Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Monica Barrow of California and other protesters outside the Jackson State Prison react to news of the US Supreme Court appeal decision to refuse a stay of execution for Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 in Jackson, Georgia.   (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Troy Davis Executed, While CEO Responsible for Deaths of 29 Miners Sails Free

Mike Elk

 by In These Times

Last night at 11:08, Troy Anthony Davis was executed in the State of Georgia for the 1989 murder of a police officer. Much doubt existed in the case as seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony (one even claimed that an eighth murder witness was guilty) and no DNA or other physical evidence linked Davis to the crime.

Former FBI Director William Sessions wrote, “The evidence in this case—consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements—is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence.” Davis maintained his innocence up until his death, telling the family of the murdered police officer, “I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, brother.”

Last year on April 5, 29 miners died in a methane explosion caused by poor ventilation at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. A report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration ruled that the event that caused the explosion could have easily been prevented by Massey Energy, which was well aware of a long history of safety problems in the mine. In the year leading up to the explosion, the Upper Big Branch Mine was cited 458 times for safety violations, with 50 of those violations being willful violations of the law—nearly five times the national average for citations of a single mine.

An investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration also revealed that Massey kept two sets of books—it recorded a clean safety record in one log book, which it provided to mine inspectors, while maintaining a private, internal log of known safety problems and the efforts made to fix them.

Despite this evidence of the willful violation of safety laws that could have prevented the miners' deaths at Upper Big Branch, and despite evidence of widespread lying to federal investigators by Massey officials, CEO Don Blankenship is a free man allowed to enjoy the splendorous life of a multi-millionaire.

Only two Massey Energy officials, one foreman and one former chief of security, have so far been indicted—not for their responsibility in the deaths, but for lying and concealing documents from federal investigators. Another 18 executives, including longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, refused to be interviewed by federal investigators, pleading the Fifth Amendment as protection from self-incrimination.

Even if company officials like Blankenship are prosecuted, it is unlikely that any will do jail time. Since 1970 more than 360,000 workers have died on the job in safety accidents, while only 84 cases have been prosecuted for the willful violation of safety rules that resulted in a worker's death. Even if convicted, the penalty for wrongfully killing a worker on the job is only 6 months. Quite often company officials are not jailed, but merely fined if found responsible for willfully violating safety laws that lead to a worker's death. The maximum penalty for a major safety violation is a mere $7,000—a price many companies are willing to pay for the death of a worker on the job. In 2010 alone, 4,547 Americans were killed on the job.

While many right-wing politicians, such as GOP presidential contender Rick Perry, will use the execution of Troy Davis to affirm their support for tough penalties for those convicted of killing people, few will say anything about the workers who are killed by corporations in preventable work accidents every year. But as easy as it would be to say that the issue of innocent men being killed is ignored by Republican politicians, the Democrats aren't much better.

President Barack Obama refused to issue a statement on the execution of Troy Davis; likewise, he refused to move steadfastly earlier this year to implement a revision to federal law that would prevent children as young as 12 from operating potentially deadly farm equipment. (Minors working in agriculture are six times more likely to be killed in accidents than minors working in other industries.)

After three years of efforts, the Department of Labor, about a year ago, finally issued an internal proposal to revise federal law to prevent minors from working in dangerous farm occupations. Typically, rules like this are supposed to be reviewed within 90 days of their proposal to allow for quick implementation, especially rules related to life-and-death safety rules. But under heavy industry opposition, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget held up the rules in review for nearly nine months—an “unnecessary delay,” according to Justin Feldman of Public Citizens’ Worker and Public Health Safety Advocate.

While big agriculture was busy unnecessarily delaying these rules, two 14 year old girls were electrocuted to death working on a farm in Illinois. Finally, only after the deaths of these two children and public protest from worker safety advocates, the OMB allowed the Department of Labor to take its next step.

Power and influence have clearly distorted the scales of the justice system when men like Troy Davis are executed in the face of questionable evidence of their guilt, while corporate CEOs like Don Blankenship, who evidence shows clearly and willfully disobeyed safety laws that caused the deaths of 29 workers, are allowed to go about sailing on their yachts.

I only wonder what would have been the Supreme Court's reaction to a request for stay of execution, had the petitioner been a rich white man named Don Blankenship instead of a poor black man named Troy Davis.

© 2021 In These Times

Mike Elk

Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine. 

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

AOC Slams Conservative Dems Who Would Rather Skip Town Than Vote to Extend Eviction Ban

"We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have the majority."

Jake Johnson ·

'A Devastating Failure': Eviction Ban Expires as House Goes on Vacation and Biden Refuses to Act

"We’re now in an eviction emergency," said Rep. Cori Bush. "Eleven million are now at risk of losing their homes at any moment. The House needs to reconvene and put an end to this crisis."

Jake Johnson ·

With Election Days Away, Bernie Sanders Headlines Get-Out-the-Vote Rally for Nina Turner

In his keynote speech, Sanders said corporate interests are pulling out all the stops to defeat Turner because "they know that when she is elected, she is going to stand up and take them on in the fight for justice."

Jake Johnson ·

Bush, Pressley, and Omar Sleep Outside Capitol to Demand Extension of Eviction Moratorium

Rep. Cori Bush, who was formerly unhoused, slammed her Democratic colleagues who "chose to go on vacation early today rather than staying to vote to keep people in their homes."

Jake Johnson ·

As Progressives Call for End to Blockade, Biden Announces More Sanctions Against Cuba

The move comes after Democratic leadership in the House blocked an amendment to roll back limits on how much money people in the United States can send to family on the island nation.

Jessica Corbett ·