Troy Davis was executed two years ago today. I woke up shortly after sunrise. Today was gameday in Athens, Georgia, and as I hustled out of my apartment I saw families sprawled among dozens of red UGA tents, chatting excitedly and huddling around the television in anticipation of the big game. A few children were tossing a football back and forth, while a group of teenagers cackled as they played cornhole. There wasn’t time to join the festivities. I was already running late.
My mother flew in last night from Boston. Last year, it was just the two of us. This time we were joined by my father and my younger sister. It rained for the first hour of the drive, but occasional rays of sunshine poked through. As we passed Jackson, Georgia, I remembered the last time I was there, on this very day two years ago. The chants still resonated in my mind. I was transported back in time, an observer from the future watching as the hope and tragedy of that night unfolded.
We stopped at a rest area a little past the half way point.
It wasn’t too far from Dublin, Georgia. The last time I was there was in 2010, when the staff and interns of Amnesty International and I stopped there on our way to the historic Troy Davis evidentiary hearing. Today I was clad in the same blue “ I Am Troy Davis” t-shirt that I first wore in Savannah during the hearing. I was only sixteen years old then, a bit chubby and sporting long, shaggy hair. But what I saw in the courtroom furthered my conviction that Troy Davis should not be executed.
As we continued to drive the rain cleared, and the grayness gradually gave way to blue.
We drove past a few farms, but the cotton fields stood out the most. The other crops gave way to shoots of bright, billowy cotton, as if a snow storm had delicately placed bundles of flakes upon each plant.
As we neared the city, we crossed Clarence Thomas interchange. I thought back to the spring of 2012, when Justice Thomas and I sparred over the case. He had voted against giving Troy the evidentiary hearing. He held no doubts that justice had been done with Troy Davis’s execution. And yet, he was also the one who issued the reprieve on September 21, 2011, the one that delayed Troy’s execution for another four hours.
We passed Savannah’s city hall. The building was grand and elegant. But it wasn’t by the Savannah boardwalk or park-like squares that dotted downtown. It was out here, in the Savannah hinterlands, surrounded by overgrown forest and weeds and a half empty strip mall with signs for a Subway and World’s Most Famous Asian Cuisine.
Magnolia Memorial Gardens was exactly the way I remembered it last year. The front office was a small hut, large enough to fit maybe a dozen people.
Last year we rushed to arrive before the staff left, so they could show us where Troy’s grave was. This year, September 21 fell on a Saturday, and the whole place was deserted.
As I thought about the first time I walked here, when Troy was first buried, my mother had already walked far ahead to Troy’s grave.
The three graves were all there. Troy Davis.
Buried beneath him, his mother, Virginia Davis.
Buried beside them, Troy’s sister, Martina.
We placed a note and blue flowers (Troy’s favorite color) on the grave and remained there for a few minutes.
The only flowers on Martina’s grave were dead and wilted. The only ones on Troy and his mother’s grave were beginning to wilt and must have been there a few days.
My thoughts were similar to last year’s, so I won’t repeat them.
We began walking away from the graves. There was only one exit path.
As I walked, keys in hand, I noticed a police car nearby. It had been sitting there, watching us the whole time. As we left I heard the car start up and drive off into the distance.
We began the long drive back. Less than an hour into the drive, the rain began. It bombarded the car, angrily striking the windshield and blinding my view.The sun had set and the two lane interstate had no lights. One of the lanes was closed for construction so all of the cars were crammed into one narrow, bumpy lane. The car began hydroplaning, skidding and swerving every few seconds as I desperately tried to maintain control. Other drivers were tailgating me and each other, apparently oblivious to fact that one small mistake could send us all careening into each other at 70 miles per hour. I was sleep deprived and hungry, and my eyes were straining to see the road amid the whirlwind of mist, rain, and headlight glare. We had four hours left to drive, and the rain was not expected to let up anytime soon. It was too dangerous to pull over–a skidding car could slam into us on the shoulder.
This wasn’t just about me. My father sat beside me, advising me as I drove. My mother and younger sister were in the back seat, blissfully ignorant about how much danger we were in. My life and the lives of my family were in the hands of other people and other forces. No matter how carefully I drove, I wasn’t in full control. Was this how Troy and Martina and Virginia felt, as their lives were eaten away by imprisonment and cancer? I thought back to the cemetery, where the three Davises lay, their lives all snuffed out in 2011. Would the same fate befall my family in 2013? I couldn’t shake the thought.
There’s nothing like a cemetery to make you feel stupid. Yes, stupid. This week had been a rough week for me. At least, I thought it had been a rough week. I seriously injured my eye during a game of frisbee, caught a cold that caused me to miss several important classes and miss a week at the gym, and had a stressful situation with a close friend. But seeing so many graves dug for so many young people makes you realize how petty most of your worries really are. I felt stupid for being angry at such minor things. At the risk of being cliche, l was reminded that life is short, and I wasn’t making the best use of the time that remained.
When Troy was alive, we would talk about how to live life. Troy noted just how unhappy people outside of prison were. He looked at me sadly and said, “People out there are living to die. I’m dying to live.”
When we made it home safely, I resolved to renew my commitment to live life to the fullest. Tell people how you feel. Help others. Be adventurous. Follow your dreams. Remain free.