Sharon Borthwick writes on the race and class prejudice behind the US death penalty, in the aftermath of the state killing of Troy Davis
At the South Carolina State Penitentiary on 16th June, 1944, 14 year old, George Junius Stinney, was strapped to the electric chair. Securing him to the frame holding the electrodes proved difficult as the child was so slightly built and merely 5’1”, a reason to suspect it wasn’t he who had wielded the huge railroad spike, the weapon used in the killing of two white girls. In a locked room with only white officers bearing witness, Stinney confessed within an hour of his arrest. The court-appointed defence lawyer, did not call any witnesses and as the Stinney family were moneyless, an appeal could not be raised.
Another harrowing and messy murder took place towards the end of World War II, when 24 year-old Eddie Slovik was strapped to a post and shot by firing squad, eleven bullets entering his body, but not immediately killing him. The appointed executioners were reloading their weapons when Slovik finally died: “They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it because I’m an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they are shooting me for, they’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old”, Slovik had told them. Stinney was black and Slovik white. They had in common their poverty and thus their utter powerlessness, as simultaneously, the allies allegedly fought for freedom.
We no longer believe the World War II myth that America fights other nations for liberty’s sake, but how can we believe that US citizens are free, when with 5% of the world’s population they have almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. With the “three strikes law”, people have been sentenced to 25 years porridge for shoplifting. US citizens are the most incarcerated in the world, their prisons stretched to bursting with a population of 2.3 million. China, with four times the population, has 1.6 million prisoners. Little wonder the Chinese régime likes to answer the United States’ ‘Country Reports on Human Rights’ with the annual ‘Human Rights Record of the United States’, while of course never addressing its own egregious methods.
“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders” said Albert Camus, and Troy Davis had many premeditating accomplices take a hand in his death, from Obama, who apparently washed his hands of the matter, to the police who intimidated “witnesses”; from the medics of the sinisterly-named companies, Correct Health and Rainbow Medical Associates, who for money injected a healthy man with the lethal cocktail which ceased his heart and respiration; from the careless court-appointed lawyers, to Nathan Deal, Georgia’s Republican Governor, responsible for the 70% cut in the federal funding of the Georgia Resource Centre (Georgia’s legal aid) and from the section of the public who whoop and applaud the statistics on prisoners put to death in the state of Texas: state governors Rick Perry and previously George W. Bush literally killing for votes.
Troy also had against him the endemic racism of his home state of Georgia, where as in other southern states, black people joke bitterly of being arrested for DWB, (Driving While Black). Blacks, representing 10% of the American population as a whole, are 40% of the population on death row. Though victims of murder are roughly 50% white and 50% black, 80% of state murders (since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976) were for cases where the victim was white. In Mobile, Alabama, 1981, Michael Donald was the last known person lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. The police initially lied that he was the victim of a drug deal gone wrong, though Donald had never taken drugs. It took the efforts of Jesse Jackson to get a rightful conviction. In 1997 Henry Hayes was executed for the crime by electric chair. Prior to that gruesome death, the last time somebody was executed for a white-on-black crime in the state of Alabama was in 1913. Now they use legalised murder in place of lynching.