Trying to save Troy Davis

So much news, so little time. I try to keep up, but I also work, blog, write books, and run a household. I confess, there are stories that pass me by.

Troy Davis’s story was one of those. Yesterday, his name meant nothing to me. If I’d seen it in a headline, I’d passed it by. If I’d received a petition from change.org, I’d deleted it. I sign so many; I can’t sign them all.

But today, the day of his death, Troy Davis’s name began to appear in my Twitter feed: so insistently, tweeted by so many people I’ve come to respect (yes, even though I’ve never met them), that I set work aside for long enough to research his story.

I’ve never believed in the death penalty. I was raised in the Methodist church, and I saw no clause appended to “Thou shalt not kill” along the lines of “except if the state decides it wants to.” In Davis’s case, when so much doubt had been cast on his guilt, execution seemed especially pointless and repugnant.

Eight hours ago as I write this, I reposted a Davis tweet by comedian Bill Bailey. And then I began to tweet as well, adding my voice to the thousands who wrote with the hashtags #troydavis and #thewholeworldiswatching, about a man we’d never met, a man I’d never heard of until this afternoon.

Six hours ago, we got word of a stay of execution. Five hours ago, I signed a petition from change.org and then logged off Twitter to have my evening meal. By the time I got online again, an hour ago, Georgia had killed Troy Davis. They did this, I suppose, to demonstrate that it’s wrong to kill people. Georgia: WE KNOW.

I’ve been thinking about all those tweets. Why did we write them? What was the point? Did we really think we’d make a difference? Did I believe I could sway the Powers That Be in the Peachtree State with my tweet, “You’re still on my mind, Georgia,” even with the link to Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind”?

Once upon a time, when I was still a Methodist, I would have prayed. Maybe that’s what we were doing. Every tweet a prayer for justice, for reason, for the quality of mercy that is not strained, but droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.

No mercy fell like gentle rain in Georgia tonight. No justice was done to Troy Davis. In all likelihood, no justice was done to murdered policeman Mark MacPhail either. If Troy Davis was innocent, then Officer MacPhail’s murderer is still free, or had the unearned privilege of dying free.

No justice was done tonight, but you don’t stick around on Twitter unless you believe in the power of words. You don’t become a writer unless you believe in the power of words. Our words, our tweets, our prayers, all failed to save Troy Davis. But perhaps they can save someone else.

I’m still thinking of ways, but one has already occurred to me. If you were planning or might in the future plan a vacation in Georgia, and if you’re so moved, may I suggest that you change your destination, and go instead to one of the states that has abolished the death penalty. And then write to the Georgia Tourist Board and tell them why. Two words will do.

Troy Davis.

Photograph: By World Coalition Against the Death Penalty from Paris, France (Paris Die-in, July 2, 2008) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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