Troy Davis, NYU, and our last day in New York

by undoingborders

Wednesday was a day of mixed emotions.  It was the day that Troy Davis was scheduled to be executed, and we spent the day anxious, watching for updates from the last-minute Supreme Court appeal, for updates from the appeal for clemency to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, for any hopeful news. 

Our last talk in New York was scheduled for 8pm at NYU.  As people packed into the room, we felt a similar anxiety across the crowd.  In the introductory remarks, one of our co-panelists shared an update that the Supreme Court had granted a temporary stay.  The relief was palpable.  There was applause, and then we started the panel.

Jackie Vimo—a professor of Political Science at CUNY and the New College and the advocacy coordinator for the New York Immigration Coalition—offered an amazing history of border enforcement from a queer lens.

Starting with the Page Law of 1875 (which barred contract laborers, felons and Asian women entering the US for “lewd and immoral purposes”) and the Immigration Act of 1891 (which introduced concept of deportation and banned the poor, sick, felons, polygamists, those convicted of “crimes involving moral turpitude” like sodomy and statutory sexual offenses and later prostitution), Jackie walked us through a history of US immigration and border enforcement that underlines the racialized, gendered, and classed nature of the system, its shifting exclusions over time, what makes a family, and what makes a “good” immigrant.

One law Jackie highlighted was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), passed in 1996.  AEDPA, which severely restricted the appeals process for people on death row, is a reason why Troy Davis had been denied his requests for a new trial.  This same law also removed existing legal processes for people facing deportation, and broadened which crimes could result in deportation, making it easier for the government to detain and deport people and harder for those same people to prove that they should be allowed to stay.

Oh, the many hands of our racialized system of control.

Also joining us on the panel was Hunter Jackson, from the Borderlands Collective, who spoke about the release of the Culture of Cruelty. Read more about the report in this blog post: https://undoingbordersblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/culture-of-cruelty-released-today/

Hunter emphasized the ways in which the report shows that human rights abuses in border patrol custody are not the result of a few bad agents or a few extreme cases.  They are systematic and intentional, part of a larger system that uses the abuse, mistreatment, and deaths of some migrants as a deterrent for others to cross.  This is a strategy that can only seem like an option when we have successfully stripped the humanity from those we seek to control.  When we have made complicated, multi-faceted people into one simple thing:  the embodiment of one illegal act—the crossing of a border with out permission from the US government.  When we have turned people into illegals.

And despite our initial relief at the announcement that Troy Davis was granted a temporary stay, we woke up the next morning to the news that he had been executed.  Again, we are reminded of what is possible when people are transformed into something less than human.  When a man becomes simply a criminal.  When being black in America means a reduction, as Kenyon Farrow writes, to criminality.

Here are some good articles and thoughts on the context around Troy Davis’s death:

Remarks at Troy Davis Memorial in NYC, by Kenyon Farrow

Troy Davis and the Liberal Politics of Executions by TJ at Bring the Ruckus

An article about Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s talk at the University of Chicago:  After Troy Davis: End the Death Penalty or End the Prison Industrial Complex? by Rebecca Burns

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