Troy Davis captured our hearts and minds. Once just one of the more than 1,300 Black people on death row, Davis' case had drawn both grassroots support and the attention of noted political and religious leaders in recent years because of the many indications that Davis may well have been innocent. ColorOfChange members were outraged by Davis' situation and heartbroken when we were unable to help save his life. But his case remains a source of motivation and inspiration as the movement to eradicate racial bias in the criminal justice system continues.
Davis spent 20 years on death row after being convicted in a case that was riddled with issues. Two witnesses identified a different man as the perpetrator, and most of the witnesses that initially pointed to Davis as the person who shot Officer Mark MacPhail that fateful night in Savannah, GA, later recanted their testimonies. The jurors who sentenced him to death did not have an option to give him the less severe charge of life without parole. In 2007, four of these jurors signed affidavits expressing concerns and a desire that the execution not proceed. Sadly, despite the clear existence of too much doubt about his conviction, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole refused to grant clemency. Troy Davis was executed on September 21, 2011.
The racial disparity in the application of the death penalty is staggering. In 96% of states where studies on race and the death penalty have been conducted, there was a pattern of discrimination based on the race of the victim, the defendant, or both. When race factors so heavily in whether or not someone will be sentenced to death, we know we are dealing with a biased, unjust system. People of color face inequality and discrimination at every step of the criminal justice system. African Americans and Latinos make up an overwhelming majority of those who are stopped and frisked in New York City and elsewhere around the country. We also know that White prisoners are four times as likely as people of color to be granted Presidential pardons. Troy Davis' death is a recent, heartbreaking reminder of the tragic consequences of a racist system.
The fight to save Davis' life showed the power of Black Americans and our allies. We worked with partners at Amnesty International, the NAACP, the ACLU and Change.org to gather online petitions. More than 100,000 ColorofChange members signed petitions, and we raised more than $30,000 to run radio ads in Atlanta asking the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to halt the execution. Some ColorOfChange members wrote letters to the editor to help spread the word about all of the doubt surrounding Davis' case, and others involved in the effort led rallies and vigils all over the country. Together we were able to show that the world does care about what happens on death row and that we are watching.
Davis' case reignited a conversation about the death penalty, and clearly some state officials were listening. In November, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stopped executions from occurring in his state and announced that he would no longer allow executions during this time in office. And last year Illinois' legislature voted to stop using the death penalty, citing the tragic executions of 13 inmates who were found to have been wrongfully convicted. A Gallup poll done soon after Davis' execution found that opposition to the death penalty had hit its highest level in nearly 40 years.
As ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson wrote in The Huffington Post the day after Davis' execution:
This movement couldn't stop Davis' execution -- but it's a movement that won't die with Troy Davis. There's no better way to honor Troy's memory than to keep fighting for justice.
As we pause to remember Troy Davis, we also want to take a moment to honor his sister, Martina Correia. She fought on the front lines of the long battle to save her brother's life and passed away in December after a long battle with breast cancer.