Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Basis of the State is Violence

[Note:  I actually wrote this yesterday but didn't get a chance to post it.]

For the past few days I have wanted to write something about Troy Davis, but didn't think I was capable of doing anything other than emoting and ranting. I think I will try to take a stab at it now.

It is difficult, at the outset, to not feel outrage that a man convicted on such flimsy evidence could be put to death. Just to recap: there is no physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the murder; there were 9 witnesses, most of whom were not even present at the scene of the crime (just claimed that Davis confessed to them), 7 of whom have recanted their testimony (one was at the scene of the crime), and one of whom has been accused by 5 others of being the real culprit; several of the jurors involved in the original conviction have said that they now regret their decision. Thus, there is beyond reasonable doubt that this man is guilty, and still he is going to be executed today.

However, this need only seem outrageous if one buys into the ideology of the justice system.

All the talk of "due process," the practice of having trials by jury, and the like, are ways of legitimizing the system - making it seem like it is in the hands of the people, and designed to protect everyone's rights at all costs.

In reality, the "justice" system is part of the apparatus of legitimate state violence, upon which the state's sovereignty rests. As such, it is also inextricably linked with the prison-industrial complex, which, in the United States, serves as a sort of internment camp or concentration camp for people of color, particularly young black men, who are dispropotionately represented by an astronomical margin. (I will come back to this point if/when I write a post about the war on drugs.)

So why should I feel surprised or scandalized by the outcome of the Troy Davis case? Killing black men is quite a normal function of the "justice" system. Is this not just another example of the system exhibiting it's "true colors" (even while it is being interpreted as a "perversion" of the system)?

Just as the nation-state is a necessary component of the global capitalist system, and efforts to effect change through the state result in further absorption into the system, the same can be said for the legal system. That is the one fatal flaw of the concept of "human rights" and associated organizations such as Amnesty International.

Troy Davis does not represent a perversion of a good system. He is not merely a posterboy for policy change (abolition of the death penalty). Instead, he represents the distopian society we live in.

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