The Supreme Court Upholding Troy Davis's Death Penalty Would Be a Crime

Executing Troy Davis, very likely not guilty of murder, would itself be a crime.

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Monday, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a man who is probably innocent will live or die. Troy Davis, an African-American man from Georgia, has spent 18 years on death row after being convicted in the shooting death of white Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

There was no physical evidence in the case, and since 2001, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Several stated they were coerced and of the two remaining witnesses, one is the individual that many of the others say committed the crime. The other claims to have seen clearly from a football field away in the middle of the night.

As former FBI Director Williams Sessions has written, "Crucial unanswered questions surround claims of [Troy] Davis' responsibility for this terrible crime ... and I believe that the execution should not go forward until the courts address them."

The overwhelming lack of evidence pointing to Davis's guilt has inspired both death penalty proponents and opponents. Conservative former congressman and death penalty supporter Bob Barr is also calling for a new trial for Davis, saying, "There is no abuse of government power more egregious than executing an innocent man."

It is rare when I am on the same side as Barr, but we both agree that there is something seriously wrong when our system of jurisprudence turns a blind eye to executing innocent people. This case has amassed a coterie of other strange bedfellows, including former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Yet despite outcries from tens of thousands of people from around the world, the march to Davis's death goes on. If the Supreme Court decides not to hear Mr. Davis's writ of habeas corpus, a motion that has not been granted since 1925, the countdown to Davis's death begins.

Next month, the NAACP celebrates its 100th anniversary in New York City, our birthplace. We were born from the horror of race riots in Springfield, Ill., during which whites brutally attacked their African-American neighbors. A small multiracial group of radicals gathered to reach for an ambitious goal—to end the terror of lynch mob violence. We were formed on the birth of Abraham Lincoln and we were dedicated to bringing his promise of an equal nation into reality. Ending lynch mobs was a multidecade struggle, but when we triumphed we not only stopped the lynching of African-Americans but also for Catholics, the second-largest targeted group in the South. That is the nature of our struggle—we tend to achieve victories that make us a better nation for all. Our fight for political inclusion opened the door for women, people with disabilities, and other disenfranchised citizens. Our lawsuit today against 15 major banks for discrimination and targeting African-Americans with predatory loans will force accountability and transparency that benefits everyone.

The NAACP has a rich, proud legacy of fighting for the equitable treatment of all Americans. But Troy Davis's case is just one example of the continued challenge we face in our nation to achieve true human and civil rights.

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that skin color plays a "crucial and unacceptable" role in deciding who receives the death penalty. Since 1976, ethnic minorities have accounted for 43 percent of the total number of those who were executed in America, while 55 percent of inmates on death row nationwide were minorities, according to the 2003 report. Research confirms that it is race and class rather than guilt that determines who dies at the hands of the state. These numbers are but one indicator that we are far from achieving a "colorblind" or "post-racial" America. Our nation will not be "post-racial" until we are "post-racism."

Monday, when the court decides on whether to hear Mr. Davis's writ of habeas corpus, hanging in the balance along with Troy Davis's life are crucial principles on which this nation is founded—whether it is consistent with our moral ethos to execute the innocent and whether we honor our Constitution, which is designed to ensure that the law is applied and interpreted equally and fairly for all.



Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.