Dear readers veteran and new.

For a variety of reasons, the readership of this blog has jumped exponentially in recent weeks, with yesterday seeing a literal 20 fold increase. Some have come from The Hairpin, some from The Atlantic, some from Skepchick, some from BlogHer, some via Twitter, and some from other corners and other relationships, not least the Facebook walls of friends and loved ones.

I want to welcome you all, but confess that as I write this morning, I do so through a haze. My eyes and head ache from tears shed, my throat is tightening as I type, and my fingers feel suddenly, inexplicably, heavy. I spent all of last night glued to Democracy Now’s live stream from the vigil outside the death row prison in Jackson, Georgia, toggling between it and Twitter, and at some points, doing both on my husband’s laptop while also watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. A very large piece of me simply could not believe that Troy Davis would be killed in spite of the enormous doubts about his conviction, and even now, having been immersed in it for hours last night, I feel a bit as if I must have dreamed it. How can such a thing be real?

I have never in my life been so involved in the life and death of a person I didn’t know, and for me, that involvement only goes back about four weeks. I have certainly never spent much time thinking about the death penalty before, other than being notionally opposed, signing occasional petitions, and being a Democrat in large part for reasons that also led me to oppose to the death penalty. I never so much as considered writing about state executions before my first post about Mr. Davis, on August 29th.

I wake up this morning to a different world — a world in which Troy Davis is dead, and I have seen up close both the horror of state intransigence in the face of human blood and bone, and the awesome power of hundreds of thousands of people coming together in support of a man they had never met.

Typically, I write about a wide range of things. This has included Winnie the Pooh, and signs that you might be middle-aged, and loud music, and women’s rights, and Islam (particularly in America), and a lot of Israel/Palestine. Sometimes I’m pretty funny, though I’m probably more often earnest. I write about stuff that is tiny, and stuff that is huge, and I try to find the human moment in the spine of all of it.

I can only imagine that I will get back to that kind of range in the coming days and weeks — that I will no longer be posting daily, and sometimes several times a day, about a man scheduled to die. But today I’m not ready.

I will spend today sorting out what my relationship needs to be with the anti-death penalty movement. I’m very clear on the fact that no one person can be equally active on all the issues to which they feel an attachment, and I have spent the better part of 25 years advocating for peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. There are only so many hours in the day, and I have children to read to and a husband to laugh with, not to mention the other joys and drudgeries of a blessed life.

But I cannot simply walk away from last night. Mr. Davis’s final statement to supporters, the day before his execution, read:

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.

The only way his spirit can move forward now is if we carry it for him. We are now Troy Davis.

To those who may be feeling lost and horrified, ashamed and grief-stricken, I want to say that I share all of those emotions. I am deeply, deeply ashamed of the country — my country — that allowed this travesty of justice to go forward. I am horrified at the vision of an innocent man strapped to a gurney and injected with poison, grief-stricken over the loss, and at a loss as to what to do with all the emotions.

But I am also proud — so, so proud — of all of the Americans who came together to fight for the life of this complete stranger. Most of us don’t know each other, most of us wouldn’t recognize each other on the street. And yet we reached out and sent letters and signed petitions and asked friends and family to do the same and we held hands across miles and wires and jointly created something new, something in which I know Mr. Davis himself had faith. This, too, is American: Not shrugging our shoulders, not giving in, not allowing injustice to go unremarked, but moving out and moving forward on the basis of the Idea and the ideals on which this country was founded. I am grateful to our international brothers and sisters (of whom there are many), but I am proud to share a country with those Americans who fought until the very last minute last night.

If you want to take that energy and that love and start to move forward in Mr. Davis’s name, here’s something you can do right now: Educate yourself about the death penalty and seek ways that you can become active in your area. That’s what I’m going to do. You can start by going to Amnesty International, or Campaign to End the Death Penalty (about which I know very little, having focused on Amnesty), or the ACLU, or the Southern Center for Human Rights (the organization behind the astonishing sign-on letter of former corrections officials calling for clemency for Troy Davis), or the NAACP, or Democracy Now.

If you have some money to spare, please make a donation to any of those organizations, all of which are fighting so hard on what is clearly a rocky battlefield. I gave some money to Amnesty this week, and yesterday threw some more to Democracy Now, out of sheer admiration for the astonishing job they did in producing a two-hour live event that became a six-hour-long broadcast — reporter Amy Goodman is my new hero, and I really don’t have words to describe my regard for the remarkable work she and her whole crew did last night (and please note that Democracy Now also takes donations of equipment).

