Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21st, 2012

It is a year today since Troy Anthony Davis was executed. The time has flown by so fast that I found it a little hard to believe when I realized it last week. I've wondered a bit how to commemorate this day, and in the end almost decided to let it pass in the blog world. But tonight I thought maybe it would be appropriate to say a little something.

In California, there is a proposition coming up in the fall, Prop 34, to end the death penalty. I'd hope any Californians reading along here would vote for it, but I decline to make Troy Davis a rallying point. My reasons for my activism around Troy were to keep him alive--that possibility is over. I'm against the death penalty. I've always been against the death penalty. But my willingness to enter the struggle to save Troy's life was personal. I had a bit of correspondence with him over the time I knew of his situation, and I would have preferred to keep the person that I knew through that correspondence alive. That is all.

I have had a curious and contrary reaction about making his situation into a broader metaphor. I view his death very much like the deaths of people I've known much better who faced the Grim Reaper in a very similar way because of terminal cancers. After the tragedy of their too early deaths, there is a certain sense of peace. Whether it's a selfish peace, I do not know. But the impossible task of trying to be there for a person who faces a graver lot than you do is over.

Perhaps oddly, now that Troy is beyond the question of guilt and innocence, I find myself most moved by the position of the MacPhail family. They did in fact lose a son, brother, husband and father that night in 1989 to murder. Whatever their hopes out of Troy Davis's trials, they are not the ones who put him on trial and not the ones who executed him. And they are not the ones who should be blamed for what happened to him. I couldn't believe that the MacPhail family became the target of hate from the community supporting Troy Davis, and I do know that this message didn't come from him. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the MacPhail family received a lot of letters and phone calls, but that only one was not anonymous. Mark MacPhail's mother, a widow, is 72 years old, for Christ's sake. Leave the poor woman alone.

If there is anyone who should be exempt from feeling mercy towards Troy Davis, it is the MacPhail family. This is why we have a system of legal justice--so that people who have been wounded aren't the ones making the life or death decisions.

So let's give a thought to the surviving members of Troy Davis's family tonight. But let's also give a thought to the surviving MacPhail family too.

The Troy I think I knew would have wanted you to. 


  1. Touchingly sensible and humane of you, I'd say.

  2. Thanks for this ongoing compassion.

    I am always troubled by those who hide behind anonymity.

  3. It is the kind of thing you don't think of in the stirred up passions of the moment, but I think there is a little more room for reflection a year out.

  4. Here in Philadelphia we have had the ongoing case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. As Hollywood and European activists took up the case for his innocence, I remember thinking that the celebrity activism must be hard on the victim's family.

  5. Yes, Kathleen, the possibility of anonymity and free speech together is becoming an ever more complicated issue.

    Of course, I hasten to say that I don't mind anybody commenting anonymously here. Although of course I reserve my Blogger-given right to censor at will.

  6. Peter, yes, though I don't really mind celebrities throwing their power into the mix when it's about the possibility of innocence,I do think it's another thing entirely to scapegoat the victim's family.

  7. Well, from where I sit, there has been no credible argument for his innocence. An apt editorial cartoon portrayed the state of opinion on the case as ranging from "He's a murderer" in the neighborhood through "Victim of a racist state" in Manhattan to "Role model" in Hollywood and "Saint Mumia" in Europe.

    I have heard of now attacks on the victim's family, but I do think seeing the matter tossed back and forth like this must be hard for them, regardless of who the killer was.

  8. I have to admit that I haven't followed the Mumia case closely enough to have an opinion on his guilt or innocence.

    But I agree, it must be hard for them. My own experience of the criminal justice system is that the victim is often revictimized by the nature of the trial process itself. And this must be true for the families as well.