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.”
by Aberjhani, founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Troy Anthony Davis & 1st Anniversary of His Death
Novelist Philip Roth in New York City. (Reuters file photograph)
In his September 7, 2012, “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” acclaimed author Philip Roth made an appeal to the editors of Wikipedia. Posted in his blog for The New Yorker, he asked them to correct a statement he identified as misleading in the site’s article on his novel, The Human Stain. Roth––whose literary honors include a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Man Booker International Prize––stated the following:
“The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.”
He noted further that he had attempted through an official interlocutor to address the issue but was informed that site administrators required “secondary sources” to verify the proposed corrections. “Thus was created the occasion for this open letter.” Roth’s predicament created a pain-inducing illustration of a very modern techno-ethical issue: who should exercise the greater authority over individual public profiles on sites frequently referenced for factual information regarding an established literary figure?
Roth’s primary concern was accuracy in regard to a novel he had written. The editors at Wikipedia seemed mostly concerned with objectivity and authenticity in regard to the same. This is likely NOT a case of guerrilla decontextualization as some might surmise but more a matter of one website’s policy in conflict with one celebrated author’s informed preference.
The Challenge and a Possible Solution
Authors have long had to contend with the challenge of laboring first to create literary products and then promote them via public appearances and the maintenance of an accessible public biography. Others in different branches of the creative arts––actors, singers, painters––have had to do the same. That challenge has been magnified in this age of digital media culture because so many are now equipped and licensed to represent or misrepresent an individual at will. Consequently, something which should be an all-around win-win situation can and clearly sometimes does degenerate instead into a tug of war between individual creative artists and administrators of various digital platforms.
If there is a single most important solution to the issue, it may be for authors to make available on legitimate sites––such as your individual author website or other literary profile pages–– as many factually accurate document sources as possible. After all, how accurate can you really expect a reference article to remain if anyone at all is allowed to change it at will?
The apparent alternative is to spend time as Roth did composing a 2,600-word letter spelling out the inaccuracies in question and flexing one’s impressive literary muscles in the process. But how many of us would be able to get such a letter published in The New Yorker?
The headlines skyrocketing around the world at the moment are anything but inspiring. They can, in a sense, be condensed to the observation that a few (possibly a single person) ill-intended individuals created an insulting video that has allowed fanatical Islamic factions to goad generally peaceful segments of the Muslim populace into extreme acts of violence. Whereas just a year ago––actually, just a week ago as well–– many in the Middle East were calling on the United States to support rebel fighters throughout the region, now U.S. embassies are under siege from one end of the Arab world to another.
It’s a road down which too many have stumbled bleeding, screaming, and dying before. Nothing of sustained progressive value has ever been found at its end. The only truly useful final resolve may very well be that of the individual who in the face of blind violence and mindless opprobrium insists on anchoring her- or himself in responses committed to peace.
The quote above is from the well-known poem Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying. It offers one proposed form of peaceful response. The following quote is from The American Poet Who Went Home Again and offers, as we sometimes like to say, food for thought:
“Peace is not so much a political mandate as it is a shared state of consciousness that remains elevated and intact only to the degree that those who value it volunteer their existence as living examples of the same... Peace ends with the unraveling of individual hope and the emergence of the will to worship violence as a healer of private and social dis-ease. “
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.