Tonight at 7pm local time (midnight in the UK), Troy Davis is set to be executed by the US state of Georgia. Executions in the US and elsewhere are still common, but this one has resonated around the globe more than most. Davis has been on death row for over 20 years for the murder of a policeman. He’s always protested his innocence, and no evidence exists to link him with the killing; but nine supposed witnesses did appear in court to point the finger at Davis.
Of those nine, seven have now modified or retracted their testimony; three of those have said they were coerced by police to name Davis as the killer. Four of the witnesses have admitted lying in court. Quite simply, the case rests on almost nothing. There isn’t enough to imprison him under a civilised system, let alone execute him.
The outcry against Davis’ execution extends way beyond Georgia or the US. BBC TV news is carrying the story as a main item in the UK. Indeed, Google News shows over 2,500 current articles, in publications worldwide.
But Georgia’s parole board is apparently unswayed. In a state that was among the most enthusiastic participants in the epidemic of lynching that swept America in the late-19th and early-20th century, lynching has never gone away; it’s just taken on a sterile, bureaucratic new form.
While America still believes it has the right “spread its values” around the world (usually by direct military force or more covert terrorism), the US – or at least large parts of it – seems to have missed an important development. The civilised world has overwhelmingly rejected use of the death penalty for any purpose whatsoever. The values of the US no longer represent the leading edge of freedom and democracy. Indeed, fully 71% of nations have abandoned the death penalty either in law or at least in practise. Only 29% still make use of it. In 2010, only 23 countries out of 197 were known to have executed people. The top 10 users of the death penalty in 2010 were:
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
Only two of the above nations can call themselves democracies – the USA and Bangladesh. Does any thinking American feel proud to belong to this club, sandwiched between Yemen and Saudi Arabia? Two places above the supposedly “tyrannical” regime just overthrown in Libya, and three above Syria? To visualise this, here’s a map showing the worst judicial killers on the planet.
|Red-brown identifies those states still using the death penalty in practise
To be fair, the US has a federal system which is starkly divided in two parts: the states that can consider themselves part of the modern world, and those that still feel proud to be listed among the worst human rights abusers on the planet.There’s still a chance to save Troy Davis. Facebook and Twitter users can spread the message as wide as possible this afternoon (Twitter users should use the hashtag #TroyDavis, and I suggest also #ShameOnGeorgia). Amnesty International provides details on how to mail the Georgia Parole Board
Scrutiny is a powerful thing. Places like Georgia (at least, those parts away from urban centres like Atlanta) have been slow to appreciate that they are now being watched by millions around the world. When the lynchings were happening, almost nobody outside the local areas knew about them. This time it’s different; we can help embarrass Georgia into leaving the China, Iran, North Korea club, abandoning the death penalty, and joining civilisation. Until then: Shame On You, Georgia!