workers party that fights to oust the pro-capitalist bureaucrats and break the bonds chaining working people and all the oppressed to the partner parties of capitalist imperialism. This means fighting to defeat U.S. imperialist wars, from Afghanistan to Libya, and the capitalist war being waged against working people in the U.S. The fight to save all the Troy Davises from claws the racist injustice system is an integral part of that struggle. It will take nothing less than a socialist revolution to smash the death penalty and police-state repression in the ghettos and barrios and put an end to the capitalist system that lives on death. ■
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: email@example.com