Standing With Troy Davis As a Non-Believer

By Sikivu Hutchinson

This is a day of outrage for all who believe in justice and morality. The pending execution of Georgia Death Row inmate Troy Davis is an egregious reminder of the vicious cycle of immoral lynch mob justice that masquerades as due process in the United States, the exceptionalist "Christian Nation." With 25% of the world’s prison population, the U.S. has devolved into the largest penitentiary on the planet. For poor people of color, the revolving door of incarceration often starts in K-12 schools that disproportionately suspend, transfer and expel black and Latino youth. But the media framing of black youth as violent lawless criminals influences their sense of self-image much earlier. When it comes to black youth, mainstream images of urban communities as crime-ridden cesspits with dysfunctional families shape the cultural perceptions of teachers, administrators, policymakers and law enforcement. These images disfigure the psyches of very young black children who see white lives humanized, prized and valued in the white supremacist American TV and film industries. Clearly, If Davis had been a white defendant the international outcry over his death sentence would have led to clemency. But in a nation in which African Americans are presumed guilty until proven innocent, the recanted testimony of seven witnesses is not enough to spare the life of an innocent black man.

Over the past several weeks, many prayers have been offered for Davis, his family and other Death Row inmates who may have been wrongly convicted. Certainly humanist atheists like me believe that the atrocity of Davis’ pending execution is yet another example of Epicurus’ caveat about the impotence of “God.” But the national visibility and leadership of the faith community around this issue highlights the need to develop explicitly secular humanist culturally responsive traditions for coping with death, mourning and grief in communities of color. It also highlights the continued need for the so-called secular movement to speak out on state-sanctioned human rights abuses perpetrated upon communities of color right here in the U.S.

At 9% of the Los Angeles Unified School District student population, black children are over 30% of those suspended. At 9% of the L.A. County population, black children and adults are nearly 40% of the County’s incarcerated population. In the final analysis, segregation, white supremacy and economic disenfranchisement—as well as heterosexism and patriarchy—keep many blacks and Latinos beholden to the faith community and faith traditions. Secularists who can’t wrap their mind around that, and continue to bemoan the lack of “diversity” in the movement, are a waste of crucial time and energy.

As activists across the globe stand for Davis against the all-American death machine, it should be clear that true justice has no faith and no religion.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.

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Comment by Shutch on September 22, 2011 at 5:42pm
Of course this is a cornerstone of the American death apparatus; poor black and Latino defendants and, to a lesser extent, their white working class counterparts, who don't have the wherewithal to fund competent defense lawyers/teams.  Michelle Alexander's 2009 book "The New Jim Crow" breaks down the racial disparities in sentencing, incarceration and re-entry that fuel the U.S.' apartheid prison complex.
Comment by Pat on September 22, 2011 at 3:25pm

In the "for what it's worth" category, I am of the opinion that any death sentence is a violation of the "cruel and unusual" punishment clause of the 8th Amendment. Unfortunately, theSupremes in Wash. D.C. tend to disagree with that interpretation.  Can't speak to the innocence or guilt of Troy Davis personally, since I didn't review the evidence, and have little faith in what TV and the internet have to say about it.

However, I did have an interesting conversation with a federal prison guard about executions. He maintained the death sentence should be imposed, even at the risk of executing an innocent person.  I asked if he was a Christian, to which he said yes.  I then said, "So you're OK with that wrongful execution about 2000 years ago, then."  He then said, "We'll, you're a Christian too." To which I responded, "Hell no I'm not. I have more morals than that. And, I believe you just proved my point."

Comment by Natalie A Sera on September 22, 2011 at 12:37pm
SB, that's an easy one! They are of the "my mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts" mindset. Those people sleep VERY easily!
Comment by Frankie Dapper on September 22, 2011 at 9:13am

Can anyone who is not situated that way imagine how it feels to be convicted and then executed when you are innocent? And how many have been wrongfully convicted? It has to be a large number based on scientific evidence which leads to exoneration. And of course the travesty has afflicted minorities to a greater extent.


Comment by Natalie A Sera on September 21, 2011 at 11:51pm
My heart hurts so bad. I'm crying for a man I never knew. I am sickened by the fact that the US Supreme Court, which is dominated by Conservatives, didn't even bother to consider the concept of "guilty beyond any doubt". Why is it clear to me that there was great doubt, and that one of the witnesses who did not recant was the other prime suspect, and yet not clear to the justices? This was not a judicial execution; it was a 21st century lynching.
Comment by annet on September 21, 2011 at 10:27pm
I'm deeply saddened and ashamed right now.



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