The Legal Lynching of Troy Davis

Troy Davis

On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was executed by lethal injection by the State of Georgia. Davis was accused and convicted of murdering a police officer, Mark MacPhail, despite a lack of forensic evidence at his trial. He spent 20 years on death row.  Davis maintained his innocence throughout this period, and a movement began to grow around his case. In 2009, the U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia held a hearing to consider new evidence which had come to light in the case–namely the recantation, or changes to the testimonies, of seven of the prosecution’s nine key witnesses to the crime. Despite this, the court refused to alter Davis’ sentence.

Troy Davis RallyAs the date of Davis’ execution approached, thousands of people mounted solidarity demonstrations all over Georgia, the United States, and the world.  Close to a million people signed petitions demanding that his execution be stayed.  At the last moment, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would review the case, only to unanimously reject the appeal a few hours later.

It is impossible for us to know whether or not Troy Davis actually murdered Mark MacPhail, but that is not what Davis’ case came to be about.  What was really on trial in the course of this saga was the death penalty, and ultimately, the American criminal “justice” system.  American jurisprudence has always claimed that for an accused person to be convicted and punished, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a capital case, this principle should apply even more, as a person’s life is at stake.  It is clear that there was tremendous doubt concerning Troy Davis’ supposed guilt, but court after court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, refused to reconsider Davis’ sentence.

The “impartial” courts all found ways to disregard the overwhelming doubt surrounding the case, including the invocation of a 1996 anti-terrorism law that effectively prevents death row inmates from submitting evidence they “could have submitted at trial,” whether or not their legal teams at the time knew such evidence existed.

We see here the ugly underbelly of our supposedly unbiased “justice” system. What really transpired here was a lynching, mandated and coordinated by the courts. A police officer was killed; somebody needed to hang!

The first duty of the capitalist courts, police, and prisons is to defend private property. It can do this in a number of ways: by issuing injunctions against strikes, beating and arresting protestors, infiltrating revolutionary movements, etc.  During relatively “normal” periods of the class struggle, the capitalist state resorts to intimidating, terrorizing, and murdering the poor and minorities in order to divide the working class, making it all the more difficult for them to organize across these lines against their common enemy, the bourgeoisie. The death penalty is just one such tool at their disposal.

Despite making up just 12.6% of the American population, 35% of those who have been executed in the U.S. since 1976 have been black. In addition, 41% on death row are black. To say that blacks are disproportionately represented in the gruesome statistics of the death penalty would be a massive understatement!  

Figures such as these are often played upon by overtly racist elements, claiming that blacks are inherently prone to crime and violence. However, a far different dynamic is at play here. Capitalism has failed to create economic opportunities and prosperity for black Americans, and capitalism’s judicial system consoles them by demonizing, harassing, and murdering them in shocking numbers. At the core of this process is the need for the capitalist to divide workers into arbitrary categories against themselves, all in the defense of private property and profits.

The Workers International League stands with those who fight to end the death penalty and expose the American criminal justice system for the sham it is.  We stand with the black working class and youth to whom capitalism gave only Jim Crow in the past and can provide neither a present nor a future. In order to end the injustice in our crumbling neighborhoods, decrepit schools, and overflowing prisons, workers of all backgrounds must unite and struggle to end the system of capitalism.


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