On September 21, 2011 the entire United States witnessed the lynching of a Black man. The execution of Troy Davis should serve as a wake up call for whites and others to a couple of factors many Blacks and other minority groups have known for decades. One, racism in the form of white supremacy is still just as powerful as t has always been. As much as people would like to ignore it or deny it, this is a known fact. Two, the entire criminal justice system, from the police to the courts, to the prisons, is flawed and easily corruptible. It is geared toward imposing the will of the white ruling class on the lower classes. The Troy Davis case proved both of these points.
The situation reminded me of Michel Foucault’s (pronounced me-shell foo-co) book Discipline and Punish. In the book, Foucault explained the evolution of capital punishment and the development of the prison system. He explained that originally governments used public torture and executions as the primary form of punishment for crimes. The idea was that the condemned would serve as an example and deterrent to other criminals – even for the smallest of offenses. The media’s depiction of medieval executions is somewhat inaccurate. During such public executions, the public would be comprised of those who supported the execution and those who opposed it. After the execution, riots would erupt between the opposing groups. Those executed were often seen as martyrs. When groups become organized and gain dominance during riots, those riots become revolutions. The fact that these riots occurred proved that public executions weren't an effective method of dealing with crime or dissident activists.
A more effective method of dealing with criminals was needed as society evolved with new forms of government and industrial technology. This led to the development of chain gangs and labor camps. The labor camps and chain gangs put the inmates to work deemed useful by the government and other special interests, there was still always a change for rebellion and escape. The chain gangs punished prisoners by assigning them to jobs that reflected the nature of their crimes. The prisoners were said to pay their debt to society by physically working to improve the aspects of society that they had previously damaged. This method of punishment was supported by many reformers because it was more humane than public torture and executions.
Over time, governments developed the prison as the main method of punishment. Prisons became a way of using the same method of punishment for all crimes. By observing, training, and controlling every aspect of the prisoner’s life governments and prison authorities sought to impress a generic ideal of discipline to all f its convicts. Foucault explained that this method of punishment was meant to create people who would easily return society to hold positions in institutions that required the same discipline such as schools (as students), (blue collar) jobs, and the military. The general function of all four of these institutions is to break a person down mentally and/or physically so that those in control of those institutions can build the subjected people up to be who/what the institutions were designed to make them. In capitalistic countries, the ruling class wanted (and still wants those convicts to serve as the manpower behind the institutions that keep the ruling class in its position at the top rung of the economic and political ladder. Needless to say, prison also has a secondary affect on one’s financial health. It affects not only the prisoner’s ability to generate income, but forces his family to fill the void of financial support that is left by the inmate’s absence. And without the financial ability to join the ruling class (primitive accumulation of capital), according to Marx, one has no other choice but to become a member of the working class (which includes both the middle and lower classes), or the lumpen (the criminal segment of the working class). This explains why many of the people who are released from prison often return.
Most of the forensic methods used today are primarily for the purpose of finding a suspect guilty of a crime. Forensic evidence maintaining one’s innocence is mainly the other side of the coin. The criminal justice system operated the same in the early days of America and developed similarly leading to the current day. Discipline and Punish explained this process for the entire Western world. As a friend of mine put it, “Michael Foucault is the white man that every Black man needs to read.” (The same goes for Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto as well.) Despite the evolution in the methods of punishment, little was done to secure safety nets for those who were wrongly accused, let alone provide effective methods of repairing the damage done to such individuals. Such is the case for Troy Davis and many other political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier.
Troy Davis’ case was questionable to begin with, given that 7 of the 9 primary witnesses claimed that they only testified against him due to pressure (meaning intimidation or threats) from the police. One witness was told that he would be charged as an accessory to the murder if he refused to testify against Davis. It’s actually very common for them to use such methods to extract information from someone, whether that information is correct or not. I’ve seen it personally a few times before I was educated on what was going on. Obviously, neither the police nor the courts would ever take responsibility for such actions. Needless to say, many will try to use the fact that 7 of the 12 jurors were Black to rove that Troy’s case is not an issue of race. The thing many don’t realize, or choose to ignore is that anyone of any race can be used to support white supremacy directly or indirectly.
To those who understand the concept of being “safe” when it comes to race, it’s obvious why Obama decided not to say or do anything to help. He was most likely advised not to comment, whether he personally wanted help or not – and he took that advice if that was the case. Regardless, Obama has never spoken out in favor of Black men, not even during his campaign when Diop Olugbala posed the question “What about the Black Community”. Although he ironically was a member of a church that, according to the media, supported Black Nationalism to some degree, he seems to have distanced himself from those circles.
Hundreds of thousands of people called for Troy’s clemency. Celebrities (such as Big Boi of Outkast), regular citizens, a former FBI director, and even George W. Bush (of all people) opposed Troy’s execution. The flood of calls, emails, Tweets, and petitions finally won Tory a temporary delay of his execution minutes before he was to be executed. The PEOPLE did that. The Supreme Court took hours reviewing the case only to maintain Davis’ guilt. Maybe they saw something no one else saw or paid attention to. And if that is the case, then those who opposed Davis' execution should study the court transcripts the same as every other court has. Otherwise, the highest court in the land refused to admit that the justice system failed and killed an innocent man.