I wanted to believe the Georgia Parole Board would grant clemency to Troy Davis, who is scheduled to be executed tomorrow for a crime he says he did not commit, but I didn’t believe it would …and it didn’t.
For some, Davis’ execution is the right thing; those people will applaud the fact that another “bad guy” has been taken out. That is justice in the eyes of many: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
I believe that those who do wrong need to be punished, but what I am concerned with is what I see as an apparent disconnect in our justice system, a system which is apparently deaf to the possibility that prosecutors, judges, juries and eyewitnesses can be wrong, and its unwillingness to entertain error on its part.
What if Troy Davis is innocent? What if he didn’t shoot the person he has been convicted of shooting? What if “the system” is dead wrong?”
I just finished reading False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent” by Jim and Nancy Petro. Earlier this year I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I had always had issues with “the justice system” because of things I have seen happen and instances of injustice perpetrated by and through the justice system that I have read about over the years.
Many people would tend to disregard the books I just mentioned, labeling the authors as bleeding heart liberals. Not so. Jim and Nancy Petro are bona fide, card-carrying Conservatives, and Petro is the former Attorney General for the State of Ohio. Alexander is a professor of law at The Ohio State University.
The books are different in their purposes, but both point to the holes and issues in and of the American justice system. People don’t want to hear that. We seem to need to believe in myths, and, in this case, the myth that “the justice system” is right and just all of the time.
But that is not true. It is not nor has it ever been. The Petro book lists, as the title suggests, eight myths that convict innocent people, including things like “only guilty people confess,” “our system almost never convicts an innocent person,” “an eyewitness is the best evidence.” Both Petro and Alexander describe how people who are being interrogated will often break down and say they are guilty because they think “the truth” will eventually prevail, or that if convicted, they’ll get an easier sentence. Those beliefs do not play out, and results in innocent people being incarcerated and sometimes killed, for things they really did not do.
Both Petro and Alexander talk about prosecutors who are more interested in “being right” and in getting convictions than they are in making sure justice is done. The descriptions of how evidence is too often suppressed, or how, after a conviction, it is so difficult to get prosecutors and judges to consider exculpatory evidence, is disheartening.
Appeals are often exercises in futility as well. It is as though once convicted, a person might as well accept his or her fate, no matter what comes up that proves the conviction was wrong.
In the Davis case, all but two witnesses who said he shot his victim recanted their testimony. Recantations are common, yet not very much respected. What makes me have serious issues with our justice system is that the “reasonable doubt” phrase, while nice to hear, only seems to have power and presence in the courtroom. If such reasonable doubt comes to light after the conviction, it seems that it is virtually ignored.
I don’t think that is justice.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. There is something uncomfortably wrong with that. Petro says that Americans ought to be connected to the justice system, get to know its strengths and weaknesses, and advocate for changes. Were it not for a few individuals, and organizations like The Innocent Project, who knows how many people would have no hope at all?
In a report which I read on an NPR (National Public Radio) site last week, the author cited the belief that the American criminal justice system, with its high incarceration rate and support of capital punishment, is actually an extension of American slavery, and is a means to keep people, specifically African Americans, “in their place.” Our criminal justice system, in other words, is a tool of control, not a tool of and for justice.
Its “deaf ear” approach to post conviction reasonable doubt, however, extends to and affects people of all colors, though that affectation is higher for people of color. America, seriously? We’re fighting (and are in tremendous debt) trying to assure justice for people in other countries while we are denying real justice to our own people? Something is wrong with that.
I cannot imagine being Troy Davis, sitting in prison, knowing that tomorrow, he will die, for something he swears he did not do. The thought of it woke me several times last night. From what I have come to understand about this case, justice has not been done.
Petro says that the public needs to be aware of the weaknesses of the justice system and “demand improved outcomes.” We need to be a little more diligent in electing prosecutors. Petro says that we, the American public, “have placed on prosecutors a mandate to win convictions,” but we need to also place on them a mandate to secure justice, and be able and willing to admit error, when there is “reasonable doubt” that serious errors have been made.
I am sick about Troy Davis, and others, some who have already been killed via capital punishment for crimes they did not commit, and others who are scheduled to be executed. There is something seriously wrong, and we need to become aware. It is Troy Davis today; it could be any of our children at a later time.
That is…a candid observation.
8 thoughts on “”
Living proof that the innocent get convicted! I have seen this happen to family. I was called a “LIAR” in court although, proof there, I was out of town on a business trip and they were at my house…80-90 miles away when their house burned. GA loves to bounce on a fire as ARSON the minute one happens! They got convicted and served time. Sad time. Not from GA and can not wait to leave GA! One day that will happen. At least they did not have to pay with their lives…just a ruined life!
It is a very sad thing when people who are supposed to be about justice are the harbingers of the worst kind of injustice.
