The Fugitive Slave Act, the most controversial bill of The Compromise of 1850, declared that all runaway slaves could legally be recaptured and brought back to their masters. The antebellum-era bill also made it a crime for any citizen to knowingly aid a fugitive slave (sound familiar?). As a result, all African-Americans, regardless of whether they were free or someone else’s “property,” lived their lives in terror.
Many free northern Blacks (in addition to thousands of runaway slaves) were subsequently captured and taken to the South; their only crime was the color of their skin. Any African-American that was captured was denied the right to a trial by jury. Instead, a “judge” was paid $5 if an alleged slave was released and $10 if the “fugitive” was sent back with their master. So, yeah, I guess you know how that went.
Just an hour before midnight on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was administered a lethal injection by the state of Georgia for the 1989 murder of off-duty officer Mark MacPhail. By now you probably know the story so I’ll spare you the rest of the details. And no, I have no idea if Davis was truly innocent.
But what if he was innocent?
Maybe you thought a bunch of left-wing nuts, that couldn’t care less about Davis, were using his situation as a means to get their anti-death penalty agenda across. Maybe you rolled your eyes when you saw thousands of people around the world (including former President Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, and organizations like the NAACP, and Amnesty International) pleading for this man’s life to be spared.
That question lingers in my head as I think about people like “Hurricane” Rubin Carter, Mario Rocha, and Cornelius Dupree Jr., men who spent hard time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and were ultimately exonerated.
Of course, if Troy Davis is ever exonerated (and hell freezes over) it will be too late.
If our judicial system made a mistake with Carter, Rocha, and Dupree (and many others), you can’t really blame people if they doubted that Davis was truly guilty. And I know that many people may discredit this, but how can race not play a factor? This is a country that accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, but nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Of those 2.3 million people in prisons, 72 percent are either Black or Latino.
Maybe the state of Georgia executed an innocent man on September 21.
If they did, it’s just another example of how the judicial system failed its citizens. But for some people (not a lot but they’re out there), it didn’t matter if Davis was guilty or not. It was just another Black man brought to justice.