“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of all murders”
Tuesday night I, with around 300 others, answered Amnesty International’s call to hold a vigil for Troy Davis, outside the US Embassy in London. It seemed inconceivable that the world’s most powerful democracy could execute a man, especially a man whose conviction had appeared to be highly suspect. Yet the inconceivable had happened.Â Troy Davis was murdered by the State of Georgia on Wednesday night. US County, State and Federal judicial authorities collectively ruled that evil should prevail resulting in a man being lynched.Â We must soberly learn from these deeply devastating experiences in order to prevent these crimes from ever being repeated again. Lives like those of Mumia Abu Jamal, depend on it. Though Troy was failed by all, we can’t allow this brutal system to continue, the questions are for us now: what can be learned from this and what can we do next?
Here are a few thoughts:
What the death penalty tells us about the state of global civilisation
1) Human life is expendable not sacred.
Though Georgia and other Southern US states have a long history of public endorsement of murdering black people, prejudice in the 21st Century won the day. Troy Davis’ case was especially tragic because he was probably innocent. But in opposing the death penalty, the question of innocence is completely irrelevant, no authority on this earth has the right to punish individuals by killing them. Governments can’t be trusted to adequately regulate the banking system or end hunger within its own borders. How can we allow them the horrific responsibility of deciding who should live and who should die?
2) State killing is popular
Despite valiant protests in Georgia and across the world, popular opinion in the USÂ and in Britain suggests a strong and growing appetite for the archaic and foul tradition of human sacrifice as absolution. Britain may currently enjoy the absence of capital punishment but many within the Conservative Right are relying on this grim populism to provoke a Parliamentary vote on the death penalty. This is at a time when British MPs including the Prime Minister encouraging the courts to hand out severe and rushed sentences typified by the conviction of teenagers who wrote the word “riot” on Facebook.
3) Obama and Western leaders have no moral authorityÂ
There were other state killings yesterday, Iran executed a 17 year old on the same day. The United States has also a similar tradition of putting juveniles on death row. Other Western governments cannot lecture Ahmadinejad about human rights when they are silent about both the killing of Troy Davis and the White Supremacist Lawrence Brewer by US state governments.
4) This form of “liberal democracy” is a sick joke
The US Supreme Court would not stop a fundamental and basic injustice that was even obvious to some supporters of the death penalty. Obama though constitutionally bound not to intervene, went further than this and refused to even acknowledge it. Under the Bush presidency in 2001, European leaders had protested at the execution of Timothy McVeigh, a stark contrast to 2011 when no similar outrage was shown for yet another profound infringement of what is the most basic of human rights.
How those who reject this “civilisation” could respond
Keep Troy’s spirit alive by fighting for the total and global abolition of the death penalty
We are in a new dark epoch in which the number of African Americans that have been imprisoned or on parole now exceed the total number of Africans that were enslaved until 1850. We need a democracy that is neither mob rule nor a mirage of people power. A consistent democracy would follow this simple principle: By upholding the rights of each individual, the rights of all can flourish.
In order to fulfil Troy’s hope of a world without this cruel and unusual punishment, we all need to build a mass movement for the abolition of the death penalty. Amnesty International and others are doing this and should continue, but we need more than petitions, letter writing and vigils. Change doesn’t come merely by having the right arguments (though there are plenty) but also by having a critical mass movement for change. We need new and creative tactics including non-violent civil disobedience.
History tells us that this movement must be made of millions of people united and willing to defy any government or authority that defends the killing of people for the morbid misconception of “justice”. Justice means resolving a wrong, not repeating it through vengeance. Our solidarity must be global, “an injustice to one, is an injustice to all” must be our slogan. We unlike our politicians must denounce the US states that maintain the death penalty like Georgia with the same ferocity as we would with Iran, Nigeria, Singapore or Saudi Arabia.
Lasting change must come from mass movements from within the affected countries not imposed from without. Effective and long lasting change happens when it is from below and not from above. In Britain, the death penalty was formally abolished in by the Human Rights Act of 1998, though it had ended in practice by 1965. Though the outcome was right, the public argument was barely won and now the urge to bring back the death penalty in Britain is still incredibly strong. Our neighbours need to be convinced that this goal is right even more than political leaders.
Understand racism and causes of all social injustice
Troy was found guilty of murder by a majority black jury which shows prejudice is a state of mind not an ethnic disposition. However those who are in power: the police, the judiciary and elected officials serve a system that has historically been and continues to be biased against people of African descent. We need to examine why. We do know that US states, where the death penalty is legal, have comparatively greater murder rates than the US states that have abolished it. We also know that the income inequality gap is strongly linked to the prevalence of a wide range of societal problems from crime to life expectancy. There is both convincing scientific and documentary evidence that shows that we currently live in a global social and economic system that too often disregards human life and dignity.
In this campaign we must recognise the human rights of all must be defended at all times. Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron and his mentor Tony Blair endorsed the Libyan rebels then fought a war against Gaddafi which was masqueraded as “humanitarian” bombing. It appears their concern for human rights are at best, somewhat selective. Right now there are many black Africans in Libya are being raped, executed and unfairly imprisoned by “rebel forces”, their crime? Being black and an economic migrant during the revolution. This outrage has been ignored by the three triumphant leaders busy congratulating themselves as the oil and reconstruction contracts are being drawn up. The response in this time is a noting of concern against rebel-organised racist murder and rape. This is what they call the transition to “freedom and democracy”. Our aspirations and values must be greater than those who claim to “lead” us.
There are so many causes to fight but there are key issues from which most of these problems stem from. So we have a choice: fight for social and economic justice or suffer abuse and indignity from a barbaric economic and social system. In other words: Choose Liberty or Savagery. The consensus among those who rule over us to maintain the latter and so we must organise collectively to bring about the former. A successful campaign to bring about the global abolition of the death penalty would be a good start.
â€œThis fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.â€
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