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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7 thoughts on “Trying to save Troy Davis

  1. Hi Rhiannon —

    Beautiful sentiment; beautifully written.

    The execution of Mr. Troy Davis sickened me — literally. I kept hoping for a miracle as I checked the Internet every few minutes. Last night I went to bed telling my husband, “Ill never step foot in the State of GA again.”

    This morning I flipped open the San Jose Mercury News. On the left side of Page 3 was the horrifying story about Mr. Davis’ last conversation. I couldn’t get past Paragraph 3.

    I felt America should be weeping for this man — and our country that allowed his NOT “justice for all” fate.

    Then I scanned to the right side of Page 3 and saw another article: “Texan executed for ’98 dragging death.” The State of Texas put to death a white supremacist gang member — who had dragged to death a black man, Mr. James Byrd, Jr. — chained to the back of his truck.

    I remember this story clearly. I was as horrified then as I was recalling it now. I couldn’t get past Paragraph 2.

    Except this time I thought, “Good!”

    Then, like you, I thought about my religious upbringing (Catholic as a little kid turned to my own brand of Bible-centered spirituality minus the legalism). I flashed on a hymn, “All is Well with My Soul.”

    I was repulsed by the death of Mr.Davis and was glad about the death of the other guy. I realized all is not well with my soul.

    You can’t have it both ways. Like the State of GA, that makes me part of the problem.

    Like you said, the answer has to be: “Thou shall not kill.” Period.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I agree with you about the power of words.

    Write on!

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Toni. I’ve also had that visceral “wish he were dead” (or “glad he’s dead”) feeling. When there’s no death penalty, one is still entitled to those feelings, but the system of justice rises above them and the state helps to show that killing is wrong by the simple act of not killing. Let’s hope someday this will be true in every state in the union.

  3. Nicely and eloquently put Rhiannon. I feel such a mixture of grief and desire to console his family, utter outrage, and maybe most of all, the day after, energy to make the death penalty what it should be — a relic of less humane times. Not one more Troy Davis.

  4. It’s funny how people make a big deal about this the “day of” yet he’s been sitting in a cell for 20+ years waiting to get the needle. How many people even knew about this 5 days ago?

    Troy Davis was convicted. There is nothing anyone can do so we all might as well stfu.

  5. That’s the point I’m making, Jimblogger: that tens of thousands of people were moved by compassion and a sense of justice to care about a man they’d never met and had probably not heard of until a few days before his execution, adding their voices to those of the people who’d worked on Davis’s behalf for 20 years. And though I understand the temptation, saying “shut the fuck up” isn’t an effective way of disagreeing with people. In this case, many of us have decided NOT to shut up until the U.S. joins the enlightened group of countries that have banned the death penalty.

  6. There’s an excellent West Wing episode about this. “On this Sabbath day” or something. President Bartlet is considering an appeal for clemency. As I recall, he asks Charlie Young if he would want the death penalty for the person who killed his mother. “No,” says Charlie. There’s a beat, to give us time to think about it. Then he says “I’d want to do it myself.”
    There’s a difference between wanting to kill somebody and actually doing it.

  7. Thanks, Lev. I remember that episode. Yes. Our desire for vengeance is understandable, but believe that a civilized society should administer justice without indulging them.

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