Finally: It was my birthday yesterday. I will now forever share that day with Troy Davis. It’s my hope that I will find a way to honor the coincidence, and use my remaining years to aid in achieving Mr. Davis’s goal of ending the death penalty forever.

Troy Davis’s statement to supporters.

Posted on Amnesty International’s Facebook page yesterday:

The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.

A circle of prayer for Troy Davis—and the country that would kill him.

Please read this post at Colorlines by my friend Jen Marlowe, about her friend, Troy Davis. Jen made Amnesty’s series of videos about Mr. Davis, and has been active on his behalf for years.

Troy Davis with family members before the State of Georgia ended "contact visits" for death row inmates.

A Circle of Prayer for Troy Davis—and the Country That Would Kill Him

Motivational posters line the hallways en route to the visitation room. Images of rock climbers, an eagle soaring over clouds, a collection of hands of all pigmentation on a basketball, each with an inspirational one-word message: LEADERSHIP, OPPORTUNITY, ACHIEVEMENT, FOCUS, TEAMWORK.

Opportunity? Achievement? The irony was outrageous. The hallway was in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison and I was walking down it with the Davis family en route to visit death row inmate Troy Davis.

Though I had been corresponding with Troy for years via letters and phone, December 2009 was my first visit. I knew I would not have the opportunity to be sitting in the same room as Troy; contact visits had been taken away from death row inmates a few months earlier. Instead, I spoke to Troy through a black iron grate, alongside his mother, sisters and teen-aged nephew. At the end of every visit, the Davis family formed a prayer circle, holding hands, Troy leading a prayer thanking God for their blessings and praying for the strength to continue their quest for justice.

With contact visits revoked, Troy could no longer hold hands with the rest of his family. Instead, he pressed his hands flat against the black iron grating. His family and I formed a semi-circle. Troy’s mother pressed her hand on the opposite side of the grate as Troy’s right palm, and his nephew did the same on the left. Everyone bowed their heads, closed their eyes and offered prayers. I couldn’t help but take a peek. Troy looked like a silhouette through the dense iron grill, his head bowed, his hands pressed against the grate, with his mother and nephew’s hands pressed just as firmly on the other side, finding a way, despite the steel and bars, to maintain their circle of prayer.

Please click here to read the rest. And please keep Mr. Davis in your thoughts today, especially at 7:00 pm EST, when he is scheduled to be executed.

My fax to Larry Chisolm, Chatham County District Attorney re: Troy Davis.

Larry Chisolm, Chatham County District Attorney

The latest on Troy Davis:

Earlier this evening, a commenter on my new piece at TheAtlantic.com called my attention to the fact that the Chatham County District Attorney’s office had just issued a press release saying the the Georgia state Superior Court, not the district attorney’s office, is the only body with jurisdiction in the execution and that “this matter is beyond our control.”

This frankly stank to me of the DA trying to duck the responsibility and political mess that this case entails, so I called my source within the campaign for clemency and had it confirmed: Larry Chisolm is trying to evade what is certainly going to be a terrible shitstorm, no matter what he does. But he still has the authority to ask that the Superior Court withdraw the death warrant against Davis, whether he wants to admit it or not.

And so, after not being able to get through to his office all day by phone, I wrote up a fax which I am now trying to send (oddly enough, the DA’s fax line is also very very busy!). Following is what I wrote – feel free to use it was a template, but make sure to make the letter your own — and also make sure to not focus on the question of Davis’s innocence, but rather on the enormous holes in the case (you’ll note that I even went so far as to bold, underline and slightly enlarge that line in my letter).

One last note: The article which reports the press release also reports that “Sister Jackie Griffith with Savannah for Clemency for Troy Davis, announced Tuesday evening her group would deliver 240,000 signatures on a petition to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm.” That is not meaningless.

District Attorney Larry Chisolm
Chatham County District Attorney’s office
Fax: 912-652-7328

September 20, 2011

Dear District Attorney Chisolm,

I write to you tonight regarding the case of Troy Davis. I am not a resident of Georgia, but I am an American, and this case reflects on our national justice system no less than on that of Georgia.

To be perfectly frank, I’m not concerned for the moment with guilt or innocence, but with evidence and reasonable doubt.

I understand that many within the Georgia court system have found that Davis is not innocent of the horrifying murder of Officer MacPhail 22 years ago.

And yet it cannot be denied that the case against Davis has largely fallen apart over the years, from witness recantation to evidence of police coercion, from a lack of physical evidence to the sheer weight of legal authorities who have themselves said that the case is too slim to support the death penalty.

I am not suggesting that the State of Georgia set Davis free – I am asking that you commute his sentence to life in prison.

