Tuesday, September 13, 2011

clemency (on Troy Davis)

Yes, I know what it means. For anyone who is wondering, it means lenience or mercy. It means gentleness. In law it means the power granted to an official to in some way lower the harshness of a sentence imposed upon a prisoner.

As things stand, on September 21, Troy Davis will be executed for the shooting of a police officer in Atlanta, Georgia. There are many reasons to think that he wasn't the shooter, and certainly enough doubt to incline a reasonable judicial system to at the very least, not kill him.

Clemency, is not actually what Troy Davis has ever wanted, as clemency won't clear his name, and in fact takes for granted his guilt. Troy has always wanted a new trial, but clemency is now the only thing still open to him.

I've signed the petitions of course and written emails, but really I've had a hard time imagining what would sway the Georgia Board of Prisons and Paroles to act any differently than they have in the past. Rather than simply be discouraged, though, I've decided to repost an old post from a different blog I did a couple of years ago on Troy's limbolike situation. If you'd rather just cut to the chase and help Troy, though, you can find out more HERE.      

I Am Troy Davis

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world. We may be powerless to open all the jails and free all the prisoners, but by declaring our solidarity with one prisoner, we indict all jailers.--Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture, 1986

I must admit that, initially, I failed to understand the reasoning behind the Amnesty International T-Shirt that bears the words that head this post until I read this quote from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by Elie Wiesel the other day. I had previously thought it presumptuous to express an identity between myself and a man who has spent decades in prison, under the shadow of death, most probably for a crime he did not commit.I am not Troy Davis, I thought. I have never had to live through what he has and it is naive to think I could simply 'empathize' my way into his situation.

All true, of course. But what the shirt is really saying, at least if I understand Wiesel correctly, is that in expressing solidarity with another human being, we are showing ourselves willing to share an identity with them, and even to stand in for that human being in situations where he or she can not themselves stand.

I have posted here about Troy Davis's case before. It is not my general intent to make this blog a soapbox for issues of the day. But the plight of this one particular human being moves me deeply, and his fate hangs heavily on me. As Wiesel says, there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time we fail to protest. In Troy Davis's case, there are a great many people in the world who have protested a great many times, and after such a long drawn out issue, where one is handed defeat time and again, the spirit languishes and there is a temptation to step back and not raise your own tiresome voice yet one more time. But by Wiesel's lights, this is exactly the time when you must lift it, and shout loudly.

Martha Silano has a thoughtful meditation on her blog about a poem by Emily Dickinson and Abu Ghraib here. It seems appropriate in this context as well.

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

Troy Davis may be innocent. He deserves a new trial in the aftermath of witness recantations. All channels of justice may now have been closed to him. But that fact in itself doesn't make him any less deserving of it.

If you would like to check out the Amnesty International position on Troy Davis, and see what you can do, please go here.

(Other posts I have written about Troy are included here.)


  1. This is so sad.

    I cannot think of anything to add to your post, Seana, but one of the many reasons I have never visited the US is because of the punitive systems in many states.

    Paradoxically, when I travel to Australia, I always stop in Singapore which also continues to have capital punishment. I'm frightened even crossing the street there, in case I break some law or other.

    I hope your petition has success.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment and commiserate here, Maria. It must seem very strange from a transAtlantic point of view. I think the reason most Americans don't live in fear is that no one every thinks they could actually find themselves in such a situation.

    I had an odd experience in Singapore the one time I was there many years ago, when I was in some kind of public market at night and all of sudden various people came up to me silently and started handing me things. I soon realized that they were my own things, which had fallen out of my canvas purse. It had been slit open by someone in the throng. I didn't lose anything important, but I gained both an insight into how strict the littering laws were and the kindness of the Singapore people, who understood what was happening much sooner than I did.

    Keep good thoughts for Troy Davis if you would.