(IPS) Some Activists Regret Obama, USDOJ Inaction on Troy Davis
This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105286.
ATLANTA, Sep 28, 2011 (IPS) – During the last days of Troy Davis’s life, activists intensified what was already significant pressure on both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ), a federal agency under Obama’s purview, to save Davis, but Obama declined to act.
On Sep. 21, the state of Georgia executed Davis, who was convicted of killing police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Yet following his conviction, seven of nine witnesses against him recanted their testimony, two witnesses implicated another person as the killer and two of the original jurors who found Davis guilty came forward to oppose the execution.
No forensic evidence presented at trial indicated that Davis was the shooter.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) lobbied the USDOJ to open a civil rights investigation.
“We did have communication with the Justice Department to see if there was some avenue to get involved, but proper procedure had been adhered to throughout [Davis’s appeals process],” Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy, told IPS.
“If he didn’t speak English, that would be one thing. If you could argue that he had poor representation, that’s a broader concept to pursue,” she said.
Shelton said that the NAACP had held several conversations with the Justice Department to find a way for the government to intervene in the case. After much research, they were convinced that “the only place to stay the execution was with the pardon and parole board, or a motion that could’ve been offered by the prosecuting attorney’s office”, she said.
Other organisations urged their members to contact the Obama administration directly.
The morning of Davis’s scheduled execution, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition issued an urgent appeal.
In response, “people sent more than 13,000 letters in the first seven hours to the Obama administration demanding that it initiate a federal civil rights investigation into the Troy Davis case and seek a stay of his execution,” ANSWER said in an email the morning after the execution.
“But President Obama and the [Attorney General Eric] Holder Justice Department turned their backs and consciously let Mr. Davis be murdered,” the coalition wrote. It also criticised Obama’s political strategy before the next election cycle as one seeking “to endlessly placate rather than confront the political base of the Republican Party”.
“He knows Troy Davis'(s) execution was a racist murder,” ANSWER wrote. “But he and his advisors didn’t want to spend one penny of political capital.”
Obama defended his inaction, first through his spokesperson on Sep. 21, and then on Sep. 23 in a meeting with a small group of black journalists.
“Dating back to his time in the Illinois state senate, President Obama has worked to ensure accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system – especially in capital punishment cases,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Sep. 21, just hours before the state of Georgia executed Davis.
“It is not appropriate for the president of the United States to weigh in on specific cases like this one, which is a state prosecution,” Carney added.
According to the Redding News Review (RNR), two black journalists who attended the Sep. 23 meeting said Obama addressed the Davis issue. His administration had made phone calls to the state of Georgia to look into the situation over a three-day period, they said.
Still, the Obama administration has denied stating that they became involved in the matter in any way.
“The black community has been forsaken by this post-racial president and I feel… Troy Davis is innocent,” Rob Redding, publisher of RNR and syndicated radio show host, told IPS.
Redding pointed to the case of Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr., an illegal immigrant for whom the Obama administration sought a stay of execution from the state of Texas, as an example of what he said was Obama’s hypocrisy.
Redding believed that defending Obama’s refusal to act on the Davis case on the grounds of interfering with states was hypocritical, as Obama made a request to the state of Texas – albeit to no avail – in the July 2011 Garcia case.
“With this case in Texas, what the president said and the Justice Department said, he [Garcia] wasn’t given access to interpreters, which is part of the law,” Redding said.
The fact that it was international in scope also made the Garcia case different.
But Redding argued that Davis’s case was an international issue as well. “The world was watching the White House, the first black president; they were waiting to see whether he would stand up.”
“He could’ve said, ‘We’re watching what’s going on in Georgia. We’re concerned. I’ve offered the U.S. Department of Justice to the state of Georgia as a resource.’ He could’ve shown that he gave a damn about the death penalty in his own country,” Redding said.
“Obama had ample legal basis to intervene,” Sarah Sloan, national staff coordinator for the ANSWER Coalition, told IPS. “It’s not infrequently that the Justice Department opens inquiries into civil rights violations carried out in local cases, local police departments.”
“If President Obama had instructed the Justice Department to open an investigation, it would have led to a delay of the execution,” Sloan said. “There was discussion around, ‘Could he intervene?’ He couldn’t grant clemency. But this was a clear step he could’ve done.”
Sloan pointed out that the case involved civil rights violations, including the fact that witnesses admitted police had pressured or coerced them into giving false testimony and other components such as “when there’s a frame-up like that, when there is police abuse, prosecutorial abuse, against someone who is a poor, African American man”.
But Shelton said the NAACP pursued all those angles with the UDSOJ.
“All those issues were considered as well. We wanted to stop this. All these angles and approaches were pursued. Those are great hypotheses that we pursued. Unfortunately we were not able to establish a standard necessary to be able to call for an investigation.”