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As I stood in the courtyard of Jackson State Prison in Georgia yesterday holding a prayer vigil for Troy Anthony Davis, I, like so many others held out hope for some sort of miracle. In the exact location where I joined Troy’s mother in 2008 when we received such a miracle 90 minutes before his scheduled execution, perhaps I was too optimistic in believing that similar action could take place and justice would prevail. Despite the fact that there was a last minute delay in Troy’s execution last night that sent jubilation throughout the crowd, all of us collectively watched as he was eventually put to death. This time, even with an expansive global movement to save his life, the miracle unfortunately never arrived. Ever since I was first introduced to the Troy Davis case several years ago, I have been perplexed as to how a man was convicted based solely on eyewitness statements and without any physical evidence. No weapon, no DNA and no proof other than the fact that some people stated he committed the alleged crime. But what makes Troy’s case an utter travesty in our legal system is the fact that 7 out of these 9 witnesses have since recanted their testimony and many said that they were coerced or pressured into pointing the finger at Troy. And yet, he was still executed last night. One of the two remaining witnesses who did not recant his/her testimony was a man by the name of Sylvester ‘Redd’ Coles — another suspect in this case. And yet, Troy was still executed last night. A female witness even stated that she was threatened by Coles if she came forward, and yet Troy was still executed last night. Everyone from former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to former prison wardens and conservatives who are pro-death penalty pushed for a stay in this man’s death penalty, and yet Troy was still executed last night. I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Justice Department to push for a federal law that prohibits any state from prosecuting a capital case based solely on eyewitness testimony. Nowhere in America should an individual be executed again without any concrete physical evidence. And at this time, as we mourn the loss of Troy, we must continue to move as well — to mourn without moving only compounds this most egregious injustice. Although it may be very difficult, especially for those that knew Troy and those that fought on his behalf for years, we all must push forward and ensure that his death was not in vain. A federal law is absolutely necessary, and whether one is pro-death penalty or anti-death penalty like myself, we need to set the bar to where concrete evidence must be required before taking a person’s life. For those of us who were pushing for a stay in Troy’s execution, do not let anyone paint you as against the family of the slain police officer in this case, Mark MacPhail — for that is the furthest thing from the truth. Our deepest sympathies go out to the MacPhail family, and because they too deserve justice, a re-examination of this case was essential in order to truly determine who was culpable. That’s all Troy Davis asked for; a chance to halt his execution and receive a fair day in court. But tragically, that opportunity was diminished last night. As I left Georgia yesterday to return to NY, I was consumed in the irony that so many heads of state were gathered at the UN and heard the U.S. stress the importance of human rights while we simultaneously executed this man. What did they think as they turned on the news, read the papers and watched how we behaved? In order to preach and advocate for rule of law and civil/human rights, we must first rectify our own miscarriages of justice at home. Troy Davis died at the age of 42, after spending 22 years behind bars. As we know all too well, those with money and the ability to hire high-powered attorneys receive the best defense and fighting chance in court. Imagine if one day you woke up and someone accused you of murder and you were then sentenced to death for it. That’s pretty much what happened to Troy. Based solely on eyewitness testimony that is almost unanimously recanted, a man’s life was cut short last night. If laws are designed to protect us and establish a humane society, we must rectify them so that this sort of injustice never happens again. Mourn we must, but we must continue to move. Carry on the fighting spirit of Troy Davis who till his last breath, proclaimed his innocence.
