On Sept. 21, 2011, shortly before the state of Georgia executed him, Troy Davis urged his supporters to “dismantle this unjust system!” That call rings as true now as it did in 2011.
Davis had been convicted of the murder of a police officer and sentenced to death in a trial in which no physical evidence had been brought against him. Seven of the prosecutor’s nine witnesses later recanted their testimony and said they had been coerced by police. The state of Georgia spit in the faces of Davis, his family and friends, and an international movement when it legally lynched him a year ago.
A year later, a case reminiscent of Davis’ requires the attention and support of those against the U.S. death penalty. Reggie Clemons, an African-American man, was in court in St. Louis this week to challenge his conviction for the 1991 murder of two white women. Like Davis, not a shred of physical evidence was presented in Clemons’ trial.
Clemons was convicted under the testimony of two witnesses, both white. One, a cousin of the two women, originally confessed to the murder, but then changed his story to implicate Clemons. The other, Daniel Winfrey, was a co-defendant in the case and framed Clemons as part of a plea bargain. According to the Associated Press, Winfrey later told a fellow inmate that “no one would believe a bunch of black men.” (Oct. 25, 2005)
Clemons had been severely beaten by police and coerced into making a confession of rape, which he later retracted. Clemons’ mother recently testified that when the police arrived at her home in 1991, they told her that her son did not need a lawyer, although he was facing a double murder charge. The chief prosecutor in the case attempted to revise important police records of the case. (guardiannews.com, Sept. 22)
The Innocence Project estimates that between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent. That’s between 36,800 and 80,000 of the U.S.’s 1.6 million prisoners, who are overwhelmingly poor and overwhelmingly people of color. People belonging to the wealthy ruling class — some of whom commit genocidal crimes against working people every day — are rarely convicted in the U.S., and almost never executed.
In Troy Davis’ honor, and that of so many others, the movement to end the racist death penalty and the entire prison-industrial complex, including mass incarceration, grows stronger.