The day is Wednesday, September 21, 2011. I am attending university in Toronto, Ontario, hailed as the most multi-cultural city in the world by the United Nations. Since moving to Toronto in 2009 to pursue my undergraduate degree, I have had many experiences of being the only visible minority because I was the only white pigmented person on the city bus. Yet although many Torontonians close their eyes to the blatant injustices that happen even in Canada’s largest city, I cannot ignore the disparity of wealth, human rights violations, and racism that still run deep. Oftentimes below the surface. Perhaps not in quite the same ways as I experienced during my first year of a master’s program in Indiana, but all the same, issues are still present.
2012 is to be my graduating year and in May I will walk off the stage from university and enter into a graduate peace studies program in the US. At this point I knew about the death penalty and as a committed pacifist felt it was wrong, but it remained quite elusive to me. In Canada we do not have the death penalty. In Canada a life sentence is generally about 20 years and young offenders are often entered into rehabilitation programs. Yet, lest you think Canada’s justice system is way better than the States, it is not. I have recently learned (through conversation with victims and their families and from my own personal studies) how deeply flawed our criminal justice system in Canada really is. We may not sentence anyone to death, but there are other ways to sentence someone to emotional shunning and silencing which are so akin to the emotional distancing that causes social death for so many individuals. Out of jail, but still not able to land a job or care for their families despite having “done their time”. Yes, the death penalty may not be an institution in Canada, but to say that it is a non-issue is far from the truth. For anyone with a sense of human dignity and worth must understand that when one member of society (regardless of citizenship, race, ethnic, or economic composition) dies due to a grave injustice, that a part of us must die with this individual.
Troy Anthony Davis is an example of such an individual who, due to forces beyond his own control (such as his skin colour), was wrongly accused by a system which totes justice. Jen Marlowe (a human rights activist and film maker) and Martina Davis-Correia (an advocate for abolishing the death penalty, and Troy’s sister) journey with their readers into the depths of despair and grave human rights violations which stripped Troy of all dignity and sense of self.
Marlowe’s writing captures the reader’s attention, jolting them to alertness in Troy’s gripping and chilling tale. Marlowe and Davis-Correia take their reader down a pathway that explains human rights exploitations due to racial divides within a system that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable members of society. This hauntingly convincing book empowers all readers to take a stand for fighting against the death penalty and against the system which costs the states $18,000 per execution1 and pits “two innocent, victimized families against one another.”2
Yet, Troy’s story is more than just a systemic depiction of an established and controversial legal process. It’s also the story of one man’s humanity and of blatant injustice, flagrant racism, and one family’s decision to courageously stand against it. Troy’s voice is not the only one calling out in the wilderness. It is joined with a cacophony of other families and advocacy groups standing in solidarity. Each voice contributing to the chorus helps to propel the system further in their quest for change.
Throughout her writing, Marlowe brilliantly weaves through time, displaying a high level of understanding of how the past influenced the Troy Davis case. From growing up in racially charged Savannah to being at the wrong place at the wrong time, to choosing the wrong day to go to Atlanta for work, Marlowe shows how the system was pitted against Davis from the start due to his race and social standing. In her book, Marlowe explores the troubling statistic that males on death row struggle with intellectual function and come from poor and oftentimes dysfunctional families.3 The book serves as a clarion call for America to rouse from their slumber and to pursue justice. After all, almost all of the world’s religions admonish us to care for exactly this demographic. As the old death penalty adage goes, “Capital punishment means them without the capital get punished.”4 Troy’s experience shows that those who face execution and lethal injection are victims of an “arbitrary, racist, economically biased, and shame filled” system.5
The day is March 27, 2014, two years 6 months and 6 days after Troy Anthony Davis was given the death penalty despite sufficient evidence to the contrary. The death penalty still exists in several states, yet many activists and advocacy groups are urging members at large to reconsider. In this way, Davis’ life does not have to be in vain, but rather serves as a potential catalyst for change.
In fact, I Am Troy Davis has already served as a discussion point amongst my friends and I. Since I am from Canada, the death penalty is not something that is frequently discussed. It seems that, broadly speaking, we have largely ignored this contentious point. Yet, after reading the book, something happened. My friends and I began having many conversations about the death penalty and ultimately what this means to our worldview. How can we pour lethal injections into the lives of healthy men and women when individuals are dying today due to not being able to get adequate medical attention and even within our own country, some people are not able to financially afford treatments and tests? I’d also like to extend the question to you today, how can we as ethical people working towards social inclusion of all races and religions sit idly by while our brothers and sisters are undergoing the death penalty due to lack of evidence, pleas of their innocence, and a racially charged system? For me the answer is clear: people from the majority of the world’s religions are called to take a stand to execute justice and fairness (rather than human life). Please join me to help end the death penalty. Please join with me in saying, “I am Troy Davis. We are Troy Davis. Troy Davis is my name.”
1 Jen Marlowe and Martina Davis-Correia, I Am Troy Davis, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), 148.
2 Marlowe and Davis-Correia, Troy, 171
3 Ibid, 144.
4 Ibid, 3.
5 Ibid, 194.
Marlowe, Jen and Martina Davis-Correia. I Am Troy Davis. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.