Kevin Powwell`s blog

Why Are We Killing Troy Davis?

“To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.”—DESMOND TUTU

Unless something God-like and miraculous happens, Troy Davis, 42, is going to be executed tomorrow, Wednesday, September 21, 2011, at 7pm, by lethal injection at a state prison in Jackson, Georgia.

Let me say up front I feel great sorrow for the family of Mark MacPhail, the police officer who was shot and murdered on August 19, 1989. I cannot imagine the profound pain they’ve shouldered for 22 angst-filled years, hoping, waiting, and praying for some semblance of justice. Officer MacPhail will never come back to life, his wife, his two children, and his mother will never see him again. Under that sort of emotional and spiritual duress, I can imagine why they are convinced Troy Davis is the murderer of their beloved son, husband, and father.

But, likewise, I feel great sorrow for Troy Davis and his family. I don’t know if Mr. Davis murdered Officer MacPhail or not. What I do know is that there is no DNA evidence linking him to the crime, that seven of nine witnesses have either recanted or contradicted their original testimonies tying him to the act, and that a gentleman named Sylvester “Redd” Coles is widely believed to be the actual triggerman. But no real case against Mr. Coles has ever been pursued.

So a man is going to be executed, murdered, in fact, under a dark cloud of doubt in a nation, ours, that has come to practice executions as effortlessly as we breath.

Be it Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas, and the 234 executions that have occurred under his watch (that fact was cheered loudly at a recent Republican debate), or the 152 executions when George W. Bush was governor of that state, we are a nation of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Spiraling so far out of control that we are going to execute someone who may actually be innocent tomorrow.

I say we because the blood of Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis will be on the hands of us all. We Americans who fail to use our individual and collective voices to deal with the ugliness in our society that leads to violence in the first place, be they for economic crimes or because some of us have simply been driven mad by the pressures of trying to exist in a world that often marginalizes or rejects us. Thus our solution for many problems often becomes force, or violence. But it has long since been proven that the death penalty or capital punishment is not a deterrent, contrary to some folks’ beliefs. Murders continue to happen every single day in America, as commonplace as apple pie, football, and Ford trucks.

I also say we because it is startling to me that Troy Davis could be on death row for twenty years, have his guilt be under tremendous doubt, yet save a few dedicated souls and organizations, there has not been a mass movement of support to save his life, to end the death penalty, not by well-meaning Black folks, not by well-meaning White folks, not by well-meaning folks of any stripe, and certainly not by influential Black folks who represent the corridors of power in places like Atlanta, with the exception of, say, Congressman John Lewis.

You wonder what the outcome of the parole board decision would have been if Black churches in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia, for example, had joined this cause to end the death penalty in America years back, if Black leaders had launched a sustained action much in the way their religious and spiritual foremothers and forefathers had done two generations before?

What could have been different if more Georgia ministers had the courage of Atlanta’s Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church once helmed by Dr. King? Dr. Warnock has been steadfast and outspoken, yet seemingly out there alone in his support of Troy Davis. I mean if there is ever a time for Black churches to practice a relevant ministry, as Dr. King once urged, is it not when a seeming injustice like the Troy Davis matter is right in front of our faces? When so many Black males are locked up in America’s prisons? What is the point, really, of having a “men’s ministry” at your church if it is not addressing one of the major problems of the 21st century, that of the Black male behind bars? Especially in a society, America, that incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth.

And you wonder how the five-person Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole that, paradoxically, includes two Black males, including the head of the board, must feel. Had it not been for past legal injustices, like the Scottsboro Boys case of the 1930s or the vicious killing of Emmett Till in the 1950s, there would not have been a Civil Rights Movement, nor the placement of Blacks in places to balance the scales of justice, like that Georgia Parole Board. While I certainly do not think any Black person should get a pass just because they are Black, I do think, if you are an aware Black man, somewhere in your psyche has to be some residual memory of Black males being lynched in America, of Black male after Black male being sent to jail, or given the death penalty, under often flimsy charges and evidence. If there is a reasonable doubt, keep the case open until there is ultimate certainty—

Finally, incredibly ironic and tragic that this is happening while our first Black president is sitting in the White House. We, America, like to pat ourselves on the back and say job well done whenever there is a shred of racial or social progress in our fair nation. But then we habitually figure out ways to take one, two, several steps back, with this Troy Davis execution, with the rise of the Tea Party and its thinly-veiled racial paranoia politics, to push America right back to the good old says of segregation, Jim Crow, brute hatred of those who are different, while social inequalities run rampant like rats in the night.

And if you think Troy Davis’ cause celebre has nothing to do with Jim Crow, then either you’ve not been to an American prison lately, or you simply are blind. I’ve been to many, across our country, and they are filled to the brim with mostly Black and Latino males (and some poor White males), including the majority of folks sitting on death row.

For sure, given my background of poverty, a single mother, an absent father, and violence and great economic despair in my childhood and teen years, but for the grace of God I could be one of those young Black or Latino males languishing in jail at this very moment. I could be, indeed, Troy Davis.

So I cannot simply view the Troy Davis case and execution as solely about the killing of Officer MacPhail. Yes, an injustice was done, a killing occurred, and I pray the truth really comes out one day.

But I am just as concerned about America’s soul, of the morality tales we are text-messaging to ourselves, to the world, as we move Troy Davis from his cell one last time, to that room where a needle will blast death into his veins, suck the air from his throat, snatch life from his eyes.