Thank you for commenting.
Once again, Injustice prevails. Your insights are invaluable. The people who need to see them, however, are in that category of THERE ARE NONE SO BLIND AS THOSE WHO WILL NOT SEE!
The whole case makes me sick; the prevalence of injustice and the unwillingness of people to see it makes me sicker.
Thank you for commenting!
I have such a visceral reaction in reading this – concepts and facts already known, but brought forward again in your writing. Knowing he sits and waits to die. That is not right, even if he were guilty. And, yes, it could happen to anyone, and is frightening in that regard; but that it happens more to people of color, and that the poor and the fringe-dwellers of our society are not safe in the justice system is so wrong. How can someone not see that? That they don’t want to see it is the only explanation that makes sense.
It is making me ill, just thinking about it. I feel for the victims; I wouldn’t want to be grieving a child of mine being murdered…but I don’t think I’d rest easy if it seemed so clear that the person being executed or even held in prison were in actuality innocent. I am sick …
Thanks for your comment!
The thing is, like you pointed out, what if Troy Davis is actually
innocent?? He was executed on September 21st at 11:08 pm
Eastern Time. What happens if it is actually found that he was
innocent after he was executed?? Can we say like “I’m sorry
we killed you, so let’s bring you back to life”? Can you be
100% that Troy Davis killed the police officer? Would you
be willing to bet on that? How about if he is found innocent
in a few days, I get to write down on all my income tax returns
under “occupation” that I am a perpetual 4 year old?? Does
that sound fair?? There have been more than 30 people who
have been executed in US History that were innocent, including
the horrible gas chamber execution of Joe Arridy in 1939.
Even when the real murderer confessed to the crime (rape and
murder of a girl), and was executed, no one stopped the
execution of Arridy. Governor Ritter awarded him a posthumous
pardon, but what use is that? We can’t bring back poor Joe
Arridy back alive. This was a mentally disabled man who had
an IQ of about 40, which is about equal to the level of a
kindergartener. This happened in Colorado, in 1939.
I do not understand for the life of me why they couldn’t give
Troy Davis a polygraph exam. Would giving him just one more
day for the polygraph exam would be enough?? Would that
satisfy their bloodthirsty impulses. What if the polygraph
showed he was innocent? Then what would have happened?
I think they just wanted someone to die. Whether he was
guilty or not didn’t matter.
I am tired of what I see in the adult world. How could you live
with something like this if he is innocent? I volunteer with
3 to 5 1/2 year olds at my local library’s Preschooler
Storytime every Thursday, and it is my job to entertain the
children and I really rile them up. My librarian friend reads
them books and we do dances with the kids like the
“Chicken Dance”, “Lucky Ladybug” (a 1958 song by Billy
and Lillie that I introduced to the library), “Peanut Butter
and Jelly” (the kids jump up when they sing “Jelly” and
the higher I jump up then the higher they jump up). We
have done lots of oldies with them. But, my point of bringing
this up is that I work with children all the time and I am
attempting to rescue two Ukrainian boys with Cerebral
Palsy from going to a mental institution in the Ukraine, where
they will certainly perish. I will either have to adopt them
or find them a foster parent in the Ukraine. I also happen
to have high functioning Autism, and I am emotionally and
socially like a 4 1/2 – 5 year old. It’s sad but I see a lot
of more compassionate, kinder, loving, nice, nonjudgemental,
nonracist, and understanding toddlers and preschoolers
than I see many adults. I wonder if we had all been children
if there would be so much of a mess in this world. And without
a doubt, most children under age 8 would be against the
death penalty, because they forgive very easily, and truly
from the bottom of their heart (it’s not because they have
a short term memory). I’m disabled and I’m like a 4-5 year old
even though I’m 35 chronologically, but seeing some adults
and the way they are, I’m not sure if my disability is really
that bad, or I should say, I am actually happy that I am disabled
because I can see some things that are just not right (like
this execution) that some adults can’t see.
I hope to heck that Troy Davis is not innocent, because I’m going
to feel like crap if he is not guilty, which he may very well be.
I’m against the death penalty anyway, but killing an innocent
person is disgusting to the point where I would actually
make any mention of my adulthood disappear, like an
annulment of adulthood. Forget it, I was never an adult.
Thanks for your concern
Codi Preston D. from Northern California
Your concern and angst about Troy Davis in particular and the death penalty in general is palpable. i do not understand how a civilized nation can be so barbaric. I don’t understand how anyone who participated in this execution can be “at peace,” because there simply was too much doubt. I hope the real murderer is found because it will vindicate Troy but also because it COULD get some people to see how wrong the death penalty is. That Davis could be convicted on the “word” of eyewitnesses is amazing. There is so much that is troubling about this case.
Thank you for your comment. Thank you very much.