Last week, millions of us came together and changed the world.
Regular people, including readers of this newspaper, picked up the baton crafted by Frederick Douglass, Joel Spingarn, Ida B. Wells and other early civil and human rights leaders who campaigned to stop unjust executions and abolish the death penalty.
The more than 1 million petitions, letters and emails that we all helped send on behalf of Troy Davis put his case in the global spotlight.
Together, our collective action spurred pleas for a stay from people like Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI director William Sessions and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as demonstrations from Savannah to Atlanta to Dayton to Hong Kong.
But perhaps most importantly, we broke through the silence about the horror the death penalty represents. Together, our work brought about conversations in millions of American households, helping to change hearts and minds about capital punishment.
Now, we must all stay involved until we achieve the mission Troy gave each of us.
As Troy Davis-a second-generation NAACP activist-said so many times, “This movement began before I was born…it must continue and grow stronger…until we abolish the death penalty once and for all.”
Sept. 21, 2011, was a searing moment for all of us. Every failsafe failed.
Current Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm-an African-American-acknowledged that if it were up to him today, he would not try this as a death penalty case. Yet, when he could have acted to stop the execution, he refused to do so.
The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, designed specifically to ensure that executions never happen amidst so much doubt, allowed it to happen anyway. Its chairman, a retired African-American general named James Donald, has reported to local NAACP leadership that he broke his promise and voted for the execution.
Justices on the Georgia State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court-men and women who know that our justice system is degraded when we allow someone to be executed even when the former warden of the very prison the inmate is in says there is too much doubt to proceed-cleared the way for the execution to be carried out anyway.
These failures are the result of a system that gives the power of life and death, God-like powers, to humans who are as prone to error and susceptible to bias as any of us.
Human nature won’t change, so the system must. This must never happen again.
We promised Troy that no matter what happened we would keep fighting until the death penalty is abolished. That is the only way we can possibly guarantee our government will never make such a tragic and irrevocable mistake again.
Until that day, we are all Troy Davis. And in the name of Troy Anthony Davis, we must all carry on the fight.
In the past two years, the NAACP and our allies have abolished the death penalty in three states. When we succeed in abolishing it in 10 more, we will be in a position to ask the Supreme Court to abolish it entirely. In the meantime, there are effective strategies we can use in even the most conservative states to diminish its use greatly.
In the months ahead, we will convene teach-ins around the country and implement an aggressive state-by-state agenda to end capital punishment for good. We will host a national summit in Georgia to launch this next wave of activism.
But we cannot do any of this without your help. By coming together, we can ensure that Troy’s death was not in vain and this will never happen again.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP. Edward Dubose is the president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP. You can find out more about how you can help at naacp.org or by texting TROY to 62227.