If Georgia’s courts are right, Officer MacPhail’s murderer will have spent his life behind bars. But if they are wrong, they will have been spared the stain of killing an innocent man.

America is too big, too great, to have no room for questions. This case was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt – if Troy Davis is executed regardless, it will diminish us all.

Please ask the Superior Court, in whose hands I know rests the final authority, to have the death warrant against Troy Davis withdrawn.

Sincerely,

In The Atlantic again: Troy Davis and the reality of doubt.

I am proud to say that I have placed another essay about Troy Davis in TheAtlantic.com, where it will hopefully reach more eyes and do more good. I’m beside myself, and all I can do is write. “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie… No one exists alone;/Hunger allows no choice/To the citizen or the police;/We must love one another or die.”

Again, here’s the top – please click through to read the rest, and give The Atlantic the love it really, really deserves.

“Whether the trial witnesses against [Troy Davis] were lying then or are lying now, by fighting against his requested relief Georgia is saying that its interest in the finality of its capital judgments is more important than the accuracy of its capital verdicts.”

Andrew Cohen, who has served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News, wrote those words regarding death row inmate Troy Davis on TheAtlantic.com yesterday. They come near the end of a vitally important essay in which Cohen spells out “how far we have to go toward fair and accurate capital punishment in America.” I read them over and over, because as a person who has been advocating for Davis’s clemency bid, they struck me as frighteningly true.

Troy Davis to be executed.

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE: Within moments of my posting this, I learned that Amnesty hasn’t given up yet — because they’re Amnesty and they don’t give up. Here’s the petition to sign, demanding that Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm “seek a withdrawal of the death warrant and support clemency himself” (last week, I asked you to sign a Change.org petition to the same effect — please sign this one, too). If you don’t manage to sign right away, please try again. And/or call or fax the Chatham County’s District Attorney’s office – phone: 912-652-7308 / fax: 912-652-7328.

I’m also going to be making a donation to Amnesty today — if you can do likewise, I urge you to do so. They are doing God’s own work here on earth.

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I’m beside myself, so full of shame of my country and my countrymen. That people engaged in the administration of justice, entrusted with upholding our laws and protecting our lives, could allow the death sentence to go forward in a case that is so thoroughly riddled with doubt is beyond me.

I feel such ache and horror for Mr. Davis’s family, and find I am suddenly glad that his mother died last spring, of a broken heart her daughters believe, because at least she won’t actually see her boy killed. I thought of this as I sent my boy to school today: Troy Davis was once a boy, on his way to school. And tomorrow, at 7:00 pm EST, he, too, will be a murder victim — only the murderers will be the people meant to protect him.

I am ashamed, ashamed, ashamed. What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with us? As Andrew Cohen, chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News wrote in The Atlantic yesterday:

Whether the trial witnesses against him were lying then or are lying now, by fighting against his requested relief Georgia is saying that its interest in the finality of its capital judgments is more important than the accuracy of its capital verdicts.

Here’s The Guardian’s report on the decision:

Georgia’s pardons board has rejected clemency for death row inmate Troy Davis, who has attracted high-profile support for his claim that he was wrongly convicted of killing a police officer in 1989.

According to his defence lawyers, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday rejected Davis’s request for clemency after hearing hours of testimony from his supporters and prosecutors.

“I am utterly shocked and disappointed at the failure of our justice system at all levels to correct a miscarriage of justice,” Brian Kammer, one of Davis’s attorneys, said after the decision was announced.

Davis is set to die on Wednesday for the murder of off-duty Savannah officer Mark MacPhail, who was killed while rushing to help a homeless man who was being attacked. It is the fourth time in four years his execution has been scheduled by Georgia officials.

Davis was convicted at a 1991 trial almost exclusively on the basis of nine witnesses who all said they had seen him carry out the shooting. Davis was present at the scene, but has always insisted that another man, Sylvester Coles, attacked the homeless man and shot MacPhail when he intervened.

The murder weapon was never found, and there was no DNA or other forensic evidence.

In the years since the trial, seven of the nine witnesses have come forward and recanted their evidence, saying they were put under pressure to implicate Davis by the investigating police. Other witnesses have come forward to say they had heard Coles confess to killing the officer.

The parole board heard from one of the jurors who originally recommended the death penalty for Davis. Brenda Forrest told the panel she no longer trusted the verdict or sentence: “I feel, emphatically, that Mr Davis cannot be executed under these circumstances,” she said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The board also heard from Quiana Glover, who testified she had heard Coles confess in June 2009 to having been the killer, at a party where he had been drinking heavily.

