The Execution of Troy Davis: A Turning Point for US Justice?

Cross-posted from McKinney & Associate’s ‘Comm in the Storm’ blog, where I write about Diversity issues every Thursday.

“We simply cannot say we live in a country that offers equal justice to all Americans when racial disparities plague the system by which our society imposes the ultimate punishment.” Senator Russ Feingold on Civil Rights as a Priority for the 108th Congress, Senate, January 2003

Whether or not you believe an innocent man has been unjustly, legally murdered, one thing is undeniable in the aftermath of Troy Davis’ state execution: our country is at a potentially pivotal point in its adoption of capital punishment.

In the months, weeks, days and hours leading to Troy’s death, demonstrators both in the U.S. and abroad rallied not just to advocate for Davis, but to protest the U.S.’s death penalty.

Underlying the protest is a significant concern surrounding racial disparities in capital punishment enforcement.

Khalil Bendib, 12.04.2005

According to Amnesty International, despite the fact that African Americans make up about half of homicide victims nationally, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, just 15 percent of death row defendants have been executed for killing a Black victim, and “the overwhelming majority [77 percent] of death row defendants have been executed for killing White victims.”

When it comes to interracial murders, the disparities are even more appalling:

  • 17 cases of a White defendant killing a Black victim have resulted in a death sentence
  • 254 cases of a Black defendant killing a White victim have resulted in a death sentence

Troy Davis’ supporters argue his innocence for reasons penetrating far more broadly and deeply than race. Nevertheless, his execution has brought to the forefront one of the most controversial and inexcusable atrocities in this country’s embattled and racially charged history. It has also created one of the most advocacy-ripe atmospheres our country has seen, and for better or for worse that cannot be ignored.

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