Forty years ago this week, about 1,000 NY State troopers â€“ under the direction of then Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller â€“ stormed the Attica prison upstate and shot 39 people to death, 29 inmates and 10 guards. Firing at will, the troopers were ordered to quell an uprising after prisoners staged a four-day protest against overcrowding, inadequate medical care, terrible living conditions and more. In newly released recordings between Rockefeller and President Nixon, the brutality of the troopersâ€™ response, the indiscriminate manner in which they killed people and the lack of negotiations prior to the shooting, all point towards one thing: race. Forty years later, the disregard for Black life is as prevalent as the days of the Attica uprising, for we are still seen as less than human. â€˜Tell me, are these primarily Blacks that youâ€™re dealing with?â€ asked Nixon in these tapes according to the NY Times. â€œOh yes, the whole thing was lead by the Blacks,â€ was Rockefellerâ€™s reply. The Blacksâ€™ were Atticaâ€™s prison inmates, while security guards at the institution were all white. Even though Nixon knew this conversation was being recorded (Rockefeller didnâ€™t), he urged the governor to stand firm and not give in to any of the prisonersâ€™ demands. Without any attempt at negotiating, intervening, looking into the inmatesâ€™ concerns or even visiting the prison, Rockefeller responded with a rash of violence that cost the lives of 10 of their own. And at first, he and other governmental entities tried to pin the deaths of these guards on the inmates themselves, until evidence later proved that the troopers were to blame. Today, when many elected officials continue to see us as â€˜the Blacksâ€™ the outrageous epidemic of violence remains unaddressed and unresolved. As a vocal advocate against the inexcusable rise in gun usage and violence within Black and Latino neighborhoods, I was livid after nearly 100 people were shot in one weekend here in NY. And because we are losing our young left and right to this sort of senseless killing all across the country, the National Action Network works daily to address the root causes of the problem and calls on everyone to hold themselves accountable. But while taking personal responsibility and saving ourselves is integral, we cannot eradicate the problem entirely without greater assistance from those in office. If white kids or suburban kids were dropping in such high numbers, would our elected officials be so silent? If 18-year-old Tayshana Murphy (ranked on an ESPN website as the nationâ€™s 16th best basketball point guard in her class) who was tragically shot in the head by thugs were white, would the search for her murderers make daily national news as we have seen in the cases of many other missing or killed women? And if wealthy constituents started to see their daughters and sons murdered on a continual basis, do you really think such little action would be taken to address the problem? We sent a notice to Gov. Cuomo here in New York urging him to work with grassroots organizations to seek solutions to this dire calamity â€“ and we finally received some word. Although his office has responded, there is still not enough rapid action taking place to resolve the state of emergency we are in. Forty years ago, Black life was often seen as inferior and therefore our issues were completely ignored. Sadly today, young Black life in particular is still viewed in the same manner and as a result, our representatives donâ€™t care what happens to â€˜the Blacks.â€™ But if we have any hope for the next generation, itâ€™s time to force them to pay attention; no more silence. RELATED: Time for Black journalists to stop criticizing Rev. Al Sharpton An open letter to NY Gov Andrew Cuomo
During the first Republican debate last week, the loudest applause of the night rang after Brian Williams questioned Gov. Rick Perry on Texas’ execution of an alarming 234 death row inmates. As predicted, his response included the following: ‘If you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer… you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed’. What Perry and the bloodthirsty crowd glanced over however is the fact that countless innocent people are wrongly executed and many more continue to sit on death row today. And then there are some that just want an opportunity to have a fair day in court to allow the system to truly decipher their guilt or innocence. One such individual is a man by the name of Troy Davis. In 1991, Davis was convicted — based solely on witness testimony — of murdering a Georgia police officer. Despite prevalent inconsistencies even at that time, he remains on death row till this day. In the years since the trial, seven out of nine witnesses have recanted their statements and many assert that they were pressured into fingering Davis as the killer by overly-eager police trying to solve a case involving one of their own. One witness even stated that he never saw Davis shoot or kill anyone. And to add insult to injury, one of the only people not recanting his testimony is Sylvester ‘Red’ Coles — a person who was once also considered a suspect. There is new evidence pointing towards Coles as the gunman, and nine people have signed affidavits accusing him of committing the murder. So with all of these remarkable developments, why is Troy Davis still scheduled to be executed on September 21st? Yesterday evening on my MSNBC Politics Nation broadcast, I was joined by former Republican Congressman Bob Barr for a segment on this troubling situation. Although Barr and I are often on opposing ends of the spectrum and he supports the death penalty overall, the former representative highlighted the serious flaws within this case and the need for us to halt Davis’ execution. During the time of his conviction, there was no DNA or physical evidence and no recovery of a weapon. An entire case that was constructed solely on the basis of witness testimony that has now fallen apart requires immediate action. It’s why people like former President Jimmy Carter are supporting Davis in his quest for justice and why I have also visited him on death row. National Action Network has been pushing for a fair trial for Davis for several years and there is absolutely no time left to wait. Troy Davis has exhausted all of his appeals and without clemency or some other drastic action, he will be executed next week. A man, who in his two decades or more (spent two years just awaiting trial) behind bars, lost his own father during that time and missed out on a tremendous chunk of his prime years, faces imminent death. An Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act passed by Congress in 1996 made it more difficult for Davis to attempt to prove his innocence, while the lack of DNA evidence prevalent in older cases like his should be reason enough for Davis to receive a new court date. I, like numerous other voices out there, am not asking you to judge whether or not Davis is innocent or guilty. We are instead advocating for an end to his execution and an opportunity to finally receive a just trial where evidence can be introduced and witnesses will not be coerced or pressured into lying. If we truly believe in the notion of law and order, then we owe it to this man who has spent over 20 years behind bars based off of questionable witness statements. That is not the way our courts should work and that is not the way justice is served. It is simply unconscionable. If we allow Davis to die on the 21st, then a piece of our legal system and rule of law will perish with him. To all those who chant and champion the taking of another man’s life, just think how you’ll sleep at night knowing that this person may have been innocent after all. It’s time to put aside preconceptions and instead look at the facts — for facts don’t lie. Stop the execution of Troy Davis today; give him due process.
