In light of the Troy Davis execution last week I have become rather concerned with politics. Troy Davis had been on death row for 22 years as the defendant implicated in the murder of a police officer. In the 22 years the case was open and he remained on death row, but had not yet been put to death, he was tried in numerous courts and given the opportunity on several occasions to prove his innocence. No judge seemed to believe he was innocent although in the course of the same 22 year stretch 7 of the 9 witnesses whose testimony implicated Davis as the shooter would go on to recant their statements and admit in courts of law that they were coerced by police to lie.
At his lethal injection Davis maintained his innocence, apologized to the family of the victim for their loss and pleaded with his supporters to keep fighting the case. The execution of a Black man in America with so much doubt surrounding the case leaves a bitter taste in my mouth about the country I will one day be an educator in. Whether or not Davis is guilty I will never know. What I do know is that in a court of law a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and certainly should be proven guilty in such a manner if they are to be executed. The Davis case was chock full of doubt but it made no difference to the Supreme Court when they let the state of Georgia execute Davis this month.
I am not a supporter of the death penalty because in a system this flawed, such a device could and has proven fatal in the case of more than one innocent person. I am no fan of the system either, as it is disproportionately filled with my constituents, but at least there is the unlikely possibility of rehabilitation and release. there is no coming back from death. What’s more, taking a life for a life is not justice. It is revenge. The life of one person does not mean more or less than the life of any other no matter the complexion of the skin or how heinous the crime. If someone shot and killed a member of my family I wouldn’t want them dead in 15 minutes. I’d want them to rot in prison and have to protect their back side on daily basis. But that’s just me.
I have mixed emotions about my sudden fervor to watch the news, ask questions, read articles and use the internet to research policies and laws passed in education, finance, foreign policy and a host of other areas where the decisions of a select few influence the lives of the majority. On one hand I am proud to know the details of current legislation being passed and be able to hold conversations about the plight of Brown children in America. It brings me joy to know I will one day be one of the good teachers and have a positive effect on my community. I take pride in being an educated woman of color and look forward to making contributions to the world starting with my community and constituents.
On the other hand I am ashamed. It should have always been this way. As much as I read books and discuss current events and have a deep love for my community I have never been more politically minded than I am today. Someone shouldn’t have had to die for me to develop a burning desire to improve my community, our judicial system and democracy as a whole. I know about slavery. I know about the the civil rights movement. I know about Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo. Did I really need one more account of injustice inflicted on a person of color by the very government meant to uphold his rights and civil liberties to take me over the edge? To convert me from a woman of words to a woman of action? I guess I did.
The most painful part of my self reflection is when I think about all the Black people who have yet to undergo this transformation. They were outraged by the Troy Davis case and heart broken the night of his execution. The next day? They were writing facebook statuses about Jersey shore. They were posting pretty pictures of their new hair styles on tumblr. They were shopping, tweeting, laughing and living life. Troy Davis was the farthest thing from their minds. The sad truth is that this is the trend for African Americans. The moment a cause is prevalent and on the front page we run to be a part of it and show our enthusiasm and support. We circulate online petitions and repost facebook notes and statuses. We post links to news coverage of rallies and debates. But the next day all is forgiven and its back to our smart phones and sneakers.
The harsh reality is if we bothered to look we could find cause to status about for each day of the year in a country full of so much inequality related to race, class and poverty. But the average American doesn’t know what’s going on until its plastered on the front page in size 36 font. The average African American doesn’t know what’s going on until The N.A.A.C.P. or Reverend Al Sharpton draws enough attention to a cause that it merits media coverage and/or a friend or family member brings it up in conversation.
I am not implying that my people are ignorant or unintelligent. I am suggesting that they are absurdly uninformed and make no strides toward becoming informed because they would rather enjoy their lives as individuals than struggle for social justice as a collective. I can understand the tendency to only care about yourself and those close to you. I have parents, younger siblings, grandparents, a fiance, a son and close friends that I hold near and dear to my heart. But they are all affected in one way or another by the current state of the American government and its justice system. It is for this reason that I urge all people of color to be informed about their past and present so they can be a part of creating a more equitable and accessible future for one another and themselves.