Troy Davis, Death And The Power Of Law Enforcement (Update)

One thing that will go unmentioned in all this is that one of Troy Davis’ maneuvers over the 20+ years it has been going on was to bring an “original” habeas corpus petition in the SCOTUS, and the SCOTUS didn’t just summarily deny it; they sent it to a District Court, which of course is located back in Georgia and is therefore not equipped to seriously consider evidence that is so adamantly and collectively opposed by the law enforcement establishment there.  It was the first time SCOTUS had done that in almost 50 years.  The last time they out and out granted an “original” habeas corpus petition was…1925.

I think this denial of relief by the Georgia Parole Board is the last thing here.  Unless there’s something else I don’t know about, Troy Davis will be executed tomorrow.  A lot of people fought long and hard to spare him, and in the end they lose.  This is the usual outcome.

I want to touch on just why this is the usual outcome, because it is one of the most important things about this and one of the least commented on.

You’ve got the two opposing camps:  there’s the camp that opposes executing Troy Davis and there’s the camp that favors it.  The latter camp has the unequivocal and unwavering collective support of law enforcement.  They have dug in their heels on this one and everyone knows it.

The we-don’t-want-Troy-Davis-killed-camp has done a very good job of raising all kinds of doubts about Troy Davis’ guilt.  I don’t think anyone disputes that at this point.  Scott Greenfield seems to believe that what drives all this is that there has been an official finding of guilt before, so the burden of proof has shifted, and raising doubts after the guilty verdict is not enough.

Neither one of these things has anything to do with it.

Whether before or after the guilty verdict, the two ostensibly opposing camps are basically not engaged in the same endeavor at all.  They’re not really opposing camps.  They’re not playing the same game on the same field.

The law enforcement camp doesn’t really care whether Davis is guilty or innocent, so it’s pointless to keep raising that as if it’s an issue.  It’s irrelevant to them.  The only thing that matters to them is that the “system” must do their will.  They are its owners.  Deviation from the party line is not permitted.  Defiance will be punished.  Troy Davis should have learned that lesson a long time ago, and he will pay with his life for not learning it.  And it doesn’t matter whether he actually killed that cop in 1989 or not.  That’s not why he is being executed.  Not really.

And the same applies to any other player in the saga, including the judges and the parole board and anyone else.  Defiance will be punished.  They might not strap you to a gurney and poison you, but you will be punished.

This is about who has power, and nothing else.  And the police have power.  And they mean to keep it.  From their perspective this is the only “principle” involved.  In fact, as a particularly power oriented individual once told me, imposing one’s will arbitrarily is a more exquisite demonstration of power because it is a more pure illustration of it:  in addition to prevailing you are also showing that you answer to no one and nothing, not even elementary reason.

Power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if reason or truth can trump it.

So that’s what this is about.  In that sense, it couldn’t be more important that Troy Davis not be executed.  And it says a lot about us, and what we have become, that he will be.

Update:  But then there’s this.  It’s still not the point, but I wonder about the prosecutor who wrote that, and where he gets ideas like this:

This is the same Coles who promptly presented himself to police, and who was advised by counsel to tell all that he knew — with his lawyer not even present. Which he did. No lawyer who even faintly suspects a client of criminal conduct would let him talk to the police without counsel.


With allowances that the police love it when everyone “promptly presents” themselves to them, the writer is way, way off when he makes the inference about Coles’ supposed innocence because his lawyer told him he could talk to police without him being present.  Not only does this not mean that Coles is innocent, it doesn’t even mean that Coles’ lawyer thought he was innocent, any more than a lawyer telling his client not to talk to the police means that the client is guilty or even that the lawyer thinks the client is guilty, or thinks that he may be.

What is it with prosecutors and non-sequiturs?  Is this something they learn after they leave law school, in some special prosecutor school or something?




Filed under Judicial lying/cheating, wrongful convictions

6 responses to “Troy Davis, Death And The Power Of Law Enforcement (Update)

  1. Marin

    Hello from your neighborhood layperson. This story of injustice scares me in the same way the Judge Perry story did… Why is it that they are not considering that there was no physical evidence and that former witnesses have recanted? How can they go forward with this execution knowing this? I don’t understand. I am glad that President Carter and Reverend Sharpton have gotten involved, maybe someone will listen in the 11th hour, I hope, I pray.


  2. I am a retired police chief who does not believe in the death penalty. I am an oddity out here. (in the west)

    I don’t get caught up in the minutia of who did what and how likely it is that the accused is guilty. Just as I don’t get caught up in the over 100 death penalty cases (convicts) liberated with DNA evidence. Nor do I concern myself with the careers of politicians, judges, and lawyers- people seeking re-election upon a record of convictions and death penalty attachments.

    Or who has power.

    The real question I have… is what kind of society do we want to be? Do we care about mercy or forgiveness? Do we want to to be as hate filled and murderous as the murderers? Are we any better? Forget justice. Justice is just some bullshit term people banty about when they don’t want to use the term revenge. Or prosecitors seeking re election.

    Would victim families choose the death penalty? I bet most people would be surprised to know that at least half would not. (Sister Helen Prejean) Half of the victim families in this country know that killing some bad guy will not bring back their loved ones. It will not make them feel better about themselves or make them whole. The bonus for a merciful society? We do not have to worry about executing one more innocent person. We can let a power greater than ourselves make those decisions.

    Thanks for posting this. I have not reflected on this subject for quite some time.


    • Truth be told I’m really ambivalent about the DP. But I think you’re right when you note that a lot of victims’ families don’t want it, and of those that do a lot of them don’t feel better in any way because of it. They always seem to say so after the execution.

      Just like punishment can be overdone, mercy and forgiveness can be overdone, too. Or maybe it’s better to say they must always be freely given, not compelled.

      One thing is for sure, though. We don’t do the DP well. We are way too messed up to go around killing people under claim of right.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.


  3. James

    “At the June hearing, Davis’ lawyers wanted to call witnesses who had given sworn statements that Coles had told them after the trial he was the actual killer. But [Judge] Moore did not allow these witnesses to testify because Davis’ lawyers did not subpoena Coles to testify”

    For god’s sake, stay the proceedings for a week and let Davis subpoena Coles! Why would Judge Moore fail to do so when his marching orders from the Supreme Court were to assess Davis’ new evidence?


  4. ADiff

    Trial by popular opinion and media hysteria sounds fine. It will juxtapose perfectly with lynch mobs and vigilante justice by those seeking recompense for crime….. Let’s be honest, this is what most of these protesters and celebrities and so forth are actually arguing for….. Let’s just hope that in no measure at all do they get it.


    • The media hysteria is driven by the death penalty issue, which is a “narrative” they understand, unlike the fine points of evidence and proven or provable facts and law. It has ever been thus, I think.

      Death penalty abolitionists had a good case in this one. It was not an appropriate death penalty case. Troy Davis seemed like an overall fairly decent person who had a bad night as a very young man and paid a much higher price than he should have: 22 years and at the end put to death. The victim had a much better deal. The victim’s mother can now experience the emptiness that an execution she misguidedly longed for brings. I guarantee she has no sense of “closure”, whatever that is. No satisfaction. No comfort. This execution was just an ugly, mean and bitter thing. She will regret it someday, but too late.

      I think popular opinion can legitimately object to what happened here. Popular opinion isn’t always wrong or out of line.

      Thanks for your comment.


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