As much as President Obama worked to keep his jobs plan and Congressional address from being juxtaposed with the Republican debate, the last two evenings proved remarkable for anyone concerned about the state of the nation. On one side, you had a president outlining methods of kick starting job creation, while on the other, you had a flock of candidates who received the biggest applause after a comment regarding high numbers of executions in the state of Texas. The president once again urged his opposition to put petty differences aside and pass his bill quickly, meanwhile GOP presidential hopefuls were busy attacking Social Security and each other instead of providing us with solutions to our jobs crisis. To the voting public, these two nights portrayed everything we need to know about the next election: keep progressing forward, or revert backwards to a place where our intelligence is insulted and the rich keep rewarding themselves. “The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working,” stated the president in his address in front of a joint session of Congress on Thursday evening. Calling for tax incentives for small businesses and $1500 tax cuts for working Americans, he pushed for job creation in many industries while providing additional tax credits for those companies that hire the long-term unemployed. But perhaps most noteworthy from his speech was the tone that this president set; it was firm, to the point, conciliatory and yet forceful all at the same time. It was, in effect, brilliant. Although the devil will be in the details that are scheduled to be released a week from this Monday, the president has literally checkmated John Boehner. In this highly anticipated jobs speech, our commander-in-chief urged every member gathered in the room to put their differences aside and pass the plan immediately. Again rising above partisan politics, he appealed to a new level of patriotism thereby leaving his opponents as nothing but petty if they were to challenge his job creation ideas. Addressing workers’ rights and collective bargaining rights, the president acknowledged the importance and relevance of unions and labor in our society. Highlighting the need to have the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share in taxes, he stressed the importance of assisting those hurting the most by doing things like extending unemployment insurance for another year. There will be those that will continue to criticize the president no matter what he says or does, but after Thursday night, nobody can deny that he has the nation’s best interest at heart. While he spoke of saving schools and encouraging future engineers, GOP candidates continued to pander to their base and avoid any real discussion of any real solutions the evening before. While some folks like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney appeared the clear frontrunners, none of the Republican candidates gave any substantive answers in terms of job creation. As they touted death penalties, attacks on Social Security and of course attacks on one another, they failed to address the real issues Americans lose sleep over. With unemployment remaining painfully stagnant, their non-existent ideas will keep them non-existent at the polls. The depth of our current economic crisis is so complex that there are no easy answers. But if we are to maintain our strong standing in the world, we must begin to follow through on the president’s suggestions as quickly as possible. The work starts now, and it will take all of us to dig ourselves out of the trenches and push forward. This week of debates and speeches has left one thing clear: we can either continue bickering with one another much like candidates did on Wednesday evening, or we can create and work towards sustainable resolutions as our president now calls each and every one of us to do.
Enough is enough. Ã‚Â Speaker Boehner’s decision last week to walk out in the middle of negotiations with President Obama was the last straw. Ã‚Â The time has come — at long last — for America’s super-majority to stand up against the extreme, hostage-taking tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress. Ã‚Â Tea Party Republicans would rather shred America’s safety net and also risk tanking America’s economy than raise taxes one penny on their super-wealthy donors and corporate backers. Ã‚Â This Tuesday at noon, everyday Americans will finally have the chance to be heard, across America, at the local offices of every member of Congress. The American Dream movement — which includes dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals who are standing up for the middle class and working class families — is calling for emergency mobilizations across the country tomorrow. Ã‚Â We will thank many of our elected leaders, especially Leader Nancy Pelosi and the more than 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) who have stood strong by the middle class, in the face of this madness. We will ask others to step up as champions and support the CPC letter . Ã‚Â And for those who are threatening our whole our economy to win tax breaks for millionaires, we will hold signs and stand outside their offices — using peaceful pressure to shame them into siding with the vast majority of Americans. Ã‚Â The stakes are clear: millions of people are now facing catastrophic economic harm, unless Americans stand up and force the GOP to relent in its reckless drive to destroy essential middle class programs. The GOP is holding the American Dream itself hostage. Ã‚Â If the Republicans carry out their threats, for the first time in history, the greatest nation on Earth will be in default on our obligations. Ã‚Â Defaulting on our debt would be a disaster for our nation — and for every single American. The jobs of half a million Americans would almost certainly disappear. Loans for college or homes could be almost impossible to get. We might have to stop sending Social Security and Medicare checks to people who need them. Our men and women in uniform could stop getting paychecks. Ã‚Â Worse: our great nation would lose its perfect credit rating. That would add billions of dollars to our deficit because other countries would charge us more interest on our loans. Ã‚Â This is literally insane. And if you are shocked, appalled and outraged, you are not alone. