If any of you are Facebook or Twitter users, you might have noticed a flurry of activity last week about a man named Troy Anthony Davis. Troy was an inmate on death row in Georgia for more than 20 years for the crime of killing a police officer in cold blood. I said Troy WAS an inmate because at 11:08 pm last Wednesday, he was executed after U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas denied Troy's last chance application for a stay of execution. Troy had submitted appeal after appeal, proclaiming his innocence even up until his final moments while on the gurney, about to be injected with the poison that would finally kill him. In that time, he also wished mercy would be given to his executioners and hoped that the real killer of the police officer he was convicted of murdering would be found. The state of Georgia believed they had found that man, and decided that justice would be best served by executing him. However, that night was not an example of this. If justice is a product of equitability, then the conviction and now murder of Troy Davis was anything but equitable.
Troy was convicted through, frankly, a sham trial. If you hadn't known, Troy was black and the cop he was convicted of killing was white, and no matter what some may say, racism has not disappeared from America. Throughout the course of the trial, there wasn't a single piece of physical evidence that could connect Troy to the murder. All that the trial was based upon was eyewitness testimony, which is suspected to had been fabricated due to police pressure and coercion. As of last week, seven of the nine original eyewitnesses recanted or changed their testimony, and believe it or not, one of the two remaining witnesses to not change their story was the other main suspect in the case. However, despite all of this, and the doubt that it would naturally elicit in anyone, the various appeals courts and boards did not grant clemency or at the very least another trial. And Justice Clarence Thomas ultimately was Troy's last hope. A hope that he, and the millions of others around the world who were struggling for justice in Troy's name, did not attain when it was needed most.
I feel a variety of emotions because of his death. I feel sadness for Troy and his family. I even feel sadness for the family of the slain police officer, as it more than likely may be true that the real murderer is still out there. I feel anger and contempt for those in positions of power who had the ability to prevent this travesty, but did not. I feel immense frustration at the fact that our system still implements the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment. It's cases like these that remind me why when I was a young teenager, I was so passionate about abolishing the death penalty. The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the exercise of any cruel and unusual punishment. State execution is undeniably cruel. And given the minority of nations we are a part of that still exercise capital punishment, I'd say it is most definitely unusual as well.
However, what I feel most of all is fear. Fear that I could be accused and convicted of a crime I did not commit, and sentenced to die for that crime, no matter how much I may proclaim my innocence. I can only barely imagine how that would feel. The frustration of knowing that no one is listening to you; the disbelief that would come about from trying to accept that they will kill you even though you did nothing wrong; the insanity you would experience when you're forced to face your own end. I'm not sure I would be able to face all of that. But from the stories I heard people tell about Troy Davis, as well as his own open letter, he showed himself to be a man who faced all of this and probably more, and yet found himself to be at peace with death. Largely so because he realized that his case, his struggle for justice, was about much more than just him. He realized that his fight was not unlike the fight of so many others around the world who are fighting their own injustices. And for one to know that even though your time on this earth may end, your fight will be remembered as a hallmark in the struggle for what's right, surely that would bring anyone the kind of peace one needs to face their own mortality. It certainly seemed to be the case for Troy.
So, on Wednesday, September 21st at 11:08 pm, justice became more than about a particular man's fight, it became an idea. An idea that says that all human beings are deserving of dignity and equitability. An idea fueled by the memory of a man whose personal struggle ultimately failed, but whose story will no doubt inspire others to commit to the realization of this idea, so that what happened last night can never happen again.
An idea that can best be summed up with the following phrase: We are all Troy Davis... and we are free!