Following the arguments for clemency, members of MacPhail’s family and
the prosecution side were expected to call for the execution to go ahead.

Brian Evans, a death row specialist at Amnesty International’s US branch, said the extraordinary outpouring of support for Davis was partly of a reflection of changing attitudes in America towards executions.

Opinion polls suggest the US has softened its view from its once-hardline, pro-capital punishment position, and is now fairly evenly divided between defenders of the death penalty and those who see life without parole as a satisfactory alternative.

Last week, I wrote in The Atlantic that if the clemency bid failed, I would tell my daughter that we could at least know that when Troy Davis goes to his death, he will do so in the knowledge that he is being held by thousands upon thousands of loving hands. Hundreds of thousands of loving hands. I have no way of ever knowing if that will ease his passing, but I have to believe it is so.

Please send your thoughts to him tomorrow, at 7:00 pm EST. Please pray that his passing will be easy.

Very brief Troy Davis update.

The clemency hearing is underway, apparently very much as we speak — from the Savannah Morning News:

The Board of Pardons and Paroles began hearing from attorneys and family members of condemned murderer Troy Davis at 9 a.m. Monday as about 60 protesters demonstrated outside the building.

The five-member board is the last hope for Davis and his supporters since multiple appeals have exhausted his legal options. The board, though, isn’t bound by the precedent or the procedures of the courts and can base its decision on whatever it chooses.

[O]n the fifth floor of a nondescript state office building behind them, the parole board devotes hours to hearing Davis’ lawyers, a box of Kleenex sitting on a bench nearby. The defense team prepared for a multimedia defense, beginning with a side reading “If Only We Could Rewind the Tape: The limitations and Distortions of Eyewitness Testimony.”

Even though the board has denied past clemency appeals for Davis, three of the five members have joined the board since the last one.

The board meets behind closed doors, only allowing journalists into the room before the meeting long enough for photos. It holds separate meetings with prosecutors and victims’ families and doesn’t disclose when to prevent reporters from staking out the room to snag interviews as they leave.

Typically, the appointments with each side lasts two to three hours. The board will issue its decision by press release, declining interview requests and usually offering no explanation.

The decision could come today or Tuesday, but it could come as late as moments before the 7 p.m. schedule for Davis to receive a lethal injection.

I think that last sentence may yet do my head in. Please God, please God, let them see and see quickly that there is just too much doubt to kill this man!

For the rest of the Savannah Morning News piece and video of protesters outside the building, click here.

Americans and the death penalty.

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas under Gov. Rick Perry for murdering his own children, despite ample evidence of his innocence.

Very, very briefly, as I have both paying work and pro bono stuff up the wazoo today (why do these things not happen on opposite days, for instance? The fates can’t do at least that for me?):

There is much talk on my side of the internet about the fact that the audience at last night’s Republican debate cheered Rick Perry’s statements about the death penalty (clip embedded below) — much horror, much disgust, and on one level, I’m absolutely with you all on the horror and the disgust. After all, among the things that Governor/Presidential Wannabe Perry said was that he he has “never struggled with” the idea that he might have overseen the execution of an innocent man (go to the Brian Williams question, at about the 10 second mark) — and given that it appears that he did just that, the horror just grows exponentially.

But here’s the thing: Those cheering people, and God save us, Gov. Perry himself, are not strangers to us. They are not from another planet, or even another country. They are us. They are Americans. And in 2009, 65% of Americans said that they support the death penalty.

Now, I’m of the opinion that a pretty large slice of that 65% wouldn’t be cheering the idea, and would want those in power to be very, very certain about who they’ve decided to execute and why — to, in fact, struggle over it. That’s American, too, to support something without necessarily loving it. That’s how I feel about abortion, for instance, and it’s part of what is potentially great about this country: At our best (which, I will grant you, is sometimes difficult to find) we do not demand simple answers. Democracy makes room for gray areas, and we are a democracy.

But having said that, no matter how many would or would not cheer, no matter how many would or would not be thrilled that a Governor doesn’t struggle or lose sleep over putting people to death — those who cheered last night are a part of my American tribe. Or, to paraphase an American who I really rather loathe: You go to the future with the Americans you have, not the Americans you might want, or wish to have.

If we want to see less mindless cheering and more mindfulness, indeed, if we want to end the death penalty — we need to be part of making that happen. And that means engaging people in conversation, writing letters to the editor, supporting political campaigns and grassroots efforts. It means playing a part — and that part is much, much bigger than simply curling our lip and walking away.

