As flawed as I know our judicial system is, I was still shocked that the state of GA executed Troy Davis last night. The news was felt in the pit of my stomach. We really did this? As a society? Then I read Panama Jackson’s VSB blog on the subject and this part stuck out to me:
11:08pm. The moment when every statement about our country’s belief in truth, justice, and the American way was proven to be bullshit…………. The thing is, as a Black man I never believed in it anyway. And yet I’m still disappointed. I still WANT to believe that all the evidence in the world would keep me alive.
I normally got to VerySmartBrothas.com for laughs, but damn if that didn’t make me want to cry. I feel you, Panama.
Do I feel that Troy Davis is completely innocent? Not really. Do I feel like Troy Davis is guilty? It’s possible. I honestly don’t know. And that is precisely why I don’t think he should have been executed. How do we KNOW with the certainty of DEATH that someone is guilty? We don’t. DNA or video would be pretty damning, (unless your name is Robert Kelly or you have an LAPD badge) but those things couldn’t exist here. So how can we be so certain as to take life?
We are human. We are bound to make mistakes in convictions just as we do in every other aspect our society. It is just that in the case of the capital punishment, that failure can result in loss of life. I’m just not OK with that. Whether you think that death is an appropriate penalty for some crimes or not, I think any person who isn’t a psychopath should probably feel at least uncomfortable with the fact that we are definitely going to get it wrong at least some of the time. We have put innocent people behind bars hundreds of times in recent history. Now that DNA testing is available, people are getting convictions overturned by the dozens. Just check out The Innocence Project. We make mistakes. Our systems are not infallible.
‘Reasonable doubt’ is an intentionally and appropriately high bar for conviction. When I sat on a jury, I took “beyond a reasonable doubt” VERY seriously. I felt the weight of sitting in judgment of another human being. The weight of deciding whether they would spend the next few years behind bars. But I also felt it was important that I serve and not try to avoid jury duty at all costs, as many people do. How can I complain about convictions (or lack of convictions) if I refuse to accept my responsibility in the process? So there I sat, in uncomfortable judgment of a black man accused of raping a teenage black girl. A black man who looked very familiar once I saw him and learned he lived in my old neighborhood. Did we go to middle school together? There I sat as his peer, doing my best to ensure both he and the victim were treated fairly. (I thought the victim was certainly NOT, but that’s a blog for another day).
The most disheartening part to this story is that the courts declared that Davis did not provide “substantive proof of his innocence” at his final hearing. Excuse me? Proof of innocence? We must prove innocence now instead of guilt? What part of The Constitution is that? Shame on you, Supreme Court. Our system is supposed to presume innocence. Shifting that paradigm so boldly is terrifying. Man, am I ever happy that I’m not a black man in America.
I will not jump on the bandwagon and say there is no evidence against him. Certainly, there is. But the burden of actual proof has not been met, and even if it seemed to be at the time, it certainly isn’t there now with all the “adjusted” testimonies. While I don’t know that this particular failure of the legal system is racially influenced, I do know that there are clear racial and socioeconomic biases in our legal system, especially in a state like GA, and that that has been proven by a myriad of studies and data.
If you feel Davis or anyone else was wrongly convicted, think about that the next time you lament about your jury summons. We killed a man based on testimonies with some serious inconsistencies. Either witnesses were lying then, or they are lying now. Either way, that creates quite a shroud of doubt. I can’t imagine what his last hours waiting to hear from the Supreme Court to rule felt like. I hope both the Davis and MacPhail families can find peace. And I hope we weren’t wrong.
P.S. Please stop blaming Barack Obama for things he has no jurisdiction over. The President does not have to authority to pardon a State’s conviction.