While the family of Mr. Davis and the family of Officer MacPhail converge, one final time, to witness a death in progress—

Now two men will be dead, Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis, linked, forever, by the misfortune of our confusion, stereotypes, finger-pointing, and history of passing judgment without having every shred of the facts. I am Officer MacPhail, I am Troy Davis, and so are you. And you. And you, too.

And as my mother would say, have mercy on us all, Lawd, for we know not what we do—

Kevin Powell is an activist and public speaker based in Brooklyn, New York. A nationally acclaimed writer, Kevin is also the author or editor of 10 books. His 11th, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: And Other Blogs and Essays, will be published January 2012. Email him at kevin_powell, or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell


16 Responses to “Why Are We Killing Troy Davis?”

  1. Jasmine says:

    your article is very uplifting and long over due nonetheless i enjoyed reading it and i agree that this an issue that needs to be addressed because we live in a society where a white man can murder various people and receives 2 or 3 life sentences! and give a death sentence to a black man… seriously who nees 530 years in jail? are they going to string his carcuss up after he dies and make his bones serve the remainder of the sentence??? we as a society have got to do better. We are not as evolved as a nation as we think we are.. and honestly being that these so called witnesses refuted and alternated their testmonies various times.. shouldn’t they be convicted of perjury?

  2. Eboni says:

    Get job Kevin. The article was just what I thought and felt. Noone will walk away today with justice if they think killing someone will ease the pain. Both families will be sadden because of a failed judicial system. I am Troy Davis. I am Officer MacPhail. I’m still keeping faith and praying. May God be with all of us.

  3. Sallome says:

    I woke up yesterday with the same paralyzing feeling I had when watching the news in 2005 as people I know waded through water in New Orleans. I’ve spent my young adult life educating myself about how best to educate our children; I have comrades that can give me stats on the prison industrial complex and the rate of incarceration of our youth. Many have been killed behind bars “on my watch.” And so I read this blog and think to myself, what could I have done, what can I still do that will impact whether or not this man’s life is spared? I was able to get out of bed in 2005 when I heard about a school that had been destroyed – I did a benefit concert. I will probably get out of bed when I get clear about what I can do now.

  4. deltasweetiepi says:

    There is so much conflicting and factual information surrounding this case. However at the end of the day whether he is executed or not, what will we walk away with? What will be learned? Can we save our youth who are surely on a path straight to hell where crimes are committed against their own and it is brushed under a rug. Where do we go from here as a people?

  5. dee dee says:

    Thank you Kevin for continuing to be a true soldier…We all have our battles to fight yet when it’s one that is partial to all of our freedom’s, justice… you would think we should all be in solidarity. I AM TROY DAVIS and I would die for him if I could. Fasting and praying. LOVE to you and all!

  6. Gabriel Milton says:

    While your article is a great read you left out one fact that has gone unnoticed. This is the State of Georgia. Outside of 285 you are in probably the most racist state in the union. A few years back a police officer pulled a man over on the express way for speeding drew his weapon, put it to a man’s head that was handcuffed and sitting on the side of the road pull the trigger and killed him. Yet NOTHING happened to the officer who was white and the man was black. You raise the question what would have happened if John Lewis or other people had gotten involved and I can tell you as someone who was born and raised in the state of Georgia if God almighty himself came down from the heavens and said don’t execute this man they would still do it.

    You spoke about the doubt in the case as far as the state and his wife are concerned there is no doubt that Troy Davis killed this cop. There have been several trials and all of the trials came up with the same result with the same witnesses I don’t know if he did it or not but as far as the State of Georgia and the family of the slain officer he did it and that’s enough for the State to execute this man.

  7. Freddue says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Nicole!!!

  8. Curtis says:

    -Nicole I agree with you’re comments about being all about black the same time I feel like we lost our way…so when I hear about the “old days” it saddened me, because I look around and we act as if nothing happened!!!!!no Martin,Malcolm or Huey….. just money/sex/and drugs . we need to be reminded of what our forefathers did for us!!!!! Good job kevin!!!! We keep doing the same we will get the same results .

  9. John Egan says:

    Kevin -

    Beautifully said.
    Sadly, it needs to repeated over and over.
    I will still hope.

  10. Alana says:

    This is absurd! He deserves to be free.

  11. Robin says:

    “Now two men will be dead, Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis, linked, forever, by the misfortune of our confusion, stereotypes, finger-pointing, and history of passing judgment without having every shred of the facts. I am Officer MacPhail, I am Troy Davis, and so are you. And you. And you, too.”
    Amen. Well-written, Kevin. And well-said.

  12. Annie says:

    In the defense of the Parole Board, they have access to something that we don’t, which is all of the available facts. There have been several courts that have looked at this case, and all have come to the same conclusion. I can’t help but feel that there is more than reasonable doubt, but I don’t have access to all of the information.

  13. Nicole says:

    I think it’s sad that in the light of a man dying that someone would focus on being black througout the whole article. Why don’t you tell us the facts of his case instead of what black americans did in the past and ponder on what would of been if this or that had happened. Unfortunately justice for Troy Davis was not served in this article either.

    • Adaobi says:

      Nicole, if you don’t see the historical reference, especially as it regards the treatment of blacks in the judicial system, has to do with this case, then I think you just need to remove yourself from the discussion of this topic–in general.

  14. Vasha says:

    You are right have mercy on us all. For me it does not matter if two black men were on the board it is still Georgia a state in the South with three other white people appointed by the governor. I may be bias, because I oppose the death penalty at all costs, so this is very disheartening for me. I just wish his family and the cop’s family well. I just can’t help but wonder like my daddy said recently about my sisiter, “What happened to forgiveness?”

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