This morning upon hearing the news that Troy Davis was killed, my heart filled with sadness. I was not surprised. My gut told me that he would, in fact, be killed this time. The slight delay last night, I surmised, would be just that, a delay. As I walked on the subway platform, headed to work, I was struck with the same feeling that I had the day after I learned that a close friend had died. My world had changed completely, so why was the rest of the world still going on, as if nothing. As if nothing, at all, had changed. This is how I felt walking down the subway platform. I looked at the various people on the platform and wondered – do you even know about it? Do you care? I looked at the young mothers and thought, she doesn’t have time to care. I looked at the Young Black Males and thought, this could be you.
When I first heard about the Troy Davis case, I purposefully did not read any of the news reports. I knew that I would get too upset. Eventually, when I did start to read the news reports, my training as a lawyer told me I had to go directly to the source. So, I looked up the decision made by the District Court in Savannah. This was the decision made after the United States Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court for an Evidentiary Hearing.
Whether one is for or against the death penalty, reading the court documents in the Troy Davis case is eye-opening, somewhat shocking and maddening. The mass of people in support of Troy Davis were not, necessarily, saying that he was innocent. What many of us were saying is that there was too much doubt as to whether or not he was innocent. The usage of the death penalty, if it must be used, should clearly only be used when there is no doubt whatsoever as to the convicted persons guilt.
Troy Davis’ case was based on eye-witness testimony. The majority of the eye-witnesses had been drinking (and perhaps using drugs.) The descriptions given of the shooter varied greatly. (The estimated height range of the shooter was between five feet and six feet.) The incident took place at night with at least one eye witness admitting that she is near-sighted and “could not remember whether she was wearing her glasses” that night. There were major discrepancies between statements taken by the police and testimony at trial. (With many of the eye-witnesses later saying their police statements were coerced and/or written by the police.)
The unreliability of eye witness testimony has been proven many times over. The fact that the “justice” system is inherently racist has been demonstrated many times over. The fact that a common description for alleged criminals is “young, black, male” is a problem. Please believe me when I tell you that Troy Davis is representative of the entire justice system in this country. And this is why we should all care.
Let’s imagine that Troy Davis was Asian. It wouldn’t be much different really. The description would be “young, Asian, male.” Not very descriptive at all. We’ve all heard that we all look alike. Same for blacks. You know what, for many people this is, pathetically, true. So how outraged would you be if your son, or your husband, or your boyfriend, or your father, was to be put to death based on a trial that consisted almost solely of eye-witness testimony as the evidence. Eye-witnesses who said, they weren’t really sure what the shooter looked like but that he was somewhere between five and six feet, with black hair and almond-shaped eyes. That describes almost the entire Asian population!
The point, here, is that the travesty of Troy Davis is that he was not just one man. He represents every person in this country who has been denied justice, who has been wronged – and those who are yet to be denied justice.
In my sadness over all of this I can not help but to think of the family of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The family said they had suffered for 22 years and they wanted closure. There is no doubt that they have suffered. I wonder, do they feel closure today? I wonder, does Mark MacPhail’s spirit rest peacefully now knowing that, perhaps, an innocent man was put to death over his killing? My heart says no. My heart says Mark MacPhail’s spirit is as sad as I am today.
Today, and everyday, I am Troy Davis…and so are you.