Monday, September 19th, 2011 my students and I read and discussed the Troy Davis case in class as a means of answering the central question: What role does society play in directing the government’s actions? As the students broke into groups and began to discuss the case amongst one another, I noticed there was a lot of sentiment around the fact that a human life would be taken first and foremost and the actual crime came up as an after thought. I heard many of my students begin to promote alternatives to the death penalty in clever, innocent and naïve ways. Someone said, “Maybe he can just stay in jail for the rest of his life and do community service the entire time he is there.” Someone else said, “Maybe he should just not get paid for the time he is in jail and all of the money he would earn should go to the family of the police officer he is accused of killing.” Throughout all of the conversations, none of the students advocated execution.
Tuesday, September 20th, 2011, so many of my students had taken it upon themselves to do outside research–they presented it to the class. Overwhelmingly, these researchers were male, but some of the female students participated as well. I immediately began to wonder about the legacy that Troy Davis would be leaving behind for other young African American males. I was walking to my car at about 8:15 PM when I received an email from Ben Jealous and NAACP stating that Troy Davis would refuse his last meal. By the time it has reached about 8:30 PM, I was driving down Central Park West near 98th Street, and I could not remove my mind from the thoughts that must have been weighing on Troy Davis’ mind as he had started the countdown on his life. And then I began to think about my own students and the daily countdowns they perform everyday. The mere thought of it all hurt my feelings so bad I tilted my head back as I drove to keep my tears from falling—I guess a part of me feeling the moisture against my face would take the optimism I still held that Troy Davis’ life would not succumb to murder by cocktail. The hardest part of it all was the whole idea of how my male students connected to this story as if they were having an out-of-body experience–as if they were Troy Davis. Indeed they are.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2011, there were final questions and desperation in my students’ eyes as they wondered if they could make one last plea to whomever was in charge of sparing the life of Mr. Davis. They didn’t stand alone; for, even I made a final desperate attempt to leave a message on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole publicist’s voice mail this morning at about 7:45 AM. The mail box was full. I did manage to get through to a phone clerk this morning who took my name and the city from which I was calling, though–when she realized how far I had called, her voice softened. The compassion in her voice told me we were in solidarity together. Going as far as solidarity would take me, I joined other concerned people around the gross injustice of the death penalty at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, NY as organized by April Silver of Akila Worksongs and activist Kevin Powell. Before going into the church, I sat in my car and listened to WBAI’s broadcast of Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. Every ounce of hope I could will into my body made my muscles tense up, my heart race, and thrusted my mind into turbo mode with the thought, I wish Justice Clarence Thomas and the Court would do the right thing. By the end of night and nearly home, the news that the Supreme Court had denied Mr. Davis’ stay felt like betrayal. It took me a while to get out of my car, but I did send a couple of Facebook and text messages just to get the word out. The responses I received were short. Staccato. Sad.
In the house I wanted to see television coverage, but a part of me was scared to see the images of Mr. Troy Davis and his eyes glaring at me like I had failed to hear his plea. To my dismay, the first thing I saw when I turned on the television was exactly that—Troy Davis’ eyes. Moments later, an official came to a silver microphone and matter-of-factly announced that Mr. Davis’ time of death was 11:08 PM. What I feel in my body at this very moment is a toxic sadness I can’t wait to pass. This is exactly why I am opposed to the death penalty.
While Mark MacPhail’s life is just as important, the murder of Troy Davis will not replace his loss—it won’t even bring his survivors sustainable happiness or comfort that justice is served. I know from firsthand experience. My father was killed in front of me, and in the case of my family and I, there was no doubt about the perpetrator of this awful crime. Despite the great loss of the first man in my life, erasure of the other contributor of my DNA, I have always known the death penalty is no equalizer of justice. And the overwhelming doubt in Troy Davis’ case further underscores my opposition. If not for anything more than the fact that Troy Davis’ cause of death is ‘homicide’ as listed on his death certificate, I am certain the death penalty can do without my consideration and support. The longer our nation continues to egregiously and erroneously attempt its hand at justice for the sake of immediate emotional gratification, the more morally eroded and politically polarized our nation will remain. The legacy of Troy Davis is about saving lives and teaching a nation how to do it undoubtedly.
For more information go to http://www.naacp.org
Well said, Zakiyyah! I am completely against the death penalty. Who are we to make a decision to take another person’s life? Is there no value on human life anymore? I’m extremely disappointed in the family of Mark MacPhail for staunchly advocating the death of another person after they themselves have lost so much. Furthermore, since there was SO MUCH DOUBT as to whether Mr. Davis was guilty, how can anyone truly stand by such a decision to kill a man? There were too many holes in the case, not enough evidence, recanted statements from 7 out of 9 witnesses and no murder weapon. How can anyone truly say the man is guilty when the “evidence” does not line up? I am befuddled and disheartened by the devaluation of human life. God is the Ultimate Judge and as I often pray, may His will be done. I pray that Troy Davis’ death was not in vain and that it be used as the perfect example of why we need to abolish the death penalty now!
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