Books for Understanding the Execution of Troy Davis

From the Harvard University Press Blog:

Last night, in the face of powerful reasons to doubt his guilt, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis. Since his initial conviction, seven of the nine witnesses have either changed or recanted their testimony. Some have said that they were coerced by police to testify against Davis. There’s reason to believe another man committed the murder for which Davis was convicted. Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions calling for a stay. Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, 51 members of Congress, Amnesty International, the Innocence Project, and even a former FBI Directorasked for clemency. But late last night the United States Supreme Court unanimously denied a stay, and Troy Davis was put to death.

What a terribly crass moment to think of hawking books. So forget about that. Nobody here is trying to sell you anything today. But moments like this, when power acts in inexplicable and indefensible ways, are also when we most need the knowledge that books can give. The case of Troy Davis puts us in mind of three books we’ve recently published, a trio that together help us to understand how we’ve arrived at what feels so much like a miscarriage of justice.

The first is William J. Stuntz’s The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, which is looking more and more like the book that many of us have been waiting for. Stuntz, a leading legal scholar who passed away earlier this year, wrote the book in an attempt to help bring this large, multi-faceted issue into focus. The historians, economists, sociologists, and law professors who study crime, criminal justice, and the surrounding politics have had too little to say to each other, he wrote. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice tells the larger story by making the connections so as to better understand why our criminal justice system tolerates so much crime and produces so little justice, especially for poor people and for African Americans. It’s a big, complicated web that Stuntz was uniquely positioned to unravel. The justice system is broken in large part because it’s no longer driven by law, Stuntz found, but instead by the discretion of officials who no longer accurately represent the localities they’re appointed to serve. Discretionary justice too often amounts to discriminatory justice, where police are free to make choices and bend rules and prosecutors are free to pursue cases like the one against Troy Davis. We’ll have more to say about this immensely important book in the months ahead.

Read the rest here.


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