We are all Troy Davis today

September 19, 2011

Activists report on the thousands who turned out in Atlanta and around the country to support Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis.

AN EMERGENCY day of action for Troy Davis on September 16 put thousands of people into action in protests and pickets to demand that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles halt his execution scheduled for September 21. The board will hold a hearing on September 19 and issue its decision the same day or the next.

Troy is approaching two decades on death row for a crime he did not commit, the murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah. He has come close to execution on several occasions, but his legal appeals are now exhausted, and his last chance is the pardons board.

In Atlanta, more than 3,000 people rallied on September 16 in support of Troy Davis in Woodruff Park, followed by a march to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr.

Protesters carried signs that read "I am Troy Davis," "Too much doubt to execute" and "Stop the legal lynching" and banged on bucket drums as they chanted, "They say death row, we say hell no" and "Brick by brick, wall by wall, free Troy Davis, free them all."

Marching on the national day of action to stop the execution of Troy Davis
Marching on the national day of action to stop the execution of Troy Davis (Randi Jones Hensley | SW)

"My brother is in jail and it made me happy to see that people weren't here just for Troy, but for people who have been wrongfully accused in general," said one protester, who was moved to tears.

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and several others spoke inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was packed to its capacity. Outside, Darby Tillis, a former death row inmate in Illinois who was exonerated in 1987, spoke to the crowd who couldn't get in. "The death penalty is dead wrong, too final," Tillis said. "The magnitude of a death penalty case cannot be tried without errors."

Mark Clements, an exonerated former Illinois death row prisoner and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), was there. "It was awesome activism on the part of many different organizations," Clements said afterward. "It shows what the little people can achieve when they lay down their indifferences and cultural barriers."

FROM NEW York to California, supporters of Troy Davis hurried to organize protests, picket and leafleting in their cities for the day of action.

In Oakland, Calif. some 100 people turned out in front of the federal building for the International Day of Action for Troy Davis. A number of people fanned out to local BART transit stations to collect petition signatures for Troy, and then joined a rally.

A highlight of the protest included a recorded statement from Troy's sister Martina Correia. CEDP member Crystal Bybee read a written statement from California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper in support of Troy. In part, the statement read:

We must stand together as a people to oppose this torture and murder of our fellow human being...Everyone but the rich and powerful have their lives at stake in this unjust and broken legal system that continues to kill poor people no matter what. End the death penalty, and all that it represents!

In Chicago, more than 150 people gathered in front of the Prudential Towers building downtown, where President Obama's 2012 campaign headquarters is located, to demand that Barack Obama take a stand about Troy Davis' execution.

A CEDP member read a letter from Troy, which read in part: "It is time for action, so please encourage everyone to reach out to politicians, ministers and grassroots organizations to contact the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole and the governor to grant me relief and stop this scheduled execution." Speakers included Kevin Coval, who read his poem "Holla for Troy Davis."

In Portland, Ore., 150 people gathered at the Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown Portland, including members of the NAACP, Amnesty International and the International Socialist Organization, and local faith leaders offered inspiring words and chants throughout the two-hour rally.

"This is about Troy Davis," said one minister, "and it's about injustices bigger than Troy Davis. Let us do the work that needs to be done and let us do it with Troy Davis, not in memory of Troy Davis."

Protesters circulated Amnesty International petitions calling for clemency to passersby. A Somali immigrant who joined the rally said, "This man is in prison, and I am not, but I know what it is like for people to think you are guilty when you have done nothing wrong."

"It's amazing this can happen in 2011," said a woman who brought her young daughter to the rally. "You would think we're living in 1941. We're better than this, aren't we?"

In San Diego, 40 protesters rallied and picketed in front of the Hall of Justice downtown.

Tim from Amnesty International spoke about the case of Gary Graham, an innocent man executed by then-Gov. George Bush in Texas. "And now, 20 years later, it's the same case for Troy Davis. Troy's case isn't exceptional. There are so many innocent people on death row while the courts use technicalities to push state killing."

Protesters, both veterans and first-timers, turned out. Charlie Pratt, who has protested the death penalty since the 1960s, said, "I've been to too many of these in my life, and I hope to never have to be at one again. Capital punishment is irreversible and inhuman, and I'm ashamed when this country kills someone so cruelly and mechanically. We have a system that profits from death--from the prisons to the courts to our politicians."

This was Shamekia's first protest. "It's fitting that were at the Hall of Justice, but where's the justice for Troy Davis," she said. "We're here because there's a war not just on Black men or Black women, but a war on Latinos and Latinas, and all poor folks. I'm here because I am Troy Davis."

Julien Ball, Nicole Bowmer, Evan McArthur, Elizabeth Schulte and Nikolai Smith contributed to this article.

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