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The famous “GOP crowd cheers death penalty” clip (I particularly can’t stand the self-satisfied smile on Perry’s face when the cheering starts):

Troy Davis given execution date.

Troy Davis in the Chatham County Superior Court during his trail in the shooting death of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. (AP Photo/Savannah Morning News)

UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Greenwald, at Salon.com, for linking to this post in his piece “Cheering for state-imposed death.” The number of click-throughs to the various Amnesty petitions and sign-on letters has jumped exponentially since he linked, and it is my sincere hope that these additional names will serve to help Troy Davis win clemency.

***

Troy Davis, the death row inmate about whom I wrote last week, has been given an execution date of September 21.

I repeat: Mr. Davis is almost certainly innocent of the crime for which the state of Georgia wants to kill him.

There is no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, seven out of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted, stating that they had been pressured, coerced or frightened into testifying, and jury members have said flat out: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

The police officer that Mr. Davis was convicted of murdering deserves that justice be done — but killing a man who had nothing to do with Officer MacPhail’s death will only compound the injustice horribly.

Please, please:

  1. If you haven’t signed the Amnesty petition yet, please do so by clicking here.
  2. If you are a member of the legal profession or clergy, please join the sign-on letters being circulated in support of Mr. Davis’s request for clemency. Legal professionals click here; clergy, click here.
  3. Write a letter to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles (address and sample letter below): Here again, it is important to focus on the holes in the case — the fact that anything less than an ironclad verdict cannot be the basis for the death penalty.
  4. Watch the following video, regarding clemency for Troy, and pass it on– “The State of Georgia does not have to execute Troy Davis and it should not execute Troy Davis,” in the words of Prof Russell Covey, Criminal Law Expert, Georgia State University. “There is one fail-safe built into the system that still exists, and that’s the clemency process.”
  5. ASK OTHERS TO DO LIKEWISE, particularly citizens of Georgia. Send a link to this post, or to any of the above information, and ask your friends and loved ones to take action. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to spread news far and wide — if you are on either, please use them in support of Troy.

There is no other way to put this: There is a very real possibility that Troy Davis will be dead before the month is out, killed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Please do whatever you can to save his life.

******************

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please note that as of today (9/14/11) snailmail will likely take too long to reach the board. Commenter AndyHall provides this email address for forwarding letters to the board: Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us (and suggests that, if you can, attach it as a .pdf as well, with a signature), and this site for more contact information: http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/opencms/

Sample letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (if you are a member of the legal profession or clergy, please say so in your letter):

Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909.

To the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles,

In the interest of justice, I appeal to you to grant clemency to Troy Davis, who is currently scheduled to be executed on September 21.  He was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail.

I am deeply concerned that Mr. Davis may be executed despite serious doubts regarding his guilt, and the fact that the case against him has steadily unraveled over the years. There is no physical evidence linking Mr. Davis to the crime, seven out of nine eyewitnesses have recanted, and many witnesses have implicated another man all together, someone reported to have boasted of the crime to friends — one of the original witnesses. There are scores of unresolved questions about what happened the night of the murder, and only one thing is clear: There is overwhelming doubt.

The murder of Officer MacPhail was tragic, and I in no way seek to deny or diminish the pain and suffering the MacPhail family has endured, but executing Troy Davis will not bring them justice. Please act quickly to grant Mr. Davis clemency.

Sincerely

Name
Address

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UPDATE: Edited to remove an action step that has since been deemed counter-productive.

Two quick things: Israel’s social protests & Troy Davis.

I don’t post on Shabbat, and may not be around at all until after Labor Day, so quickly, before I take off:

  1. If you’re looking for information on Israel’s J14 social movement and the Million Person March slated for Saturday night, some good resources are: +972 Magazine, HaAretz, and Twitter — note: even if you’re not “on Twitter,” you can click through on these links to see what these folks are saying, and get to the sources to which they’re linking: @972mag, @j14ENG (an English-language aggregator/translator of many and varied j14 sources), @ibnezra, @DidiRemez, @myaguarnieri, @gershonbaskin, and (possibly) @acarvin.
  2. Please don’t forget Troy Davis. It is entirely likely that the State of Georgia will give Mr. Davis his execution date once the Labor Day holiday is behind us, and I repeat: Mr. Davis is almost certainly innocent of the crime for which the State of Georgia wants to kill him. Please, if you haven’t signed the Amnesty petition yet (click here), or are a member of the clergy or legal profession and haven’t yet joined the sign-on letters (click here) — please do so. A man’s life very literally hangs in the balance. It’s especially important to get the involvement of people in Georgia — please pass the word on!