Monday, March 17, 2008

The life of Troy Davis

I am on the Amnesty International email list for various concerns, including this kind, the death penalty. I won't recap the macro-arguments against it, as I'm sure anyone reading this will be familiar with them. I wish to concentrate on Mr. Davis, who has been sentenced to die, despite local and national support for him.

Mr. Davis is sentenced to die for the death of a police officer, Mark Allen MacPhail, at a Burger King in Savannah. There's a little problem with it, though; actually, there are several.

There is no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, including the lack of a murder weapon. None. Period.

The other problem is that out of nine witness, seven recanted utterly, and one of the other two was the prime suspect. Two of the seven who recanted came forward with affidavits swearing that they were coerced by police officers into testifying against Davis.

The last problem is the most troubling and the most likely of the reasons for Davis to have been railroaded. Mr Davis is black.

Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

Mr Davis is black, and despite the fact that he was slated to go into the Marines, despite the fact that he was a Police Athletic League coach and ostensibly doing everything he had to do in order to be a 'good' member of society, he was still both black and convenient. In the rush to blame and convict a cop killer, Davis ended up on death row before anyone had time to do much but say 'huh?' Davis appealed the verdict in 2004 and today, using the seven recanted testimonies as well as the affidavits sworn by the two bullied witness. These affidavits also implicate the prime suspect, one of the witnesses who has not recanted. Davis was turned down both times on technicalities pertaining to jurisdiction and is now waiting for another execution date.

Davis has been on death row for 16 years.

Much can be said of a nation based on how those who need help are treated. And Davis needs our help. There are many things going wrong in this election season, many things which distract us and frustrate us and make us fixate on the things immediately around us or so far outside our reach we feel helpless to change them. As a nation, we are frightened for our futures. We are scared for the people we love, for our next meal. We are afraid for our homes and bank accounts.

But there is a bright side to these uncertainties: in great uncertainty, there is great opportunity for change. We can shape our future out of the uncertainty of right now.

What kind of nation are we? We have been a nation with great moments and great people, from casual kindness to strangers in donations of money and time, donations to countries in need because we wished a stranger on another continent well. We have been changed by fiery speeches and sermons which motivate us to care for one another, to stride into the future shouldering the burden of equality and hope. And it is a burden, a work that is difficult to accomplish. We have been people, individual people who have decided to make the world around us a better place. We have had many reasons to be proud.

We have also been a nation of shameful secrets, of torture and war, of lynchings and the execution of men who were clearly innocent, simply because we said we would, or to fulfill the appearance of being interested in justice. Is justice what you can call this convenient execution? We have been a nation more interested in the appearance of being right than of doing what it takes to be right because we were tired, or we felt overwhelmed, or we were wounded and afraid, threatened by a loss.

But this can change. Today, right now, this can change. Do not listen to the voice of cynicism which tells you to be complacent, that nothing will ever change and we will soldier on into a bleak future. Do not ever listen to the voice which whispers that the death of a few will not affect the lives of the many. Do not live in the comfort of knowing that you will not be affected, because it is a lie. Do not listen to the voice of fear which tells you that you should not even try to change your lives, that nothing means anything, anymore. Do not retreat, pulling your anonymity over your head.

This time of change, this tumult is an opportunity, and every single gesture you make brings us all closer to an America of equality and justice, or an America which continues to cannibalize the lives of LGBT people, of minorities, of the poor and middle class. This is an unprecedented time, in which it is possible to save a man's life with a sentence and a mouse click, without ever seeing him face to face. Justice may be served, made clear and within the reach of everyone, no matter their color, their sex, their preferences. It can be made clear by you and me and our commitment to the future. This is a time to stand up, as everything falls down due to greed, to apathy, to hopelessness and do every little thing you can to build a different kind of tomorrow.

I believe in this. I believe that we can change Troy's life, that these gestures and actions can change our own. I am sick to death of apathy and hopelessness. I am sick to death of watching people die for no reason, of watching the people around me drown in apathy and fear. I will not have it. I will not have you afraid to leave your homes, afraid to speak to one another. I will not have you paralyzed and weakened by those who would take advantage of you. I will not have Troy Davis executed over nothing. This cannot be allowed.

If you follow the link from the top of this post, you will come to the Amnesty International site on the death penalty. Davis' case is the top issue. I urge you, in the strongest way I know how, to begin making these gestures, to begin to stand up to the fear and the hopelessness and refuse to have it, both for your own sake and for his. We can be a nation of heroes without leaving our chairs and I yearn for it. I yearn to see us unafraid. But we have to do even little things, practicing one by one the actions which will free us. And what a thing to do, to try and save a man's life. We can be a nation of heroes, a nation of the great.

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