WHO IS TROY DAVIS?
That’s what I thought when I first received the e-mail from Change.org. I belong to the online, social group which uses technology to affect change but allowing ordinary citizens and institutions to conduct quick and easy petition drives on line. I had signed my name (and e-mail) to plenty of Change.org’s causes from trying to stop retailers from using child labor to keeping an Iraqi veteran from getting kicked out of his home. But when the petition to stay Troy Davis’ execution came around…well, I hesitated. I looked at his bookish face, his large round glasses making him look particularly owlish and nerdy. I glanced at the e-mail laying out the facts of the case, and thought, “He doesn’t look like a killer.” Yet I hesitated. I believe a fair justice system is a cornerstone of any democracy. If you do not have trials, courts, judges, juries, and yes lawyers, all working to ensure people get a fair shake when it comes to capital crimes then we all can’t sleep at night. Justice is a pillar that cannot be avoided, diluted or forgotten in the creation of a democracy. Without it we all perish. But being a black woman living in Chicago I also know that justice ain’t always fair. I know I get stopped by cops for things that my fairer skinned friends would never get stopped for. I’ve been followed by undercover cops, given frivolous tickets when my car was parked in the wrong neighborhood, looked at strangely by gun-toting authority figures all my life. It’s nothing new. Like an Arab passing through an Israeli check point I know from profiling. So it is no surprise that coming from a city where a police commander used his entire precinct to conduct arbitrary torture on innocent men that I believe not all is what it seems in America’s criminal court rooms. But even so I hesitated… Signing a petition to stay Troy Davis’ execution to me amounted to believing he was innocent. And without reading the facts of the case I couldn’t go there. From the bits and pieces I can gather online Troy Davis was far from innocent. Yet he wasn’t exactly devoid of goodness either. A troubled young man who rarely excelled in school he was said to drop out of high school so he could attend to the needs of his special needs sister. A man his boss describes as “likeable,” and a “good worker,” also had a spotty attendance record and finally just stop showing up. From all accounts Troy Davis seemed a bit flaky as well as menacing, having been caught with a concealed weapon. Troy Davis was no boy scout and on that fateful night in August 1989 when a homeless man was taking his licks for not giving up his beer Davis was there. Now what happened afterwards, well that remains cloudy. Witnesses say Davis pistol-whipped the homeless man and then shot a good Samaritan who intervened. The Samaritan happened to be a white off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, the father of a toddler and infant son and former Army Ranger. On paper Mark MacPhail had everything to live for and it seems Troy Davis had nothing for which to die for. Yet, 12 years later that’s exactly what he did, he died. To be honest Troy Davis did not die. He was killed. Some would say murdered, but nevertheless as sure as Mark MacPhail was shot Troy Davis was also killed. He was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. Wednesday, September 21. After three official postponements and a couple of last-minute stays, the state of Georgia push lethal drugs into Troy Davis system and killed him. His death was mourned by the hundreds who stood vigil outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison. Thanks to efforts by Amnesty International, the NAACP and a host of left-wing, liberal organizations and celebs (Jimmy Carter) Troy Davis may be dead but his name will be immortal. He will forever remain the face of what many in America see as a corrupt, morally bankrupt justice system that executes the innocent and protects the guilty. (I’m in awe that not one person responsible for the economic collapse that plunged us into a recession has even seen the inside of a jail cell.) There are only two people who know what really happened that night – the killer and the victim and one’s not talking and the other can’t speak. But the injustice lies not in Troy Davis’ clouded innocence or guilt but in the fact that the state feels that it kosher to murder its citizens. The death penalty is an archaic, barbaric throw back to a lazy society that says “Shoot first and let God sort ’em out.” It is a form of punishment that connects to our lowest common denominator. It is our public shame imprinted upon the lives and insanely antiseptic deaths of those who lose their lives to such a practice. I do not believe that a state that willfully kills its citizens – no matter their guilt or innocence – is a state that understands democracy. Forget the question of whether the death penalty deters crime ( if our states weren’t so lazy in addressing the root causes of crime would we even have to have this conversation?) never mind the debate over the cost of housing inmates for life…the death penalty does not belong in a civil society. It does not belong in a realm where humanity exists because humanity will always, always make mistakes. I’m not bleeding heart liberal, I believe the criminal justice system is there to punish not coddle, yet I find it difficult to stomach the idea that the state can willfully take someone’s life and many people feel fine with that fact. My mother used to always say that before you fight adamantly against something try putting the shoe on the other foot and see if you would still fight against it. I used to be a death penalty advocate. But I have more than 139 reasons to change my mind. That’s how many death row inmates in the United States have been exonerated and released. Only God can win at this life and death game. We, as humans are just to prone to our fragility. Who is Troy Davis? We all could be if we let our nation kill its people.