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Mosaic poster of executed Savannah (Georgia, U.S.A.) native Troy Anthony Davis.
(courtesy of the NAACP and Amnesty International)
From the time he was first placed on trial for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989 until his death by execution one year ago, September 21, 2011, more questions than answers have tended to accumulate where the case of Troy Anthony Davis was and is concerned.
As far as any observers––including such trained onlooker as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Amnesty International, and Color of Change–– have been able to tell, Davis was not executed because he was proven guilty. He was executed because technicalities of applied legal practice and questionable choices in regard to his defense failed to confirm his innocence. For the average person, such a distinction is murky at best. For Troy Anthony Davis––and for an as yet undetermined number of individuals––it literally meant the difference between life and death.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is not one that shall gently disappear inside the shadowy annals of American history. It generated while it lasted too much pain for too many people. Moreover, prior to culminating in the highest dramatic fashion with the executed prisoner’s death, there was that of his mother Virginia Davis only a few months before. And after his death, his courageous sister Martina Davis-Correia succumbed to the cancer she had been battling at the same time she fought on her brother’s behalf.
It shall also continue to linger, inform, and influence because too many issues associated with it remain dangerously relevant. Considerations of race in the American judicial system represent only one such issue. The increasing use of DNA forensics testing ––a technique which the lack of physical evidence in regard to the Davis/MacPhail case rendered inapplicable––under suspiciously unclear circumstances is another. According to the Innocence Project founded in 1992, “To date, 297 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release.”
Troy Davis served 22 years in prison before his execution.
In the case of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, the shooter George Zimmerman has steadfastly maintained he shot Martin because the teenager had grabbed his gun and was trying to shoot him. This past week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a statement that none of Martin’s DNA was found on the grip of the gun.
The Capital Punishment Debate
Yet one more reason Davis’s story shall not quickly fade away is because of the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In commemoration of this first anniversary of Davis’s death, a number of prominent advocacy organizations have stamped their names to a mosaic poster of Davis topped by the slogan: “Abolish the Death Penalty.” Towards the bottom of the poster (or to the side in one version) are the words Davis communicated just before his execution: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me.”
While people who believe Davis was actually guilty will likely continue to remember him as such, millions have in fact adopted his face as a powerful symbol of both what is most wrong with the American judicial system, and, as what may yet become yet one of the hallmarks of what is most right about it. With that in mind, it is worth noting that the rallying cry used in previous years to bring attention to the case of Davis and others has altered only slightly: from “I am Troy Davis” to “I am still Troy Davis.”