A fair trial for Troy Davis?

Posted May 11, 2009

Troy Davis has spent nearly two decades on Georgia’s Death Row, convicted of a 1989 murder on nothing but testimony. Following the initial trial, seven of the nine witnesses recanted, citing police intimidation in a speedy, revenge-driven process to identify the killer of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer. Troy’s requests for a fair trial continue to be denied. Instead, three times now he has come within hours of death at the hands of the state before one or another bureaucratic body has issued a stay of execution.

In early December the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for a new trial but on April 16 voted 2-1 to deny a fair trial. With many legal avenues exhausted and the 30-day stay of execution running out soon, Troy now faces one of the most urgent cases yet of his life hanging by a thread. A Global Day of Action has been set for May 19 with a local goal of surpassing the last major rally of nearly 1,000 protesters at the Georgia State Capitol in Downtown Atlanta.

Petitioning for a fair trial in Savannah

Along with mobilizing for May 19 in Atlanta, Georgia activists have also been collecting signatures in Chatham County to get a new trial for Troy. On Saturday, a couple of cars trekked down to the Atlantic coast to help with the petitioning. (With my mother in Texas visiting her mom, I told her I’d be petitioning on her behalf as a mother’s day gift.)

Upon arriving in Savannah we met with Troy’s sister, Martina Correia, who has become one of his best known advocates, and other local activists.

First we decided to hit Cloverdale, the African-American suburb where Troy and Tina grew up. We split up into teams to cover each street door to door; unbeknownst to me I wound up around the corner from their childhood home. Far from the typical canvassing routine of providing a rehearsed “rap” to disinterested strangers, most people were well-acquainted with the case and many I talked to were Troy’s childhood friends or their parents. One woman, Ms. Willis, told me that 19-year old Troy had been over at her house for spaghetti dinner the night of the murder. After collecting the first round of signatures, Troy’s other sister Ebony invited us in her house for water and a chance to get out of the sun.

Later, we headed downtown to talk with people at Forsyth Park, a more or less integrated greenspace in the heart of the city. In Atlanta, I’m always aware of uneven attention to Troy’s case in Black and white communities. Through radio, churches and other media, concern about Troy’s case is fairly widespread among Black Atlanta; white communities are far less informed.

This divide was reflected, if not even more pronounced, in Savannah. Literally every Black person I talked with on Saturday had some familiarity with the case (if not Troy’s name, at least asking if this was “the man with eyeglasses” after his iconic prisoner photo.) White people, on the other hand, tended to be sympathetic (or at least could be convinced to sign for a fair trial) but many had not heard anything about the case. At this point it’s just as much a cliche to recognize “we are not in a ‘post-racial’ society” as it is for clueless liberal media to put out that line, but it was striking to hear some folks claim that Troy’s case “isn’t about race” but, instead, some amorphous moral category called “human rights.”

What’s going on in other parts of the country?