Davis execution in Georgia may have violated international law

By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)

The lynching of black America is taking place in the criminal justice system where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons and jails, on parole, or waiting for their day in court. One-half of the two million people in prisons are black. That is one million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons, whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.

Excerpt from Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree

On October 19, 2006 James Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, presented the 2006 Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, the title of which was “Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

Although Cone gave this lecture in October 2006 he could very well have been talking about the case of Troy Anthony Davis when he spoke about the similarity of the cross and the lynching tree http://www.hds.harvard.edu/multimedia/video/strange-fruit-the-cross-and-the-lynching-tree.

Davis was born on October 9, 1968. He grew up in Savannah, Georgia and was executed by the state of Georgia – sanctioned by the U.S. government – on September 22, 2011.

He was a 20-year-old on August 19, 1989 when the criminal act for which he was accused was committed. In 1991, Davis was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of a White police officer although he has maintained his innocence since he was arrested. There was enough doubt about his presumed guilt to garner the support of celebrities, very important people, ordinary folks and human rights groups.

Among those calling for a re-trial and/or clemency were Amnesty International, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, Reverend Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican-Georgia.)

Davis’ case garnered international attention especially because of the obviously racially charged overtones. Here was an African American male who was accused of shooting a White police officer and found guilty even though there was no physical evidence to link him to the shooting. Of the nine witnesses from 1991, seven recanted their statements citing police coercion at the time and at least one witness has confessed that he was illiterate and was forced to sign a document he could not read. A group of White men in power turned deaf ears to the pleas of the world to reconsider their determination to kill this African American male in what seems like a modern day lynching.

In an opinion piece published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on September 15, entitled Should Davis be executed? No! (http://www.ajc.com/opinion/should-davis-be-executed-1181530.html) William S. Sessions, a former director of the FBI, a former federal judge and federal prosecutor wrote: What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved. However, when it comes to the sentence of death, there should be no room for doubt.

Following Davis’ execution, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing serious concerns that the rights of Davis to due process and a fair trial were not respected, said that killing Davis may have violated international law. Three independent United Nations human rights experts had called on the United States government to stop the execution amid concerns that Davis did not receive a fair trial.

UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, deplored that the case mainly relied on the testimonies of witnesses which contained “serious” inconsistencies. The U.S. government was reminded of its obligation to ensure that anyone under its jurisdiction receives a fair trial, as required under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR.)

The experts stated in their appeal: “Not only do we urgently appeal to the Government of the United States and the state of Georgia to find a way to stop the scheduled execution, but we believe that serious consideration should be given to commuting the sentence. We recall that the death penalty may only be imposed when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence, leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts. Given the irreversible nature of the death penalty, it is crucial that fair trial standards are fully respected in all judicial proceedings related to offences punishable with the death penalty.”

Davis is not the first African American killed by the state of Georgia whose presumed guilt was in question. His story reminded me of a woman I wrote about in 2005 when she received a posthumous pardon from Georgia 60 years after she was killed in the electric chair. On March 5, 1945, Lena Baker became the only woman to be killed by Georgia in the electric chair. Like Davis whose reported last words were “those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls,” Baker who maintained her innocence to the end said: “What I done, I did in self-defence or I would have been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it. I am ready to meet my God.”

Baker had been repeatedly raped by the White man (23 years older than she was) who was killed with his own gun during a struggle as he tried to rape her again. She had been hiding from this man who had kept watch at her house overnight and grabbed her when she went home the following morning to take care of her three children who had been left in their grandmother’s care overnight. It is a dreadful story illustrating the manner in which the lives of African Americans were constrained by White people. After dragging Baker over to a barn on his property where he raped her again, the White man went to a prayer meeting with his adult son, locking her in the barn. When he returned from his prayer meeting and attempted to rape her at gunpoint there was a struggle during which he was killed.

Baker was sentenced to death by a White all male jury after a four hour trial. Although she was the victim in more ways than one, her family was forced to uproot their lives and flee their hometown. Her community was refused the right to bury her properly and mourn her passing. They were terrorized by the White community. In 2001, Baker’s great nephew, Roosevelt Curry, began the campaign to clear her name and a pardon was granted by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on August 30, 2005.

Although Canada no longer has the death penalty, the rate at which African Canadian males are incarcerated is indeed alarming. The racial profiling of African Canadians is a reality in spite of the many studies that have been done, the many reports that have been written and recommendations that have been made to address this scourge. During this International Year for People of African Descent we need to recognize that the oppression continues and must be addressed.


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