For the next 364 days, I will be writing entries under the title, ‘I AM TROY DAVIS.’ Moved to pick up the pen not merely by Troy Anthony Davis‘ death/execution, but more so by his life/evolution, I hope that there are those out there who can relate. If so, we must connect. We are already connected. Axé.
Two words followed Troy Anthony Davis around like a ball-and-chain until his murder by the state of Georgia: COP-KILLER. This scarlet letter deliberately reiterated by various (independent and mainstream) media outlets to describe a dubiously convicted man will follow him even after he is posthumously exonerated. And yes, this day will come (sooner than expected).
Historically, these two words, inflammatory when linked together, are directly connected with two others spoken throughout Troy Davis’ 20-year fight for restorative justice: death row. When uttered in succession, the words cop-killer create an almost immediate negative response, often followed by racially biased mental images of a Black man.
Google the words cop-killer right now, and see what images come up. The overwhelming majority of images you see will be Black men. Like the incendiary ‘welfare queen’ term coined by Reagan in the late-70s, this linguistic coupling is intentional. The intention is damnation.
Socially, it is nearly impossible to reinvent your image, once you have been branded with the cop-killer label. More permanent than a tattoo, this marker cannot be removed surgically. With all of her multi-millions of dollars for stylists, make-up artists, and press/public relations, even Madonna (and her ever-changing pop-self), could not dance or sing her way out of a ‘cop-killer’ box. There is no room inside of this box. There is no air. And there certainly is no justice.
So, Death Row becomes your new home. And you sit. Even if you are innocent of the alleged crime, your table is set; and the burden of proof becomes an unending mountain you climb daily to prove your worth. Your tools then become a pen and paper; and the appeals game begins. Forget Russia, welcome to ‘American Roulette.’ Only in this version, there are three or four bullets in the six-chamber cylinder, magnifying the daily terror you are faced with in your solitude. In the outside world, the media might as well label you ‘unforgiven,’ or ‘dead to the world’ because this is how you are received by society-at-large.
When rapper ICE-T wrote a song with the same title in 1992, the mainstream public outcry was vehement to say the least. The mere mention of these words is enough to start a fight in many circles. But, someone (more specifically a Black man) chose to write a song about it? And, it was extremely popular amongst young white people? Oh, no. Can’t have that. It’s fine when blacks talk about killing other blacks (on record) and white folks listen – but a cop? Sorry. That is just too far, too much, too bold (for White America).
Almost immediately after its release, President Bush (the 1st) held a press conference condemning the song. Police Organizations from around the nation rallied to form boycotts against Warner Bros. Death threats were sent to the record label’s executives. Stockholders threatened to pull out their investments. Tipper Gore (wife of former Vice President, Al Gore) even compared Ice T to Hitler at one point. Ultimately, Ice-T pulled the song from the ‘BODY COUNT‘ album.
It’s actually quite ironic that Ice-T started taking on cop roles in film/television to change his social perception as a cop-killing rapper. Despite the fact that he wrote the song as a ‘protest record’ in response to the Rodney King beating in 1990, he eventually managed to bury the controversy in order to save his career as a performer. Now, you can you can find him with your remote in weekly episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, or Ice Loves Coco.
To those in positions of power and privilege in our society, the word ‘cop’ is generally synonymous with words like: protection, service, security, etc. For the rest of those of us that lack the power, privilege, and status of the ruling class, the word cop is most often synonymous with words like: brutality, invasion, terrorism, criminality, and more.
I think the word ‘killer’ pretty much means the same thing to all of us: someone that takes/ends someone else’s life with their own hands. Even further, I think most of us (regardless of class status) agree that killing is wrong – unless in self-defense.
Many of us have lived through the torture and torment of losing a loved one to violence. Yet and still, most would likely still have some strong reservations about personally executing an individual – even if they were responsible for the murder of said loved one. We wouldn’t go through with the act because we know it won’t bring our father, mother, cousin, uncle, whoever, back into our lives. We wouldn’t do it because we understand, beyond the intellectual level, and on a much deeper spiritual level, the long-term effects of such an action. The spirit of vengeance is much different than that of justice.
Notice that I say most of us, and not all of us. I am hyper-aware that there is also a sizeable portion of folks, Black, White, Christian, Muslim, Democrat, Republican, Southerners, Northerners, or otherwise, in our society that would eagerly hang, shoot, or inject someone that they felt ‘deserved’ it. Whether connected to the victim or not, there are many who feel murder can be justified. Finger on the trigger, these individuals surely do not think twice if they can find (and, more often create) even the shakiest of grounds for justification. Regardless of political, racial, or social affiliation, however, we probably all agree that someone who ends another person’s life is a killer, a murderer, a perpetrator of homicide.
