Trying to sort through the numbness and outrage of Troy Davis’s execution yesterday and find some peace about it all.
At first I was just overwhelmed with horror by what happened.
After the four-hours-plus stop on the execution made at five to seven (it was due to be carried out at seven), the Supreme Court set the process in motion again. Strapped to the gurney ready for the lethal chemicals to be poured into his veins, Troy Davis was given an opportunity to speak his last words.
He spoke first to the representatives of the MacPhail family who had come to witness his execution. He told them he was sorry for their loss, but that he wanted them to know he had not been responsible for Mark MacPhail’s death – he had not even had a gun with him on that night. For their own sake and that of others he urged them to dig deeper and keep looking, because he was the wrong man.
Then he spoke to his family and friends, exhorting them to keep working, keep praying and keep the faith.
And he spoke last to those standing by ready to take his life, saying ‘God have mercy on your souls,’ and ‘God bless your souls’. And then they put him to death.
I waited and watched until Democracy Now (whose Amy Goodman covered the occasion with such compassion and sensitivity) went off air, by then about 4.30am English time, and eventually managed to still my mind enough to grab a little sleep before the sun rose.
But when I woke again this morning, none of the turmoil had gone away. I could hardly believe what we had witnessed. Particularly my mind balked at the idea that we have constructed a human community in which a man in the prime of life should be taken away, despite the conviction of hundreds and thousands of us watching that his guilt had by no means been proven beyond doubt, and that all of us should be required to sit nicely and be good, causing no trouble while someone dripped poison into his veins until he died. What? It seemed intensely oppressive and cruel.
But as I thought on it a different perspective came to mind, and I realised that what I had been watching was not people cowed and obedient, but people dignified and free. This is what non-violent protest is. These people were not intimidated, but sure in their cause and conviction and unswerving in their quiet determination. I think it was Ben Jealous who said last night that this will not go away; this will not end here – this is the beginning. Christians certainly understand how that works.
But my main emotion through this beautiful autumn day has been terrible aching sadness. As I felt the soft breeze in my hair and smelled the garden herbs and delighted in the sunshine, it hurt like a wound in me that these simple wonders of life should have been denied Troy Davis, not only finally last night, but for so long.
There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die? (George Lavengro)
I think Troy must have been twenty years old when he went to prison for the crime that with his last breath he continued to insist he did not commit. For twenty-two years he has lived without the wonderful freedoms that make life so sweet. Between us, we threw a life away.
Sitting here in bed at the end of the day, in the lamplight, listening to the owls calling in the garden, or hanging out the washing to dry in the warm breeze, or sitting by the ocean on a summer day, walking through the woods in the Fall, I shall think of Troy Davis, and how we took that away from him, when life was neither ours to give nor to take away.
Some things affect you so profoundly that they get into the very core of you and change the points, make the way you see things different forever. I felt that happening as I sat in vigil last night, keeping watch through the English night with the silent crowd in Georgia, holding their candles as they stood behind the rank of riot police, or huddled together in prayer in the group of family and friends just outside the prison – felt the seismic shift in my soul connecting to a deep place in all humanity. As people around the world stood in solidarity, watching, praying . . . hoping with sudden wild possibility . . . then stunned and grieving . . . I knew that life would never be the same again. History will be different because more than a million people begged for clemency, and the public servants used the trust vested in them to say “No.”
I shall not forget that night. Never. I am not the kind of person who forgets. In time the wound in my soul will silver to a scar, but it will always be there – because, as the campaigners said, you are – we are – I am Troy Davis. Every single one of us. Even Annaliese Macphail, who said “I think I finally will have peace of mind. When it is over I can close that book and I know Mark can rest in peace, too.”
I wonder. The world is not the same as it was yesterday afternoon.