I was nine years old when I first learned of the death penalty. I spent much of my time in the school library reading fantasy books. I would teleport myself from Alpharetta to lands of magic, superheroes, and talking animals. While looking for new stories, my fingers brushed a series of slim hardcover books neatly arranged on a shelf. I pulled one of the volumes from the collection: Gangs and Your Neighborhood, by Stanley “Tookie” Williams. On the cover, next to the author name, it read: Co-founder of the Crips, now on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison.
“Papa,” I asked when my father got home from work, “what’s death row?”
My father’s voice hardened. “Where did you hear about that?”
“There was a book in the school library written by a man on death row.”
He took a second to think before answering. “Death row is a prison for very bad people. The government kills them for the crimes they committed.”
“What crimes did they commit?”
“Only the most heinous crimes. And they deserve to die, especially the ones who do things to young children.”
It seemed a logical position, so it was the one I adopted. When Tookie Williams was executed in 2006 because he proclaimed his innocence rather than showing “remorse” and having his sentence commuted, I gave it no more than a passing thought.
Years later, when I first told my father about Troy Davis, he seemed unmoved. Troy Davis was only an abstraction. I’d never met him or anyone who knew him, never spoken to him, never even written to him. He might very well have been guilty. This cause seemed hopeless and short-lived. But I couldn’t sit there and wait for him to die.
It reminded me of the times we walked through downtown Atlanta and homeless people would ask us for money. My father would quicken his stride and avoid eye contact or lie and tell them he didn’t have money to give.
“They’ll just spend it on drugs,” he said, so I followed his lead and walked right through them.
But it felt wrong to see people nearby in need and do nothing to help them. And now Troy Davis was facing execution less than a hundred miles away from where I was standing. I couldn’t walk right through again.
My mother began writing emails and making phone calls, hoping to get in contact with Troy or his family. On September 18, five days before his scheduled execution, I signed Amnesty International’s petition and shared it on Facebook, but that felt inadequate.
My email account was populated with hundreds of addresses automatically added from massive chain emails briefly popular among high school kids. The idea of emailing virtual strangers about an unknown death row inmate was disconcerting, but my hesitation and anxiety seemed a petty inconvenience compared to seventeen years on death row.
At school, Troy Davis became my new conversation starter. A few friends came on board, but the key element to convince others—time—was in short supply. As the execution drew closer with no sign of anything to stop it, I grew desperate and wrote a panicked, typo-laden email to the White House.
September 22, 2008
Subject: The excecution of Troy Dais
To whomever is reading this,
I write to you to the President, and to the nation concerning the upcoming execution of Troy Anthony Davis tomorrow, Tuesday September 23 at 7:00 PM in the state of Georgia. Troy was arrested in the late 1980s for the murder of a police officer, one that a growing amount of idence says he did not commit. His covction and subsequent death sentence was based soldey on witness testimony; no murder weapon was found, and 7 or those 9 witnesses have racanted their statemets and say they were coerced by the police into saying that Davis was guilty. Many of the jurors have stated that had this evidence been seen during the case, they would have not ruled guilty. However, legal technicalities have prevented an appeal and the Georgia Parole Board has denied Troy’s clemency. Combine this with the fact that a Clinton bill signed in the 1990’s prevented this evidence from being submitted, and you get a recipe for a potentially inncoent man being executed.
The Supreme Court is dues to look at the case on Septemeber 29th, 2008, to decide whether to rule on the case or not, but this is 6 days after the scheduled execution, and by then it will be too late to make a difference. The founding fathers wrote in the 5th amendment of the United States of America “No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime …. nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” And I and many people believe that Troy was not given the due process of law. With all this evidence in support of Troy’s evidence, shouldn’t we at the very least put his execution on hold until this can be cleared up? Shouldn’t we follow the creed on which our nation is based, that every man and woman is innocent until proven guilty, especially when the “proof” seems to be quite shallow at best?
I write this email to call on the White Uouse, on the President, the leader of the Free World, of the greatest nation the world has ever seen, the United States of America, to not let Troy Davis die. I call on this nation to not let a possibly innocent man die for what may be another man’s crime. I call for this nation to stand up against the injustice of this case, on the thousands of other Troy Davises in the country. This case has already garnered the attention of Amnesty International, President Jimmy Carter, Representative Bob Barr, Reverend Al Sharpton, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the European Union, and many others who agree that Troy should not be executed until a full investigation into the evidence of the case can take place. If the President or the members of the White House stops this injustice, they will forever have my utmost and enduring respect.
I never received a response.