Cop-killer. What exactly happens in America when these two words are linked together? Well, from where I sit, ‘all hell’ doesn’t necessarily ‘break loose.’ On the contrary, it simply oozes from behind the facades and illusions that temporarily hid it. If a cop is killed, justice must be served – and swiftly. News investigators and cameras quickly swing into action, bringing reports and stories of an officer lost in the ‘call of duty.’ And, if there is a black face at the end of that murder weapon? Death Row.
In Pennsylvania, where Mumia Abu-Jamal still sits, more than half of death row cases are from Philadelphia, a city with only fourteen percent of the state’s population. Eighty-three percent of those on death row from Philadelphia are of African descent. Between 1996 and 1998, a group of researchers collected data to determine the connection between race and death row sentencing in Pennsylvania. The researchers studied a ‘large sample of the murders which were eligible for the death penalty in the state between 1983 and 1993.’ The extensive study found that ‘blacks in Philadelphia were substantially more likely to get the death penalty than other defendants who committed similar murders. Black defendants faced odds of receiving a death sentence that were 3.9 times higher than other similarly situated defendants.’ (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-black-and-white-who-lives-who-dies-who-decides)
So, if you kill a man in Pennsylvania, and your skin is melanated, you are 3.9 times more likely to be assigned to Death Row. Now, throw the ‘cop-killer’ label on top of those stats, and you are probably 39 times (my own estimate) more likely to receive the death penalty. Bottom line: innocent, or not, the odds are stacked heavily against anyone (Black or White) beating the rap. But, if you are Black you might as well choose your coffin in the courtroom, because it will certainly be nailed shut by the time that jury comes back with its guilty verdict.
Why is the murder of a police officer so offensive to certain sectors of our society? The answer is simple. The life of a police officer is placed at a higher value than the life of everyday folk. There is a clear social hierarchy in place. Black men are at the bottom of this pyramid. If you deny this statement, you are lying to yourself.
When a teacher is murdered, the headlines don’t read ‘teacher-killer.’ Furthermore, we don’t see headlines about lawyer-killers, doctor-killers, preacher-killers, rapper-killers, or anything else. Some would argue that the high-profile attached to murder cases involving members of the Fraternal Order (of Police) is due to the sacrifice they make daily, putting their own lives on the line for the protection of the masses. But, I challenge this perspective with a prominent example from my own experience.
Cornel Young, Jr. was a Police Officer. A Black man, raised in Providence, RI: capital city of America’s smallest state. Known affectionately as ‘Jai’ to those that were close, Cornel trained in the very same Police Academy as one of the men that shot him in cold blood only a block from where I lived on January 28, 2000. He was off-duty, wearing civilian clothes at a local diner when he was violently murdered in an attempt to assist Carlos A. Saraiva and Michael Solitro III, two uniformed officers on the scene. Both of the officers were white. Both claimed that they didn’t recognize him when they fired.
I remember the media frenzy that took place following Young’s murder as clear as day. Providence residents and University students flooded City Hall, demanding justice. Mayor, and convicted felon, Vincent ‘Buddy’ Cianci, pandered and pled, calling for ‘patience.’ Never once in all of it, did I see a headline that read cop-killer. A cop was definitely killed, but never once was this term used to describe the two individuals who sent Cornel Young to an early grave. Why? Because they were Police officers. Period. And, officers aren’t judged in the same light as the rest of us. They are licensed to kill; even when it is one of their own ‘brothers’ who they ‘don’t recognize.’ Both officers were acquitted despite witness testimony, and piles of evidence about procedural violations.
Cornel Young, Jr. was an officer. But, he was also Black. What about his mother Leisa and her dream to watch her son grow old with her? What about his father (also a Providence Police officer)? His son’s murder caused a series of health problems that put him in a wheel chair; and his eyes grew distant and vacant with every news story about mis-trial and guiltless officers. Can you imagine having to report to a job with employees that had murdered your only son?
No Death Row for the ‘cop-killing’ Saraiva and Solitro III. In fact, not even a jail sentence or a fine. The murderers in this case, did not need to be tracked down, lynched, or hunted publicly as Troy Davis was. They were right in front of the world – gun smoking – and they got away. Where is the justice in that?
This is exactly the hypocrisy and double-standard faced daily by dis-enfranchised communities in America, and around the world. We watch these fraudulent proceedings, and go on with our daily lives, knowing we could be next. At any time, our lives can be taken, we can be jailed, and hung in a kangaroo court. Even if we wear a badge.
Yet, and still, we rise. We are the people. We are waking up. And, we are finding our way out of this matrix. As singer Lauryn Hill stated so clearly, ‘fantasy is what people want, but reality is what we need.’ Let’s create a reality free of the fantastic belief that resistance is futile. My generation may not see the liberation of which we dream, sing, and write, but it is coming.
In the name of Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Nina Simone, Malcolm X, Audre Lord, Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ida B. Wells, Stephen Biko, and Troy Davis, our dreams of freedom shall be written into existence, despite the hell that we currently endure.
My name is Jonathan ‘Jbro’ Mahone, and I am one-half of (RAS) Riders Against the Storm. I AM TROY DAVIS.