This past week, The State of Georgia executed Troy Davis. He was a 42 year old African American man that was convicted of killing an off duty police officer in 1989. He had maintained his innocence from the time of the crime until his death this week. Recently, his case had received international attention to the point where many celebrities, including Pope Benedict XVI, campaigned on his behalf for either a new trial or a stay of his execution. A lot of inconsistencies in the original trial have come to light in recent days but each time the appellate court rejected the attempt to gain a new trial or a stay of execution.
This case has reminded me of two others like it: The OJ Simpson murder trial and the Mumia Abu-Jamal murder conviction. Both of these cases also involved African American males who allegedly murdered white victims. They also forced and in the case of Mumia, still is, a lightning rod of debate about many philosophical issues including race, the death penalty, our justice system, and police misconduct.
For me, it is unfortunate that all three of these cases have been divided on racial lines. There have been many wonderful documentaries about the OJ Simpson trial that delved into this phenomenon. It seemed that many in the African American community were seeing the OJ acquittal as one big F-U to the justice system for all of the affronts to their people over the years by police, prosecutors and judges. White people, on the other hand, could not believe that this man, who in their mind had obviously stabbed his ex-wife and her friend, could get away with it even though there was overwhelming evidence.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The biggest similarity to the Troy Davis case I noticed in the Abu-Jamal case is all of the international celebrities it has attracted. This, I just don't understand. I saw a Rage Against the Machine concert once where the lead singer screamed in anger over the imprisonment of Abu-Jamal. The funny thing was that he didn't have his facts right on the case. I began taking notice of the case more and more and noticed guys like Ed Asner and others doing the same thing, speaking out for Abu-Jamal but seemingly knowing little about the actual case. In the past couple of weeks, it seems that everyone has become an expert on Troy Davis. From celebrities, to dignitaries, to your favorite friends on Facebook. I will admit that what I have read leaves me with doubt about his trial and his guilt. But for me to come out and claim his innocence and seek his freedom goes too far, I think. Which leads to why I am writing this post in the first place.
What bothers me most about these cases, and all three of them are the same, is the lack of attention that the victims get. No matter how strongly you feel that OJ didn't kill anyone or that Abu-Jamal was framed or that Davis received a bum deal, one thing is for sure: Nicole Brown Simpson, Ronald Goldman, Daniel Faulkner, and Mark MacPhail are all dead. They were all murdered in a brutal fashion. The celebrities don't come out for them or their families that are left to pick up the pieces. When the families have to deal with appeal after appeal after appeal and watch celebrities, perhaps ones they idolize, speak out on behalf of their loved ones killer imagine what that must feel like.
So next time one of these celebrity execution cases comes out, I may root for the execution to be stayed if the evidence I read leans that direction. But I might not. One thing I do know is that I will learn the name of the victim in the case and think of that person and their family. I will also think back to Mark and Nicole and Ron and Daniel.