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to the both the goals and the tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress. Ã‚Â Ordinary Republicans know that the Tea Party is dead wrong. Ã‚Â That number includes the majority of REPUBLICANS. Even David Stockman, who was one of the chief architects of Reaganomics, has said that America will need tax increases. The Economist magazine agrees with him; so does David Brooks. No surprise there: so do 55 percent of all Republicans. That’s right, the majority of all Republicans think the Tea Party minority has gone too far. Ã‚Â The Tea Party position is so crazy and extreme that its caucus literally would have to throw out Ronald Reagan (who raised the debt ceiling 18 times), for being too liberal on the question of taxes. Ã‚Â People that extreme should have no moral or political standing to threaten America; they should attempt to impose their bizarre worldview on the rest of us. But that is exactly what they are doing. Ã‚Â The idea of a working democracy is now at risk. Ã‚Â It is time for DC to listen to the voices of regular people, again. Two-thirds of Americans want a budget deal to include getting rid of special tax breaks for millionaires and big corporations. Two-thirds of us believe Republicans in Congress have acted irresponsibly in pushing us toward a default crisis. Ã‚Â Americans know that no single political party has 100 percent of the power in our country, so no single party can have things 100 percent its way. At a certain point, everyone must put the needs of one’s country above the preferences of one’s party. Ã‚Â The Tea Party minority is perhaps the first faction in American history to seize complete control of a political party — and then act with complete and utter disregard for those basic American political traditions. Ã‚Â To get their way, they are willing to hold the American Dream itself hostage — putting an economic gun to all of our heads and jeopardizing the financial future of 310 million people. Ã‚Â Since the Cold War, no foreign enemy has ever posed this kind of threat to America. No foreign power could possibly do the kind of damage that the Tea Party minority is threatening to inflict on the American people. Ã‚Â Hands off Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare Ã‚Â Leaders like former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders have set a fine example in standing up to this nonsense. So have Congressional Progressive Caucus chairs Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. RaÃƒÂºl Grijalva. Ã‚Â They should not stand alone. Ã‚Â Our democracy has been hijacked by a small group of extremists. The American Dream is in peril. It is time for the super-majority of Americans to be superheroes and rescue our economic future. Ã‚Â I will see you on Tuesday.
This weekend, Casey Anthony will leave Orange County Jail in Orlando, Florida amid controversy. Her release from prison will continue a debate that many in the Black community are currently having. Casey, who was acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee, has become a household name, just as most of the Anthony family has. But following the daily courtroom drama and intense media frenzy surrounding this tragic case, we have to ask ourselves, what if Casey or Caylee were Black? Chances are, weâ€™d have no idea who they were. Itâ€™s no secret that our press is unfortunately biased at times in the way in which they cover â€“ and donâ€™t cover â€“ news items. We often see people of color stereotyped or misrepresented in both our local and national news platforms. But when a story involves a missing child or a missing woman, how could this same unbalance take place? When someoneâ€™s life literally hangs in the balance, who makes the judgment call to overly indulge in one story and not focus at all on another? The unfortunate reality is that if a police department doesnâ€™t feel a missing personâ€™s case is important, it wonâ€™t garner the attention it deserves. If law enforcement fails to put in the resources and manpower to look for a child, teenager, mother or loved one, others wonâ€™t either. From the onset, countless strangers came to Casey Anthonyâ€™s side and helped search for her â€œmissingâ€ child. And itâ€™s no secret that a large part of this had to do with the amount of coverage this case received at every step of the turn. If young Caylee Anthony had in fact been missing, this sort of community involvement could have saved her life â€“ just as it could save others who have been abducted or disappeared. As newsrooms continually struggle to diversify, the consequences simply multiply. In 2009 alone, more than 30% of those reported in the National Crime Information Centerâ€™s missing person fileâ€™s were Black. And yet how many of the most recent missing personâ€™s cases that we know of involve people of color? The notion of race and coverage disparity also applies to Casey Anthony herself. Would she have been so easily acquitted if she were a Black woman? With reports that she may have even received donations from sympathizers while behind bars, Casey has transcended into some sort of innocent victim herself. As people continue to debate whether or not she was involved in the death of her own daughter, we cannot escape the fact that if she or Caylee were Black, you can bet we would currently be having an entirely different discussion here. Itâ€™s time we start actively pushing for balanced coverage across the board â€“ our childrenâ€™s lives may very well depend on it. RELATED: Reality TV and its damaging effect on Black women Failure to ban video games for kids makes parents jobs harder