Am I Troy Davis?

Troy Davis, 10/9/1968 - 9/21/2011

I’m not sure if it was lucky or prophetic that I found Committed’s first CD release at Wal-Mart on the night of Tuesday, September 20….amidst a number of cover songs (including the ironically place “September” from Earth, Wind and Fire) was an original track entitled “Break Free”:

This past weekend as he was laid to rest, and for the last few weeks prior I had been thinking tangentially about the Troy Davis case and the State of Georgia’s push for his execution. I had signed and passed on whatever letters and petitions asked of me and skimmed over the latest articles regarding recanted testimony and lingering doubt from those presiding over the case. I noted in passing the national and international media attention given to the case and the vigils hoping for a stay to be granted. As time ran out and the execution loomed near, I found myself dwelling on this one song.

To the end of his legal options, to the end of his life, Troy Davis maintained his innocence. For 20 years he fought what would amount to a losing battle for his earthly freedom. Yet in his final hours, he knew his freedom was won–if not through the state of Georgia, then through the state of Grace. His last words were not to plead for his own life but to plead for justice; to pray for those who would take his life and to move those in solidarity to continue the fight to abolish the death penalty. His case has raised awareness and activism regarding the American justice system and the death penalty.

Here are some facts about Davis’s case:

Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia, a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

A look at CNN’s reporting of the case:
CNN: A look back at Troy Davis’ trial

Davis was granted an audience with the Supreme Court; it was hoped that the case would be reviewed–the evidence (or lack of) re-examined and a retrial with a jury of his peers granted. Instead:

When the Supreme Court heard the evidence, they understood that there were many more questions to be answered. But instead of granting Troy Davis a trial where his peers could decide his fate, he was forced to face a single federal judge where the burden was on Troy to prove his innocence — the exact opposite presumption of a jury trial.

In hopes of exonerating Troy after 10 years of imprisonment, his lawyer submitted each piece of evidence at the hearing. And each piece of evidence was rejected by the judge. Despite noting that the case against Troy was not “ironclad,” he nevertheless refused to grant a new trial.

A jury trial would have made this issue moot. Reasonable doubt would have freed Troy Davis.

There are many prisoners with guilty verdicts and life sentences….why was this particular case a model for execution in the face of so much evidentiary doubt?

I have to wonder if I personally did enough. Sure I signed the petitions and passed them to the friends and family I thought would sign, I joined various Facebook groups to keep apprised of the case developments and frequently checked my email updates from the NAACP….but many others held protests and vigils, wrote letters of support to and for Troy, kept the case at the forefront of discussion as much as humanly possible. Not all were necessarily convinced of his innocence, but fought to preserve his life and right to prove his innocence. To quote my childhood friend Wendell Pierce, “I’m not saying that he’s innocent, but there is doubt that he’s guilty.” I realize that even though this case did not directly touch my life, the implications of it and the justice system’s imbalanced treatment of people of color should well be my concern. I noted this quote among one of the email sent to me from the NAACP:

Right now we have two options. We can admit defeat and accept that some things are too big to change. Or we can stand behind our brother, like the NAACP has done for generations, and demand justice.

I admit to that thinking–I had hoped my small contributions would make an impact and sway the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, but doubted that it would change anything. Their denial of clemency was proof enough to the cynic in me that my voice meant little to the bigger picture, and I simply prayed for Troy and his family.

So on the nights of September 20 and September 21, 2011, I listened to my Committed CD, particularly “Break Free” on repeat. I imagine that the words of the song were the essence of the final thoughts and sense of peace Troy held to in his final hours. Watching the video, it’s eerie how much the imagery makes me think more and more of him. Unintentionally, Committed has recorded the rally cry for Troy Davis…at least to my mind. I may never have to live through the experience of a loved one wrongfully convicted and executed–Lord willing, I never will. But there is someone out there who has and is living through this, and given different circumstances, it COULD be me.

AM I Troy Davis?

There but for the grace of God….

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