Ten years ago today, September 21, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis.
In 1991 a jury sentenced Davis to death for the August 19, 1989, murder of
Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot.
Without a weapon or any physical evidence, prosecutors relied largely on
eyewitness testimony to persuade a jury that Davis was the killer.
Years later, seven witnesses recanted. By then, Congress had voted to bring an end to “frivolous” death row appeals on legislation later signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.
In 2008, I interviewed Troy Davis. I met his family. I wrote a story for Amnesty magazine. More than facts and witnesses and evidence, I wrote:
his fate has turned on the sociopolitical ebbs and
flows in Savannah and across the nation—distant and remote though they
seem to him.
To many people Troy Davis awakened their consciousness about the death penalty and criminal justice. Time would have us forget that back then, his family keep faith and heads held high even as their community sometimes shunned them.
“If African American political leaders had stepped up, it would have made aMartina Correira, 41, Davis’ sister
difference. They would have got a lot of black people to listen, and they are
voters. White people came out and said what they had to say: ‘Hang’em high
and kill him.’ Black people didn’t do anything about it.”
And every year since his execution, I pause. I think about the many ways that, from my current standpoint, I would have written the piece differently. I think about what I know now that I didn’t then. This is not a self-indulgent exercise. It’s a reminder that while we, as a society, imagine or resist change, while we debate social issues, human lives are being decided, and some will lost forever.
The online version of the magazine piece can be downloaded here.