Troy Davis and the tragedy of American Leadership

By Alan Bean

The decision to release poison into the veins of Troy Davis was ultimately political.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole was bombarded with appeals from left and right.  They couldn’t act without enraging significant patches of the crazy quilt we call America.  Ultimately, they chose to satisfy the folks in their social and political world, the political and judicial establishment in Georgia.

So why are the power people in Georgia (and across America) so desperate to see Troy Davis die even though the evidence once used to ‘prove’ his guilt has long since evaporated?

This was a choice between a problem and a precedent.  Execute Troy Davis and you create a martyr whose name will feature prominently in anti-death penalty arguments for decades.  Commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole and you question the system’s reliance on eye-witness testimony; further, you raise profound questions about the system itself.  Everyone knows that Troy Davis is merely the tip of the iceberg, an egregious case of business as usual.  Grant him relief, and you open the floodgates.

The Georgia Board would rather create a problem than establish a precedent.   They defended the integrity, indeed the sanctity of the American judicial system. 

American politics is like American entertainment; we give the people what they want even if what they want is a perverse blend of violence and pornography.  When western democracies like Canada and the UK dispensed with capital punishment popular support for the vile practice was stout.  But leading public officials decided they didn’t want their country associated with the myth of redemptive violence, so they pulled the plug.

In America, politicians decided to exploit the blood lust of the populace.  If support for the death penalty yields applause from the Tea Party, Rick Perry and his ilk are behind it.   

It isn’t that America is more democratic than other countries (although that may be true); we simply have a predatory political culture that makes the most of popular perversity.  That’s why we were slow to abolish slavery and why it took a cultural revolution to end Jim Crow.  When Jim Crow died, the Republican Party exploited white backlash.  Leading Republicans secretly despised the racist southerners crowding under their umbrella, but they were willing to take their votes and alter the party’s political platform accordingly.

Hence we have seen the Mississippification of American politics.

We need a nation where leaders lead.  What are the chances that Barack Obama lifts a finger to help Troy Davis?  To ask the question is to answer it.  It’s hard to exercise moral leadership and get re-elected.

In executing Mr. Davis, the American elite avoided a troubling precedent, but they have created a big long-term problem.  Barring a miracle (and I’m still praying) Troy Davis will die today; but he will not die in vain.

8 thoughts on “Troy Davis and the tragedy of American Leadership

  1. You hit the nail on the knuckleheads, again and again. I can almost understand the duped and angry populace that has this inchoate need to whoop it up at the death and destruction of others. But, they are not the majorioty, indeed, not even the little minority. And yet why do do the whorish politicos play to that small neanderthal base? Becaue killing, violence repression, intolerance, resonates with the very structural foundations and institutions of our grand old slightly decrepit and demented democracy with a very small “d”, its approximate grade as a nation. D as in…well, the blanks are plentiful…joined by the vacant stares and stupid smirks of the power mongers, the power hoarders, the whores to whom we obediently offer up our youth, blood and treasure to enhance and enshrine, well, illegitimacy. I take back my prediction that you were mistaken in your belief that Georgia would kill Troy Davis, and I join you and many others in active prayer for a miracle. But let’s use these hours we have to create the conditions where miracles have a chance to grow and bloom…and you can take that to the bank, no, the bunker? no, the bar? the bars of drink or lawyer associations? nah, ah, take it to heart! carry it all day…Troy Davis, we’re not giving up! Don’t you give up! It’s a long day, and the sun is warm…for peace and justice.

  2. I’m praying that somehow Troy Davis’ sentence is changed so that further investigation into his case can proceed, or, alternatively, he can serve a life sentence in prison for the cold-blooded murder he was convicted of.

    Alan is right, though, when he assesses the reasons Georgia authorities might want to “do business as usual” in the face of such loud and broadbased public, and no doubt, some behind-the-scenes, objection. The only one who can stop the execution now is the original DA who sought the death warrant in the case, but why would any prosecutor want to “question the system’s reliance on eye-witness testimony; further, raise profound questions about the system itself”

    The way criminals are prosecuted in America is by the use of testimony of jail informants who “hear confessions” and eye witnesses. Some of the eyewitnesses in this case say they were intimidated by police into giving the statements they did, but even sincere, freely given eyewitness testimony is beginning to be qualified when brought before juries in some states, because of these limitations. There is no criminal prosecutor in America that wants the truth about plea bargains, compensated testimony, etc. brought onto the (inter)national stage. “Why were these witnesses credible at the trial, but are not credible because they recanted their testimony, and give reasons why?”…”Why is it easier to be sentenced to death, than for the sentence to be commuted?”…”How many wrongly convicted make for too many?”

  3. I definitely agree with you, Dr. Bean. This whole situation just saddens me. I find it so ridiculous that with the thousands (maybe millions now) of people protesting and petitioning, nothing can change the mind of those behind Troy Davis’s execution. I pray that something will be done, and also that this whole situation can finally stop the use of false witness testimonies. Maybe things can be turn around and lives can be saved, not only for Troy Davis and Curtis Flowers but also for all of those with no voice.

  4. Alan, could we not just as accurately say the Georgification of American politics? Why must Mississippi bear the brunt of this one? We don’t have a corner on the market for this kind of thing.

  5. Good point. I sometimes refer to the Texification of American politics, but, as you suggest, the main idea is that southern attitudes have deeply influenced national politics in recent decades and white backlash against the civil rights movement has played a major role. My firm conviction is that white racial backlash to the civil rights movement is the most powerful force in American politics today.


  6. I did not know I said all of that; however, I plan to ponder your thinking on
    white racial backlash. I think this backlash grades from the overt to the
    subtle and even unconscious–perhaps you’ve said this in earlier writing.


  7. even though i am pro-capital punishment, i wanted troy’s sentence commuted to life unless the other man came forward and confessed. even though troy was there doing wrong , placing his life in jeopardy, there should have been concrete evidence to warrant the execution. we all know from years of harassment what the “good-old-boy” judicial system can and will do to “warp” a case.
    i still recall the jerome barrett case in nashville. they never produced real evidence to lock him away for life but they did.

    i just read this lil book called ‘lawyers and other reptiles’. they can be a nuisance to socity if not kept in check and whose going to keep them in check when the whole system is a black’s worst nightmare with the exception of the few money laundering cases, dope dealing artillery smuggling cases that get paid for by the crimal syndicate which dictates to the judicial bodies who to take out and who release.
    one of the jokes says, “here lies judge so&sdo. he lied ALL the time and now he lies still.

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