We are still Troy Davis
IT’S DIFFICULT to mark the one-year anniversary of the execution of Troy Anthony Davis by the state of Georgia on September 21. Difficult for so many reasons.
It’s difficult to be reminded that he was executed despite overwhelming proof of his innocence. That he was executed even though nearly all of the witnesses who testified against him at his original trial came forward to say their testimony hadn’t been true. These witnesses were the overwhelming reason for Troy’s conviction in the first place, since no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. But all that had no bearing on his conviction or sentence, as far as the court system was concerned.
It’s difficult to remember just how unresponsive the state was to the cries for justice. Martina Correia, Troy’s incredible sister, who fought nonstop for his freedom, would often say that the system doesn’t care whether Troy is innocent or not, just whether legal procedures were followed correctly. That’s just sick—that the law can be about following procedure at the expense of justice.
Troy knew this all too well as he fought from inside the belly of the beast for 20 long years. “Georgia would rather kill me, an innocent man, that admit they made a mistake,” he once wrote.
It’s difficult to think that Troy never did win his freedom. Never got to be a free man, never got to spend time with his mom, who died shortly before Troy was executed. Never got to help take care of Martina, who was dying of cancer as she fought her determined struggle for Troy. He wasn’t able to be with her, or to help raise Martina’s only son DeJaun, after Martina succumbed to the cancer, only a month and a half after Troy’s execution.
It’s difficult to be reminded that struggle didn’t win that ending—that despite all our efforts, we lost.
But—and here’s the big but—it wasn’t all for naught. Because of the struggle for Troy, built up over years and years of small meetings and small efforts, this injustice that took place against a poor Black man in Georgia took on enormous proportions.
Millions of people in the U.S. and around the world were horrified to see Troy executed. They were horrified to see President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder—also African American, both of them—stand by and do nothing in the face of this injustice.
Our efforts fell short. We weren’t quite powerful enough to stop the machinery of death from moving forward. We weren’t powerful enough to make those who said they couldn’t do anything recognize that they could and should. But we came close. And we did more to expose the realities of the death penalty system than years of quiet work within in the courts.
As Troy was strapped to the execution gurney for hours, waiting on the Supreme Court to make its final decision in his case, I hope he was picturing all of the actions taking place for him around the world.
I do know that he and his sister would both be so proud of the people who have kept Troy’s name alive. Abolitionists all over the U.S. and the world will remember Troy on September 21—remember that the fight goes on. They would be heartened to know that activists were bringing the injustice that Troy suffered into the movements struggling for something better—like the woman at an Occupy Wall Street encampment who said, when asked her name, that she was “Troy Davis.”
That is the best way to press on—to let the injustice we mark on this day fuel our determination to stay the course and keep up the fight. We got you, Troy and Martina. We’ll keep holding you up.
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty will hold its annual convention on November 2-4 in Austin, Texas. Find out more here.
If you would like to support the Campaign, contribute to the Costella Cannon Fund, which helps bring former prisoners family members and murder victims' family members to the convention.