Americans and their ever changing stance on capital punishment is prophetically described with an executed man’s words:”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!”
After numerous appeals and more than 20 years on death row, Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Georgia nearly four weeks ago for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail.
His supporters continue to stand behind him and say his death will crucify capital punishment. Some of those same men and women have taken over Woodruff Park in Atlanta, renaming it Troy Davis Park.The takeover is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but at the same time is part of a growing push around the country to take the fight against the death penalty from closed doors into the public for past, future, and current Troy Davises.
“One of the homeless men in the park spoke to us about being on death row for 26 year before DNA evidence exonerated him,” said Shabnam Bashiri. “Cases like his and Troy Davis put things in perspective when you add a face to people who were wronged by the justice system”
A face to the wronged and falsely accused is how activists describe the fuel for the firestorm of awareness that ensued before Davis execution, and they credit it for a new perceived sway in America’s view of capital punishment.
In fact the number of Americans who approve of the death penalty is at the lowest level of support since 1972, according to a Gallup Pol. Sixty-one percent of Americans who took the poll days after Troy Davis’ execution approved of capital punishment for a person convicted of murder, down from 64 percent the previous year.
Steven Mintz, an Ethics Professor at California Polytechnic State in San Luis Obispo, California is among those who say Troy Davis’ execution was a metamorphosis of sorts. “I use to believe in an eye for eye justice, but now I’m more like Ghandi an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind,” said Mintz.
The execution of a man he perceived to be innocent was the final blow that convinced Mintz to believe inmates should be given the chance to rehabilitate and become contributing members of society. His concern is also for families like the MacPhail family who waited two decades for closure, strung along with each appeal and stay.
“What if this was my daughter or my wife who were wronged? I still wouldn’t want the death penalty imposed on someone else. I would prefer to know this person would be in jail for the rest of their lives, no parole,” said Mintz, who has now begun to research and blog about the death penalty, says it’s impossible to ignore race in death penalty cases because African-Americans are targeted for the prison system.
In his research he tracked the 2010 census and points out blacks make up 35 percent of the population and 12.6 percent are behind bars.
Amnesty International, one of the groups that worked to save Troy Davis, says it’s incredible how word about Davis spread and made people more aware of social injustices around them. Laura Moye the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director for Amnesty says the case can’t be compared to any she’s ever seen before and isn’t surprised if it has enticed Americans to second guess their opinions. She says the case gave the anti-death penalty movement momentum that must be continually built upon to reach its full potential.
“It’s clear to us the state of Georgia did a better job at proving the point we been trying to make for decades. This is what happens when you give states the power to decide life or death. The innocent are killed.”