today in black history

May 30, 2024

African American Episcopal Zion (A.M.E.Z.)Bishop James W. Hood, a fierce advocate for Blacks' rights, was born in 1831.

Executing the Truth

POSTED: September 20, 2011, 12:00 am

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The rejection of the clemency appeal of death row inmate Troy Davis by the Georgia Parole Board has set a new low for our criminal justice system. The denial of Mr. Davis’ appeal is a clear case of vengeance by a Board lacking courage to set the record straight, and kowtowing to the blood thirsty howls of death penalty proponents. While the sentiments of the victim’s family is understandable, justice demands that the truth be the basis of a decision in which the state sends a citizen to his death and not some sense of obligation to execute. The level of support Mr. Davis received, across the political and ideological spectrum, is indicative of the very strong evidence that he is not guilty of the crime for which he has been charged. If this sentence is carried out as scheduled for Wednesday night, we will be executing the truth as well as Mr. Davis.

Our criminal justice system is suspect when prosecutors in New York can drop rape charges against a powerful, foreigner with a history of questionable behavior on the grounds that the alleged victim, a Black woman, may not have been truthful in her discussions with the district attorney. Yet, Dominique Strauss-Kahn can admit in a television interview to “moral” failings and proceed to live in comfort. The racial stench of prosecutorial decisions is overpowering in this country. We saw more of an outcry among Americans against Michael Vick over the mistreatment of animals than we initially saw concerning the plight of Troy Davis. It was only in the 11th hour that the case of Troy Davis started to draw media attention and the concern of the American public. Are we not to believe that race is not at the root of the unequal dispensation of justice? Would the Georgia Parole Board have approached their decision differently if Troy Davis were a middle class, suburban white male professional?

Black and Latino men remain easy “marks” for injustices; and their overpopulation in our nation’s jails and prisons speaks to the historical legacy of racism and white supremacy. We have too much evidence of wrongful convictions in our country for the fate of any death row inmate to rest solely upon the whims of a politically appointed board. Just last week Heidi Jones, a former New York City television meteorologist, admitted to fabricating a story that she had been raped by a Hispanic man while jogging in Central Park. This is just the latest lie that perpetuated the stereotype of the hyper-sexual Black or Latino male preying upon white women, and that imagery remains part of the American imagination because men of color are convenient bogeymen. The same can be said about the now widely held view that Black men are inherently violent, as there is a presumption of guilt or wrongdoing no matter the evidence pointing toward innocence. Every police stop, stroll through a department store, encounter in the workplace or walk through a neighborhood by a Black or Latino male carries with it the risk of guilt by racial identification; whether you are wearing Armani or a jogging suit. This is not “southern justice” in the case of Troy Davis, as some have suggested. This is American justice, and it is high time we acknowledged that our criminal justice system is morally bankrupt and justice deficient.

If Troy Davis is sent to his death, the nation is deserving of international condemnation. The hypocrisy of our judicial system will be deserving of ridicule; particularly from those nations we habitually accuse of human rights abuses. Some have complained of the length of death penalty appeals but justice should not be microwaved for political expediency. If we are so eager to exact death, we are going to pay a high price for our blood thirstiness. Sending innocent people to their death, for crimes they did not commit, is not justice. It’s a sickness. Tomorrow it is likely Troy Davis, but trust me, there are others who will suffer the same fate if we do not halt this madness. And that is simply unacceptable.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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