Troy Davis Case
Michael Letwin, St. Mary’s Church, NYC
July 15, 2009
I am a public defender at the Brooklyn office of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division. From 1990-2002, I was President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325 (ALAA). Since 2001, I have been a co-convener of NYCLAW.
In some ways this is an unusual case, because the execution of Troy Davis is opposed not only by opponents of the death penalty, but by 27 former judges and prosecutors, and the former head of the FBI. This reflects several things:
–Weakness of the evidence against him.
–Blatant lack of fairness in evaluating that evidence.
–Growing popular rejection of the death penalty.
–Tenacious work of Troy’s famiily, AI, CEDP and many others.
So why is the state of GA still so intent on murdering him? There are certainly many reasons due to the politics of this particular case. But the most fundamental reason is a criminal justice system that—as a matter of deliberate policy—systematically targets communities of color for search and destroy policing, widespread criminalization and inhumane sentencing. I’m not just talking about the death penalty, and I’m certainly not talking just about Georgia or the South. Just look at the innocence epidemic across the U.S., all the people who have spent years in prison, many of them on death row, after being wrongly convicted.
Just look at NYC, where our brother Yusef Salaam and the other Central Park defendants were falsely accused. Despite recent reduction in Rockfeller drug law sentences, there has been an explosion in the number of racially discriminatory stop and frisks. The vast majority of these do not result in an arrest, and most that do are for charges as riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, open alcohol containers, fare beating, walking between subway cars, and marijuana possession.
Despite growing popular support for MJ decriminalization, between 1997-2007, the NYPD arrested and jailed nearly 400,000 people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, ten times the number of the previous ten years. And even though only 26 percent of the city population is Black, they were 52 percent of those arrested for MJ. Meanwhile, whites made up 35 percent of the population, but only 15 percent of those arrested for MJ.
In 2007, the NYPD stopped nearly 469,000 New Yorkers. Eighty-eight percent were found completely innocent of any wrongdoing. The racial disparity in the stop-and-frisk encounters is almost identical to the disparity in marijuana arrests: Though they make up only a quarter of the city’s population, more than half of those stopped were black.
These drugs and other “quality of life” offenses shouldn’t be criminalized to begin with. For they help propel the indiscriminate arrests that serve only to generate criminal records for hundreds of thousands of people of color, and are routinely accompanied by false accusations, physical threats, beatings and torture.
NY may have no official death penalty. But just like Alcohol Prohibition, Drug Prohibition ensures violent turf wars that kill people in poor neighborhoods. And NYC’s CJ policies give the NYPD a green light to act as death squads, victims of which include Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Anthony Baez, Sean Bell, Black cops like Omar J. Edwards, and just a few days ago in Brooklyn, Shem Walker — none of whom were even brought to court, let alone guilty of anything.
Why: Individualized racism plays a role, but real racism is institutional, i.e., policy. 1960s CRM/BPM led to rising expectations and demands by young POC, while growing de-industrialization. System responded by rolling back and containing primary agency of change: youth of color. Primary vehicle: white fear of crime, “war on drugs,” MMS. Result: Prison-Industrial Complex.
So we need a mass movement to save Troy Davis — and all the other young people of color who otherwise will be devoured by a CJS, which runs on racism and injustice.