My problem here is twofold: 1) the lack of justice for African Americans—in particular—in this country (this is a historical problem; if you are new to this I highly recommend taking an African American history class ASAP) and what the life of one young Black male is worth in this country of ours. 2) What is the response of the Christian community in the face of death? Christians—particularly conservatives—will argue until the day is done that there is a “right to life.” But what life? And what about those who are innocent but have been accused of a crime they didn’t commit? Do we stand silent in that? How do the politics of race come into play in these issues?
Therefore, I am reminded of Howard Thurman’s question for Christians who are impotent to act in the face of racial, class, and social injustices: “Is it the impotency due to a betrayal of the genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the religion itself” (Jesus and the Disinherited preface)? My prayer is that it is just the betrayal.
What we have here is an extreme injustice. As Kevin Powell so eloquently pointed out, in the brutal murder of Oscar Grant by a White police officer—who was caught on tape indecently, shooting Grant in cold blood while handcuffed—gets less than 2 years; yet in a case surrounded with doubt and no physical evidence, a man is put to death.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the family of Officer Mark MacPhail is also suffering. It is a damn shame that a man who was coming to the rescue of another man being beat is killed—that too is a travesty and an atrocity. And, indirectly, the family still has no justice—relatively speaking. The killer is still walking the Earth.
In the end, is death the answer? Is the killing of another person the logical conclusion of justice? I ponder those questions, because the police officers who killed friends of mine, students of mine, and parents are still walking the Earth as well. Do I want death for them? I cannot say as of yet, so I too struggle with these issues. I do know that revenge killings are not the answer; yet they are woven into the social fabric and philosophy of this country.
As a Black man living in this country, I don’t fear getting blown up by some terrorist. I don’t fear some guy on a tape telling “me” that he wants to “kill me.” I don’t fear “terrorism” in its popular state. I don’t fear the overthrowing of our government by Muslim idealist. Let me tell you what I do fear. What happened to Troy Davis (and the countless amounts of other Black men in this country of ours) is what I fear…every day. As a Black man, you are always 1 foot away from the prison industrial complex; you are one breath away from being accused of something you didn’t do, but because someone “saw” you, you’re guilty. I fear the “justice” system in this country and that it will probably never produce “justice” for me in my lifetime. I fear that even a simple misdemeanor on my record will keep me from gainful employment; even with 4 degrees, 3 books, publications, and a list of stunning references. I fear being pulled over every single time; because I never know when it will be “my turn.”
I am Troy Davis. I know Troy Davis’ in the communities I work in. I’ve known Troy Davis in my classroom. I’ve seen Troy Davis in the store being looked at as a thug, simply because the messages that others have seen in the media about him are dominant in their minds.
This death is an atrocity. I cannot say it any other way. The execution taking place in a state with a history of racism and prejudicially biased decisions behooves the critical mind to ask what else is going on behind the scenes. Moreover, how does a Christian respond with Christ’s love in the face of such carnages? How does Thurman’s question reside with those who call themselves followers of Christ? What if we, in the Christ following community, actually took up a cause to truly engage the injustice of racism, sexism, and the prison industrial complex? Would it make you too “liberal” in the face of your friends? Or can we stand together on this issue regardless of social face?
I for one am ready to make this place a bit better for the little girl I call my daughter to live in. My prayer is for Troy Davis’ family. I pray for the family of Officer Mark MacPhail. I pray for our country as we are headed into a future unlike any other. I pray for the madness, hatred, and ignorance enveloped within racism that it would begin to be undone for some who are in positions of power, privilege, and with resources and that they would act…now.
Godspeed Troy Davis.