“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of Iman [faith]." Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, sall Allahu 'alayhi wa salam.
I have been sitting on this particular piece for some six months now. I wrote it the night of September 21st, 2011, the same night Troy Davis was murdered by the state of Georgia, and not long after the uprisings in London, sparked by the racist police murder of Mark Duggen, in case the Tottenham reference is lost on anyone. I did not know then whether or not I wanted to publish it, and did not share it widely, with the exception of one remarkable individual who subsequently introduced me for the first time to the hadith quoted above, a hadith which impacted me far more than I knew at the time.
Perhaps publishing this six months late is impertinent, but I cannot help but be painfully reminded of Troy Davis, and his racist murder by the legal institutions of our glorious civilization, as I watch the less institutional, but equally reprehensible acts of pernicious bigotry and malicious violence brought upon innocent victims by neo-lynch mob vigilantes, such as the oh-so-brave man who shot 17 year old Trayvon Martin or the contemptible coward who death Shaima Alawadi, a mother of five, to death in her home. The former was murdered because he was walking while black, the latter because she was an Iraqi Muslim woman who donned a hijab. It is, of course, not 17 year old Trayvon who was a threat, nor Shaima who was a terrorist. Instead, Zimmerman and the unidentified killer of Shaima are the murderous bigots who perpetrate wanton criminality and terror.
Yet, one can never separate these individual acts of brutality from the larger injustices embedded within our legal, economic, and political system, a system which is predicated upon the dehumanization, exploitation, and murder of so many who share similar physical characteristics as Trayvon and Shaima. Already the racists are coming out of the woodwork, exposing themselves by trying to justify Trayvon's murder through the most shameful and despicable means, notably the character assassination of a 17 year old boy, just days after his real assassination. Surely the callous disregard for Shaima's story, especially in comparison to what we could have expected as a response had the assailant been Muslim and the victim a white woman, is a pertinent example of the way in which not only the legal system, but the entire ideological superstructure of our society perpetuates racism at every level.
Thus, Troy Davis, thus now, for no case embodies the criminal nature of our legal system, and the racism which leaks into every facet of our society, as blatantly and brazenly as his. With that, I'll leave you with the original text, unedited, which I penned the night of his murder.
This will not be an analysis of the death penalty, of the criminal injustice system, of racism, or of capitalism. This will not be an expose of our nation’s history of brutalization, dehumanization, destruction, and death. This will not be an article which urges you to sign an online petition, write your congressmen, to call the Supreme Court, to vote out the bad politicians, or to host an event.
This will be a post, a short one, a furious one, a post of frustration, anguish, despair, and anger. It will be a post full of unadulterated rage, because if you are not full of rage, if you are not full of hate, hate for a system which will inject poison into an innocent man’s veins, hate for a society which will allow a man to be murdered in front of the eyes of millions, then you will never be able to change it.
I am also full of shame. I sit here now, reminiscing on the choices I made, the things I did, the petitions I signed, the calls I made, the words that I spread. Could I have done more? Could we have done more?
I contemplate my choices. I write, I do not know what else to do. All I know is that a man was murdered tonight, and millions of people watched. We chanted, we marched, we demonstrated, we held up our fists, we held events and conferences and went on television and lodged complaints and filed appeals. We went through the “democratic” process. We listened to the NAACP, to Amnesty International, to all the human rights organizations and groups, we heard their leaders speak, we heard them at 10:45, talking about how they would “double, triple, quadruple” their efforts. What more can be done? What more can we do? What was not done in the case of Troy Davis this could have?
Troy’s parting words may have been for God to forgive those who would murder him, but let us not forget that he also told us that “this Movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.”
But Troy Davis was murdered tonight. We did not save him. We failed. And I will not for a moment hear the “we built a movement, we brought the death penalty to the national dialogue” justification. We failed, we didn’t stop the execution, the murder, the legal lynching of Troy Anthony Davis. And the realization we must make is that we will not save anyone else by shamelessly signing the same petitions, writing the same letters, exposing the same hypocrisy, or calling the same Congressmen.
The only conclusion, the only conceivable action left untested, the only possible route that was not pursued was one in which no one wants to acknowledge: self-defense. We did not just watch, we passionately argued against, we made the most compelling case, we fought with our words and our pens and our hearts against the machine of death known as the state of Georgia, but the only thing we did not fight with was our hands. We did not advance on the prison any further than the police would allow, we did not break down barricades, we did not fight the police, we did not dare challenge the organized power of the state, nor its sacred monopoly on violence. We did not turn Chatham County into Tottenham. Savannah did not burn…
Maybe, just maybe, if Savannah was burning tonight they'd have thought twice about murdering Troy Davis. Maybe if we had the bravery of Jonathan Jackson tonight, if thousands of us had displayed even a fraction of his courage, maybe Troy Davis would still be alive. Maybe if Savannah burned tonight, they'd think twice about murdering anyone again. No one can say for sure, maybe I’m wrong, but what we can say is that what we did, the same thing we did for Stanley Williams in 2005, did not work. How long will we continue doing the same thing, with the same result? How many more will die?
Maybe if Savannah had burned tonight…