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Troy Davis and the death penalty: One year later

W.A.T.E.R. 17 Special to the AmNews | 9/27/2012, 2:12 p.m.
Troy Davis: Martyred to abolish capital punishment

On the first anniversary of the state-sponsored murder of Troy Anthony Davis in Georgia, some of his supporters and death penalty opponents held a vigil at Union Square as they continue to heighten awareness regarding the abolition of capital punishment.

"They killed the man, but that idea is not dead ... that we can live in a country that doesn't have so much racial injustice, and without the death penalty," Thenjiwe McHarris of Amnesty International USA optimistically projected.

Even though no physical or forensic evidence linked him to the Aug. 19, 1989, shooting of off-duty Savannah cop Mark MacPhail, Davis was convicted solely on eyewitnesses accounts.

"What his case shows is that it does not make sense to give the government power to execute, particularly when there's a possibility of innocence," indicated McHarris. "We lost the battle, but the war is not over."

Despite seven of the nine people who testified against him during trial later recanting their statements, along with overwhelming global opposition, he was still murdered last Sept. 21. Additionally, many are livid that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, both Black, remained silent throughout this travesty of justice.

"They insisted on executing an innocent man despite so much doubt around the case," said Troy's sister Kimberly Davis in a statement. "If those seven witnesses were credible enough to put my brother on death row, then why weren't they credible when they recanted?"

Although his case shined much-needed light on capital punishment, 36 men have been executed across the country since Davis' death.

"Troy came to represent everything that's wrong with the death penalty ... that it's racist, it's a system that disproportionally executes people of color, and is known to have killed innocent people," argues Lee Wengraf, an activist with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "There are well over 100 people who have been exonerated and freed."

While some agree that errors are part of life, others say Davis' murder was done deliberately to make a point.

"They communicated a very powerful statement on September 21," concurs McHarris. "That we have the power to execute, and your voices and mobilizations throughout the country will not stop us from carrying out what we decide to carry out."

Hundreds across America have noticed and taken action. Connecticut and Oregon have since made moves toward repealing the death penalty.

"Troy kinda symbolizes the major changes that are happening in this country, and the possibly of winning abolition too," confided Wengraf.

Having experienced the passing of their mother, Virginia, five months prior to Davis' execution, and also their sister Martina Correia two months afterwards, Kimberly Davis remains resilient. "We're still holding strong, campaigning to prove my brother's innocence and end the death penalty!" she said.

McHarris described similarities with Reggie Clemens' case before concluding, "In one of his last letters to supporters he said, 'I'm not the first Troy Davis, I won't be the last. The fight has to keep going. One day, whether it's in the physical form or the spiritual form, I'll be with you screaming ... I am Troy Davis and I am free!'"

Visit nodeathpenalty.org for more information.