“The American Justice System” is an Oxymoron

At some point over the past few weeks, I told myself that I would not watch the mainstream news media coverage of the Troy Davis execution.  I learned years ago that our mainstream media sources loved spectacles, especially those that consisted of the deaths and crises of Black and Brown people. Oh, they loved to show us images of poor whites as well, but they always stood in stark contrast to what they showed of us. Anyone remember back in 2005 when white people were “finding food” and Black people were “looting?”  Yeah, that. I also remember the non-stop coverage of the Haiti earthquake, and the never-ending images of the dead and dying that seemed to erupt from my television screen for days on end. I’d had enough, and so I resolved not to watch the impending execution of yet another Black man.

Yesterday afternoon, though, I finished reading Langston Hughes’ collection of short stories The Ways of White Folks. I’m reading for my doctoral exams, and the past week I’ve been steeped in the Harlem Renaissance period and the topic of race and its impact on our nation and culture have been heavy on my mind. The last story in the collection is “Father and Son.”  I won’t give you too many details, but the story is about a mulatto man coming home to see his Black mother and white father, who has never accepted him as his son. As a matter of fact, his last memory of Colonel Norwood is that of the brutal beating that young Bert suffered after calling him “papa” in front of white folks. Bert was “uppity” in the idiom of the day. He wanted his rightful place as heir to his father’s fortune and legacy and refused to accept his proscribed place as just another “darkie” on his father’s plantation. You can imagine that this story doesn’t end well.  Bert and Colonel Norwood have a violent confrontation after Bert (and rightly so) corrects a white woman when she gives him the wrong change. She accuses him of insulting her, and you can imagine the chaos that ensues with that claim in 1930s era Alabama. Yeah, the mob set out to get him. Before they do, Bert manages to kill himself, although they string him up from the nearest tree anyway.  They also lynch Bert’s older brother Willie, for no other reason than he just happens to be around.

I finished this story about the time that the Georgia Parole Board denied Troy Davis clemency. I left the house hoping to avoid the story but kept checking my phone’s twitter feed for updates. I finally gave up and went back home after the Georgia State Supreme court denied Mr. Davis a stay of execution. It was then that I realized that we were about to witness a modern day lynching. I wondered if Clarence Thomas had any inkling of what that really meant when he played the race card back in the 1990s when he was accused of sexual harassment. Based on his lack of sensitivity to issues of race since he’s been on the bench, I doubt it.

Regardless, it was at this point that I realized that I would have to watch the rest of Troy Davis’s story as it played out in the news. As much as I hoped and prayed, like so many of his supporters, that a miracle would occur, I knew deep down that they were going to kill him, regardless of the lack of evidence against him, regardless of the fact that seven of the nine witnesses recanted or changed their testimony, and regardless of the fact that at least one judge did not believe that this man should die based on the evidence at hand.

I believe that the Troy Davis lynching occurred to send us a message and one of the educators I follow on Twitter said it best: “the Troy Davis lynching went public to 1) appease liberals 2) and to keep niggers in check.” White supremacists wanted us to know who is really still in control in this country. They are.  They wanted to remind us that having a Black president means absolutely NOTHING in the face of 400 years of oppressive capitalist, racist, and sexist institutions built on the backs of Blacks for the benefit of whites. They still have the power to kill us, any of us, and do it in the name of American justice. How’s that for progress?

The fact remains, though, that we CAN do something. All of you who were watching, praying, and tweeting have the power in your hands and ballots to make an effective change.  Vote at mid-term elections. The folks who denied Troy Davis clemency were voted into their offices, or appointed by folks who were voted into theirs.  Think about that the next time an election comes up.  Work in your communities to raise awareness about issues of social justice, and teach your children, or the children that you know, about their past, their present, and their future. They are all intertwined and although we no longer see ourselves as merely victims of an oppressive system, we must still work to change it, from within and without.  We DO have the power. Collectively, there are more Brown and Black people in this country than anyone else, and that means that we have the power to change the face of Congress and to change the policies that continue to keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

What bothers me the most about the Troy Davis case is that he could have belonged to any one of us. He is the exact same age as me. He could have been my classmate. He could have been your little brother, cousin, whatever, just as easily as he could have been mine.  I lived in Hinesville, Georgia at the time of his trial and although I don’t remember a whole lot about it, I knew even then that he was another brother about to be given a special brand of American justice.   The kind that kills.

Note: I’ve also posted this on my other blog, so I apologize for those of you who see this more than once.