On the Lynching of Troy Davis (2011)

On September 21st Troy Davis was lynched for the 1989 death of a Savannah, Georgia policeman, of which he was known to be innocent. When I heard of his murder at the hands of Georgia representatives, my mind traveled back in time; to lynchings no less sinister, carried out by the ‘good’ citizenry of Georgia against innocent Black life.

I thought of Mary Turner. Not because her lynching back in 1918 was any more depraved than Troy Davis’ in 2011. But because both are a measure of the value of Black life in Amerika. That the more things change, the more they stay the same. They also reflect the sickness that underlies this rotten capitalist system, which can bring people to rationalize and glory in sadistic destruction of innocent life, devalued because of its color and class.

Mary Turner was gruesomely murdered by a jubilant white mob on May 18, 1918 in Valdosta, Georgia. A white man had been killed. The suspected killer, a Black man, was found and lynched. But so too were several other New Afrikan men, including Mary Turner’s husband—all known to be innocent of the white man’s death. But just like Troy Davis’ killers, the mob didn’t care. Passions raged, seeking an outlet. So mob mayhem was incited, with local government officials in the vanguard.

Eight months pregnant and in a wife’s anguish, Mary cried out for justice. The mob heard her cry, and came for her too.

As reported in the May 18 New York Times, she was dragged down an abandoned road, hanged upside down from a tree, doused with gasoline and oil, and, still alive, had her clothes burned off. Her belly was cut open and her premature baby fell to the ground, when it cried out weakly its head was smashed beneath the boot heal of one of the mob’s members. Mary was then shot hundreds of times.

Heinous as it was, this 1918 lynching reflected the typical conduct of ‘respectable’ citizens who often celebrated their deeds, posing for group photos and keeping body parts for souvenirs. None feared prosecution, since the laws have always served to persecute not protect us. It also reflected, as does the lynching of Troy Davis today, that innocence means nothing when the hypocritical hounds of American ‘law and order’ come for sport and vengeance against poor Black life.

All of us, poor, urban Black and Brown know this like second nature. It was known a century ago, like it’s known today. . . . We are all Troy Davis.

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