Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections on the Death of Troy Davis

As I write this, there's a funeral going on that should not have been necessary.  I have the live stream of the celebration of Troy Davis' life on in the background, and this is what is going through my mind.

Since Davis was put to death on September 21, two other men have been executed in the USA, not counting Lawrence Brewer of Texas, who was also executed on September 21, a few hours before Davis' death.  Other executions were scheduled for this period of time, but most of them have been stayed.

I keep thinking that maybe the great amount of attention paid to Davis' case may have helped to send him to his death this time; it seems to me like the state of Georgia didn't want to be seen to be bowing to public pressure.  Certainly the people involved in the decision not to issue a stay of execution wanted to be seen as being "tough on crime" and if I had been a gambling woman, I'd have bet that at least some of them reasoned that he'd had twenty-two years to prove his innocence, and if any of them had any feelings of guilt about their decision to allow the state of Georgia to take this man's life, the fact that he was unable to prove his innocence in court must have assuaged them.  Never mind that the odds were stacked so overwhelmingly against him.  Never mind that he was a black man accused of murdering a white man, a situation which more often ends with capital punishment than white men accused of murdering black men.  (Though somewhat ironically, on the same night in which Davis died, Lawrence Brewer of Texas actually was executed a few hours earlier for having brutally murdered James Byrd, Jr., a black man.)  Never mind the fact that seven of the nine eyewitnesses whose testimony convicted Davis have since recanted or significantly changed their version of the events of that terrible night.  Never mind the allegations of police misconduct during the investigation of the case, in which some officers allegedly coerced some of these witnesses into identifying Davis as the perpetrator, including one person who signed a statement that he hadn't read because he is functionally illiterate.  Never mind that there was never any evidence found that actually linked Troy Davis to the scene of the murder.  Never mind that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.  And never mind that one of the people who didn't recant their testimony, Sylvester Coles, was also a suspect in the murder investigation and is alleged to have issued death threats to a person who claims to have heard him confess to murdering Mark MacPhail.

This has been a terrible injustice for so many reasons.  I believe that nobody has the right to take another human's life, except in cases of self-defence; the premeditated death of any other human being is a terrible thing, whether it's a murderer or a judicial system who's planning to kill someone.  A horrific crime, no matter how appalling, is not an excuse to perpetrate an equally horrific crime.  Capital punishment isn't justice.  It's vengeance thinly disguised as justice.  Justice will never be served by committing injustice.  All this can do is unleash yet another evil on the world.

I will always be in great awe of Martina Correia, Troy Davis' sister who so courageously and tirelessly fought for his life even while fighting cancer.  Her strength and her determination are so far beyond inspirational...that she was able to keep her brother alive for so long is a miracle, and a testament to what can be done with enough determination.

On the night of the execution, when word came that Davis was dead, two hymns came to mind, both of which my church choir often sings when we've been asked to provide music for funerals.  One is actually a prayer known as the Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen."  And the other, an Easter hymn, called "All Shall Be Well":

All shall be well!  For on our Easter skies,
See Christ the sun of righteousness arise.

All shall be well!  The sacrifice is made,
The sinner freed, the price of pardon paid.

All shall be well!  The cross and passion past,
Dark night is done, bright morning come at last.

All shall be well!  Lift every voice on high;
"Death has no more dominion, but shall die."

Jesus alive!  Rejoice and sing again:
All shall be well for evermore, Amen!

I suspect that "All Shall Be Well" will always remind me of Troy Davis from now on.  I pray for those who knew and loved him, that they may be comforted in this difficult time.  And I hope and pray for the day when the death penalty will be abolished once and for all across the world.  We should so be beyond this brutality by now.


  1. Thanks for posting about this. Troy Davis' "execution" (re: Murder by legalized lynching) was something I was extremely upset by. I wrote him in prison twice and actually got letters back. I hope this does not go forgotten and that it turns the tide.

  2. I hope so, too. If there's one bright spot to be seen in this whole tragic situation, it's that there's been a huge raising of consciousness about the injustice and brutality of the death penalty, especially when it can so arbitrarily be handed out. Still, I wish that it hadn't come at the cost of his life.