Arguably, all of America’s troubled history, its present social ills and the way the nation is perceived around the world might be traced to a single belief: that some human beings have the unearned right, by birth, to dispose of other human beings as they see fit —which, in America, has taken on the form of the peculiar doctrine of “white supremacy.”
That doctrine was used to justify genocide against the Indigenous Peoples (now reduced to 0.9 percent of the total American population), the crimes of slavery and the persistence of racism and discrimination hard-wired into practically all aspects of American life, from government, to hiring and lending practices, to everyday unequal protection by the law. Can such a leopard change its spots?
Certainly, hope for change came in 1963, with the massive March on Washington by Americans of all stripes, eventually leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law. The 48th anniversary of that momentous gathering is being observed this year with the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the nation’s capital.
But that same year saw the assassination of a president and, only 17 days after the famous I have a Dream speech, the Birmingham church bombing that took the lives of four girls (and, later in the day, two teenage boys were also killed), as the ultimate symbol of America’s deep-rooted sickness.
To most of America’s population today who are under the age of 48, these may seem like distant events from a faraway time and difficult to imagine. Yet, only six days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes after the 48th anniversary of that event, on Sept. 21, 2011, at 11:08 p.m., the nation —and the world — bore witness to the highly controversial execution (some say murder and even lynching) of Troy Anthony Davis, 41, in and by the state of Georgia after keeping him for 19 years on death row following his conviction in the 1989 killing of off-duty Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah.
The execution went forward without objection from the U.S. Supreme Court, in spite of glaring doubts: lack of any physical evidence to link Davis to the murder, sworn affidavits by seven of the nine non-police witnesses recanting or changing their testimony given at Davis’ trial, citing police coercion as a factor, and jurors who have changed their minds in the light of this new evidence.
Outraged protests and calls for clemency came from the Roman Catholic pope, a former U.S. president, a former FBI director and federal judge and a Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African bishop — among millions around the world who signed petitions, wrote letters and kept the Internet abuzz with correspondence and pleas to revisit Davis’ questionable conviction before making a fatal mistake.
But White Supremacy was not going to be denied its day and, just as throughout American history, showed the world its backside and its power to dispose of a human life as it wished.
This, sadly, unnervingly, was no isolated case but only the latest in a series of questionable executions, including those by police, of African Americans since the hopes of 1963, alone, and, for that matter, since 2008. The question is whether this will be just another in unchanging America’s regular ritual of human sacrifice of African Americans it considers to be disposable or if the flagrantly unjust murder of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia will be the final straw that actually changes America with an unshakable resolve that no such killing — and there may well be more — “legal” or otherwise, will go uninvestigated and unpunished.
Photo: Gene Tinnie