Why did Obama let Troy die?

September 22, 2011

The first African American president of the United States knew full well there were ways to act if he wanted to stop a legal lynching.

BARACK OBAMA refused to lift a finger or say a word to stop the murder of an innocent man in Georgia on September 21.

We were told that Troy Davis was convicted of a state crime, not a federal one, and so the president couldn't commute his sentence. With minutes to go before he was scheduled to be die, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying, "It is not appropriate for the President of the United States to weigh in on specific cases like this one."


In the last decade alone, presidents have declared multiple wars without Congressional approval, they have defied international law through special renditions torture program, they have run a gulag at Guantánamo Bay, they have ripped up civil liberties to read our e-mails and rifle through our trash. Obama himself has just waged a months-long extra-legal war on Libya.

It defies all logic and experience to assert that the leader of the most powerful military and economic empire in the history of the world couldn't intervene to stop the state of Georgia from murdering an innocent man.

As Edward Dubose, president of the NAACP's Georgia chapter, said, "The president is the president. If he chose to intervene, he could."

I don't know exactly how these things work. An executive order? Tweaking of the rules?

At the very least, a full-court press of phone calls to the figures who did have authority, followed by an emergency press conference to demand justice. Leaders of the NAACP say they contacted the Obama Justice Department to propose that it step in on the basis of civil rights violations in Troy's treatment, before, during and after his trial.

Barack Obama and his administration knew full well that there were ways to act if it wanted to end the nightmare of a 21st-century legal lynching--one that, as we know now, would be preceded by hours of torture as the Supreme Court considered and then refused to halt his execution.

I knew Obama wouldn't do it. His handlers would scoff at the mere suggestion of it--and repeat the popular wisdom that they themselves have popularized: that this country is too reactionary and racist for a Black president to stand before the nation and state legislators and plead for justice for a Black man.

As an Atlanta resident told a Washington Post writer, "President Obama gives opinions on everything that's safe and what he thinks America wants to hear, but he straddles the fence on issues important to African Americans.""

Well, if the U.S. wasn't so filled with crackers that it elected a Black president in 2008 in a landslide, then why do they insist we are now? And if racist ideas have reasserted themselves in some quarters, the insistence of Obama and Co. on ignoring race all these years is at least partly to blame.

I WON'T repeat the arguments for Troy's innocence, which were compelling enough that even Ronald Reagan's FBI Director William Sessions called for a halt to his execution. The lack of evidence, no weapon, seven recantations of forced testimonies--even jurors in his trial have come forward to say that they would have voted to acquit if they knew all the facts. The man was clearly innocent.

Yet the silence from the White House was deafening. Even Forbes magazine--which calls itself "the capitalist tool"--not only asserted Troy's innocence, but posed the question, "Should Obama speak out in the Troy Davis case?"

My jaw dropped the other day and a flush of hope came over me when I read that Georgia Senate Democratic Whip Vincent Fort joined forces with the Southern Center for Human Rights to call for a strike of execution workers: "We call on the members of the Injection Team: Strike! Do not follow your orders! Do not start the flow of the lethal injection chemicals. If you refuse to participate, you make it that much harder for this immoral execution to be carried out."

What a magnificent idea! And how very different from the response of the first African American president of the United States.

Once again, Barack Obama has shown himself to be thoroughly beholden to the class of small-minded bigots whose greed, arrogance and indifference shape their every action.

Obama is nobody's dupe. The man excelled at Harvard Law School, taught at the University of Chicago and managed to force his way to the front of the pack and win the presidency, with millions of votes from the South. Through his silence on this, like so much else throughout our Not-So-Great Depression, Obama has shown himself to be one of them.

How dare a Black president turn his back on a lynching. Some of Troy's blood is on Barack Obama's hands.

An earlier version of this article appeared at Sherry Talks Back.

Further Reading

From the archives