It is Wednesday morning, my second work day of my four-day work week. I get to work at 10:18 – three minutes late for my first tutorial. I don’t worry for long as the student does not show. I will sit at my computer and log in stats and information pertaining to the
students who do show up for tutorials. When I am finished I will grade journalism quizzes. If my 11:15 tutorial doesn’t show I will put the finishing touches on an article I am putting together for my department newsletter. Later, during lunch I will complete an i-photo slide show putting text over two remaining images. I will wander to the next office and talk with co-workers. I will tutor any or all who come in today appointment or no. At the end of this day, I will gather my things and go home, pet my cats eat my dinner and sleep in my own bed. Such will be my day. But today is no ordinary Wednesday. This Wednesday Troy Davis is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Georgia.
I am saddened and angry that in the face of so much evidence to the contrary that the Georgia parole board would not stay Mr. Davis’s execution. According to the New York Times,
Seven of nine witnesses against Mr. Davis recanted after trial. Six said the police threatened them if they did not identify Mr. Davis. The man who first told the police that Mr. Davis was the shooter later confessed to the crime. There are other reasons to doubt Mr. Davis’s guilt: There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime introduced at trial, and new ballistics evidence broke the link between him and a previous shooting that provided the motive for his conviction.
I am no friend of the helplessness that grips me. I search for actions to be done; I sign a petition, a last ditch-effort to achieve justice for this man – a man who is seemingly quite sanguine about the events that now surround him. In the Times’ comments section, I come across a letter written by Mr. Davis expressing his gratitude for the outpouring of emotion in his favor.
From Troy Davis, Sept 10, 2011:
As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can’t even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail.
I cannot answer all of your letters but I do read them all, I cannot see you all but I can imagine your faces, I cannot hear you speak but your letters take me to the far reaches of the world, I cannot touch you physically but I feel your warmth everyday I exist.
So Thank you and remember I am in a place where execution can only destroy your physical form but because of my faith in God, my family and all of you I have been spiritually free for some time and no matter what happens in the days, weeks to come, this Movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.
I read this, fighting tears with every line and I wonder if I could be so sanguine in the face of death. Once, when I was 26 years old, I was faced with surgery and a 30 percent chance of survival. I sent the priest away from my hospital bed the night before feeling hypocritical for bo-hooing my young fate when I no longer believed in commercial religion. As I lay on the gurney minutes before the operation I cried at the thought of not seeing my niece and nephews again. And maybe this is what put the fight in me because when I awoke from the anesthesia I knew I did not want to die and if or when the time came I was going “kicking and screaming” and dragging any perpetrators along with me. So, no. I would not be so calm and I am in awe of Mr. Davis.
In his letter from death row, Troy Davis has done something “wonderful” for all those who would unquestioningly put him to death; with his sanguine honesty and faith he has absolved the executioner of guilt. The expediters of justice can say they are “just doing the job they are told to do.” It is an excuse for the ages; “Just doing my job” has been tossed about in tribunals worldwide. What is my job? Our job? It is a question for all of us who live comfortable and relatively free from the injustice that befalls the Troy Davis’ of the world.
I wonder too how this justice system has gotten so far from its original tenet of innocent until proven guilty. This system is not new. In fact, in 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision in the case Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432; 15 S. Ct. 394, traced the presumption of innocence, past England, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and, at least according to Greenleaf, to Deuteronomy (http://www.talkleft.com/story ).
A belief as ancient as the “presumption of innocence” should hold some weight – even in our misbegotten southern system of criminal justice. My fear is that this is another example of how we have fallen victim to the ravages of this country’s original sin – slavery. I base this on the southern propensity for executing African-American males. The stale idea that continues to get traction in racist minds is the presumption that African-American males are prone to violence. As recent as last week, in the case of African-American, Duane Buck, a psychologist’s sentencing testimony stating that Mr. Buck’s race increased the chances of future dangerousness, was deemed prejudicial enough to lead the Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. The trial took place in Texas – a state that holds the record in executions. That the state has no public defenders “for indigent defendants, and instead and relies upon court-appointed lawyers who likely do not have experience in capital murder defenses or appeals” is unconscionable. “ … incompetent defenses in capital murder cases are legion in Texas. One decision, which turned down a defendant’s habeas appeal due to bad lawyering, concluded that ‘”[t]he Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake”’ during trial proceedings” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/). The fact that a jury of one’s peers cannot be relied upon to render unbiased judgment is monumentally frightening.
It is my hope Troy Davis is not executed this evening and that justice will take off her blindfold and look at the strong presumption of innocence that surrounds this man. The New York Times calls the parole board’s “failure to commute Mr. Davis’s death sentence to life without parole was a tragic miscarriage of justice.” By the NYT’s own admission, all evidence points towards innocence – so a “life without parole” sentence is just as dead wrong as death. At best, Troy Davis needs to be set free. At worst – the man needs a new trial preferably in a new venue.
If we want to leave our children a better world then we have to get up and do our job – a job that includes protesting a very criminal justice system.