Commentary: Troy Davis Is Not Dead

Commentary: Troy Davis Is Not Dead

Activist and Writer Kevin Powell reflects on the execution of Troy Davis.

Published September 22, 2011

There is yet another great and bloody gash on the soul of America right now, because we allowed a state-sponsored killing of a potentially innocent man to occur in our name, on our watch. Fellow Americans, we must end the uncivilized and inhuman act of the death penalty, of killing people convicted of or believed to be murderers, immediately. If slavery was barbaric and morally wrong in its time, then the death penalty is barbaric and morally wrong in ours. Troy Davis should not be physically dead but, alas, he is.


I feel immense sorrow, was unable to sleep last night, and my very sincere prayers are both with the family of slain police officer Mark MacPhail, and with Troy Davis’ loved ones. We have two tragic life endings on our hands, separated by 22 years, millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and bottomless divisions in how and why a murder case should be handled and judged.


For in executing Troy Davis he has been made a martyr, a symbol of a new movement of awareness about our very busted criminal justice system, of how much race and class come into play when deciding who will be imprisoned, and for how long, who will be executed, and why, and what people are more likely to be executed for killing those not their race. Specifically when Black folks are charged with killing White folks. And, yes, I am aware that a White man named Lawrence Russell Brewer of Texas was executed, coincidentally, on the same day as Troy Davis, for the 1998 truck-dragging murder of a Black man, James Byrd. But, one, it is so rare that a White person is ever convicted (or put to death) for the killing of a Black person, or a Latino person, or an Asian person or a Native American person, in our America. And, second and most important, I am in complete opposition to the death penalty, and that means I did not want Mr. Brewer to be executed either, no matter how apparent his guilt was in the James Byrd death. Neither Lawrence Russell Brewer nor Troy Davis should be physically dead but, alas, they are.


Yet in spite of the racial realities of America, still, a progressive, multicultural army of concerned citizens came together to make our voices heard, in support of Troy Davis, in opposition to the death penalty. I have been an activist of some sort for 27 long years and I can tell you of the numerous movements and mini-movements I’ve ever been a part of, few have been as empowering and uplifting as the work to spare Troy Davis’ life. You could see and feel this online, on facebook, on twitter, in the many email exchanges and forwards. You could see and feel this in the too-many-to-count blogs that have been posted. And I certainly could feel and see it last night at our Brooklyn, New York rally and vigil for Troy Davis, where people of all races, all faiths (or none at all), all avenues of life, came together, in solidarity, for a cause that mattered as much to them as their own lives.


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(Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Written by Kevin Powell


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