Wednesday evening, when the news was mistakenly announced that Troy Davis would not be killed, the crowd that I was with erupted with joy and with the enthusiastic realization that we all were capable of believing that something good had been done by our government. I was at the dedication of the Howard Zinn room in the new Busboys and Poets restaurant in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Some of us had been assigned to read selections from the late Zinn’s “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.” I was asked to read John Brown’s courtroom speech in which he said, “Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done!”
Brown had used violence. I condemn it. Brown was not submitting. He’d been captured. But he also said this: “[H]ad I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this Court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”
Had Troy Davis been able to afford an expensive lawyer. Had Troy Davis been white. Had Troy Davis lived in a different state or a different nation.
Davis was again told he would be killed. He was again told that he might not be. He was again told that he would be killed. And finally, he was killed by chemical injection while strapped down to prevent writhing. Observers observed. And those of us who had left the restaurant to go and protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court wailed in pain, while the world reacted as it reacted to the killing of Sacco and Vanzetti, and as it has reacted to each of our governments’ million acts of barbarism down through the years.
Over in Texas another man was governmentally killed, thus creating the possibility for even louder applause when that state’s governor’s total scalp-count is next announced.
Meanwhile, large numbers of people are killed in our wars, wars our President announced Wednesday morning are waged on behalf of peace. Where is Amnesty International? Where is the NAACP? Are those people killed in wars less human?
What about those our government has tortured to death? Does the manner in which they are killed make them more lamentable than those killed with bombs, just as chemical injection is deemed less lamentable than electrocution?
Our government now kills, as a rule, rather than taking prisoners. And it kills with unmanned drones. It also kicks in doors at night and disappears people.
We know a little about assassination teams that have operated in Afghanistan in recent years, teams including Special Forces, CIA, and mercenaries. I have good reason to believe — although I cannot now say why — that such teams have also operated on U.S. soil. But isn’t killing, even on Afghan soil, just as evil? Should it matter where, or who, or why, or how?
Aren’t the lost opportunities to save lives when our money all goes to wars and Wall Street just as murderous? Medicare cuts kill. Unclean air kills. Pretending Social Security is in trouble kills. Pushing our elders into the poor house kills. Polluting our environment kills.
Our government’s status as pro-life is in grave doubt. Its title as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world remains in place.
We can’t prosecute Supreme Court justices because we have no Justice Department. We can’t impeach Supreme Court justices, because we have no Congress. What can we do? One thing that I think we can and must do is recognize that, if for that one moment we believed Troy Davis might be spared, then we believe in our hearts that victory is possible. And because we believe that, we have a responsibility to work for it.
We can do that by building as large a presence as possible to occupy Washington, D.C., beginning October 6th