In just a few hours, if the state of Georgia has its way, Troy Davis will be dead.
Despite glaring doubt, extraordinary evidence of his innocence, and the support of millions worldwide calling for a halt to the execution, the state of Georgia is prepared to take the life of an innocent man at 7 p.m. in what can only be described as state-sponsored murder.
Troy, a 42 year-old Black man from Savannah, Georgia, has been on death row since his 1991 conviction for the killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. But his crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Racism and classism runs through nearly every aspect of Troy’s case. His crime was being the wrong color, from the wrong social class, and having the wrong amount of resources to afford adequate legal counsel.
Twenty years later, the state of Georgia is poised to commit the ultimate crime – it is preparing the gurney and the poison chemicals and making way for what can only be called a modern-day lynching.
The prospect of this heinous crime has sparked international outrage. Over a million people have signed petitions in support of Troy. Figures like Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, Republican death penalty supporter Bob Barr, former FBI director William Sessions, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have all called for the execution to be stopped. Thousands have protested around the world, with over 3,000 marching in Atlanta, Georgia last week alone. Today thousands more are protesting in cities worldwide, with international supporters demonstrating in front of U.S. embassies in Europe and beyond.
So why is the state of Georgia ready to kill a man who so many believe to be innocent?
Troy himself offered this explanation: “Georgia feels it's better to kill me than admit I'm innocent.” Indeed, considering that a person like Troy has come so close to death in spite of the evidence of his innocence, the state’s admission that it has had the wrong guy all along would be a massive blow to the image and integrity of the death penalty system in this country.
Troy’s conviction was based solely on eye-witness testimony that has been invalidated by the recantations of seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him in 1991. Police intimidation was used to coerce testimony against Troy. There is no physical evidence linking Troy to the crime. No murder weapon was ever found. What’s more, one woman has since come forward saying that she heard Sylvester “Redd” Coles, who was also at the scene of the crime, brag later on that he shot MacPhail. Coles is one of the witnesses who identified Troy as the shooter at the 1991 trial and Coles is one of only two witnesses who have not recanted their original testimony.
This is the fourth time Troy has faced an execution. Three previous executions were stayed after activist pressure and legal appeals forced Georgia to forgo administering the death penalty on Troy. This time, however, Troy has exhausted all of his appeals. On Monday his potentially last chance was lost when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Troy clemency.
But the world is not yet ready to give up on Troy. Last-ditch efforts include calls on the board to reverse its decision, pleas to District Attorney Larry Chisolm and Judge Penny Freesemann to withdraw the death warrant, and even unprecedented appeals to the medical staff handling the execution to refuse to participate and go on strike. And of course, the protests continue through the eleventh hour.
At a last-minute protest on Tuesday in Washington, DC, which drew a multiracial crowd of nearly 100 people, local activist and writer Dave Zirin channeled the anger felt by protesters in D.C. and around the world.
“There’s a time to mourn and there’s a time to be furious,” he said. “I’m not ready to mourn. I’m too furious right now.” Zirin and others pointed to the racism and anti-poor injustice that not only runs through Troy’s case, but through the entire death penalty and criminal justice system.
As another organizer from Amnesty International said to the crowd, “The only thing unique about Troy’s case is the number of people who are standing up for him right now.”
A few days earlier, activists and supporters converged at the same spot in D.C., marking the Global Day of Action for Troy Davis with a 200-strong protest organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Amnesty International. Protesters clogged the streets in the Columbia Heights neighborhood before marching to a nearby church for a rally.
Everyone hoped they would not have to return for another demonstration, and on Tuesday there was still a sense of disbelief among protesters that the parole board had denied Troy clemency. “What was the parole board even discussing? It’s beyond me,” said one demonstrator who works with deaf prisoners in the district.
Georgia’s decision to carry on with this legal lynching is indeed unconscionable in the 21st century. It call only be called pure barbarism. And it lays bare the true nature of the criminal justice system in the U.S. It is not a system that seeks real justice. Rather, it is a tool of bigotry and repression. The fact of the matter is that if Troy wasn’t Black, if he wasn’t poor, he wouldn’t be facing Georgia’s machinery of death today.
Troy himself knows that this case is bigger than him and he has spoken out against the cruel injustices that so many others like him have faced. This is not just a criminal justice issue. It is an issue of race and class. It is a human rights issue. And it is a working-class issue.
Troy has vowed to fight until his last moments against this outrageous injustice. Everyone who believes in social justice and basic fairness in our society must do the same. Call the parole board and tell them to reverse their decision. Call the DA and the judge and tell them to withdraw the death warrant. And call on the staff at Georgia Diagnostics & Classifications Prison in Jackson, Georgia and urge them to refuse to participate in this crime.
Today we are all Troy Davis. This fight for Troy and everything this case represents will not end tonight. No matter the outcome today, we must all fight this execution and this system of death – as Troy has – until we draw our last breath.