Thursday, 21 May 2009

Voices raised for Troy

Troy Davis could again come face to face with the Georgia execution machine. Following a federal court's rejection of his appeal, the stay of execution protecting Troy was lifted on May 16.

Troy's lawyers are planning a new appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, pleading once again for justice--that the courts should at least hear persuasive new evidence of Troy's innocence.

Among the facts that have never been heard by a jury are the statements of seven of nine witnesses who testified against Troy at his trial that they would not now implicate him. Of the remaining witnesses against Troy, one is Sylvester Coles, initially the prime suspect in the murder an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer that Troy was sent to death row for.

On May 19, people across the country and around the world will participate in an international day of action to save Troy. This is the latest show of protest in a struggle that has been building over years, touching people around the globe.

Troy's sister, Martina Correia, has been at the center of that struggle. She talked to Marlene Martin of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty about the fight to save her brother.

TROY HAS faced three execution dates and could soon face a fourth. Why do the courts keep blocking his chance to prove his innocence?

I THINK this has a lot to do with the fact that Georgia wants to remain defiant. There's been a lot of good-old-boy deals done to keep Troy from having his day in court.

In Georgia, we had a case last year of a white man who had been on death row for 20 years--and when one of the witnesses recanted, a lower court of appeals ordered a whole new trial. It's amazing--why would you do this for him, but not in Troy's case, where seven witnesses at his trial have recanted.

I think what's happened is that the former District Attorney Spencer Laughton has been so entrenched in prosecutorial misconduct in this state and in the good-old-boy system that they're saying, "Look, we can't let this guy be exonerated." They botched this so badly that I don't think they could even charge Sylvester Coles with the murder at this point.

I think they've played up this idea of the victim as a good old American boy, who had a family and was ex-military and was a police officer, and he was snuffed out by this Black guy named Troy Davis, so we have to kill Troy.

It's really disgusting. Bringing up a child, I teach my son to look at people and judge them for who they are, not how they look and how they speak. But in this case, when I'm standing up with my brother Troy, I feel like I never knew just what it meant to be Black in the South. To me, Troy's case is opening this big Pandora's box of what the South is really like--how some people are trying to make changes, but there's still others trying to hold on to that good-old-boy sentiment.

I'm trying to understand why it is that my brother's life is so insignificant to them. That they would blame him for the past mistakes his lawyers made when he had absolutely no control over them. I don't understand that at all. When they rule against him, they don't say "The State of Georgia v. the Law Firm of the Georgia Resource Center." They say "The State of Georgia v. Troy Anthony Davis: Denied."

ONE BLOCK on Troy's ability to get justice has been the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed under Bill Clinton, which put strict limits on death row appeals. Can you talk about that?

THE ANTI-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has been a total disaster for us.

Just the name of it--do they think they're dealing with terrorists, or with poor people who have no money to defend themselves? Because this law isn't being used on terrorists--it's being used against death row prisoners.

Why should there be a law that puts a time limit on innocence? It doesn't make any sense. And to top it off, they made the law retroactive, so that Troy never had a chance. I live in a country that people think is the best country in the world, yet our laws don't protect the innocent.

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act needs to be repealed. If our president is going to say that we're not a country that tortures, then when you don't give somebody an opportunity to prove their innocence, that's just a slap in the face of civil rights and human rights. Justice shouldn't be bought and paid for--but that's what happens.

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act is a technicality that is helping to put Troy in his grave. And it's not because they think he's guilty--it's because they won't even give him a chance to prove his innocence.

TROY HAS already faced three execution dates and is likely to face a fourth. If you and your family had relied only on the court system, it's probably safe to say that Troy probably would have been dead already. But you've also emphasized the struggle outside the courtroom.

OVER THE years, I've gone to conferences where people want us to wear suits and be nice. They weren't really out there raising hell. They wanted to be petition signers. I think there's a place for signing petitions, and I think there's a place for holding up signs, and I think there's a place for raising hell. I think it takes all of that.

The problem is that I couldn't find anybody who would believe me, because they thought, "Well, she's his sister. Of course she's going to think he's innocent." And I had lawyers from the Georgia Resource Center saying: "Don't call attention to this case. The media can be very bad. Maybe we can work on the prosecutor." It seemed like every time I turned around, it's like "be quiet, be quiet, be a good little girl."

But I thought, "I'm not ashamed because my brother's on death row. I love my brother, and I know my brother is innocent, and I'm going to prove it." So I realized I had to start challenging the system.

What I had to do is stand up and say: "I'm going to scream at the top of my lungs until somebody listens." I started asking: Why are we waiting until somebody gets an execution date before we spend millions of dollars, and sign petitions, and fax the governors? Why weren't we working on these cases of innocence beforehand? Why aren't we being proactive instead of always reactive?

That's why when I fight against the death penalty, it's not just for Troy. Of course, I'm fighting for my brother because I want to save his life. But I found that there are bigger issues--systemic problems, rooted in racism and poverty and economics.

So many other Troy Davises are out there, but there are so many families who don't know how to fight, or they're afraid to fight, or they don't have the strength to fight, or their relatives are too old to fight.

So I'm trying to give a voice to people who some say are voiceless. Then I started getting people saying to me, "I wish I had a sister like you." And I say back: "I may not be your sister by blood, but I'm still your sister. But I can't fight your battle. I can't tell your story like you tell your story. So instead of you telling me how good I am, why don't you stand up beside me, and let's fight together."

THE GLOBAL day of action for Troy on May 19 is Malcolm X's birthday, and your mother's birthday, too. What do you hope it will accomplish?

THE GLOBAL day of action has taken on a life of its own. There are actions in all 50 states, and I think there are actions in about 21 countries, some as far away as Africa. The name Troy Anthony Davis is becoming known all over the world.

But what this says to me is that, with a collective voice, people are saying, "We're not taking this crap anymore, and it doesn't make any sense what you're doing."

I had this girl break down crying when she called to talk about what they were doing for Troy. She told me how her and her 60-something-year-old mother were out on the highway, getting signatures and wearing "Troy Davis Innocent" shirts. To me, that is more inspirational than anything that the State of Georgia could do against my brother.

I think it's ironic that it's my mother's birthday and Malcolm X's birthday, because my mother is a really passive, very prayerful person. But she's also very protective of her child. And she's had to endure so much. She's had me battling cancer, my brother on death row, and my father dying six months after my brother was put on death row. My sister battled multiple sclerosis when she was a teenager, and she's still standing.

That to me is one of the most powerful influences I can have. I got an award one time for being an "Unstoppable Woman," and I tell people if I'm unstoppable, it's because my mother was unstoppable first. For her to stand in the face of all she's facing, and still have faith and still get up in the morning and push on--that's one of the most powerful things I could see.

I think the day of action is going to be a testament to her birthday and to the legacy of Malcolm X, because Malcolm X did so much for our community and for getting people to stand up.

For the global day of action, we have the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, the NAACP, the National Action Network, the ACLU--many organizations that don't work together much, and they're doing phenomenal things.

It's all because this case brings together everything that's wrong with the death penalty. It involves racism, it involves coercion, it involves economics, it involves police misconduct.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be speaking before the European Union and the Council of Europe, and that people would be calling me from other countries. Yesterday, a nun called from Ireland to say a prayer for Troy, and I told her I wasn't feeling well, so she said a prayer for me--she said they have a picture of my brother in their diocese, and they pray for him daily.

When you hear things like that, how can you not fight? And why aren't there more of us fighting?

YOU ALWAYS talk about how this struggle is bigger than just Troy. Can you say more about why?

I TELL people that no matter what happens, we have to push on, because Troy Davis is my brother, but there are other Troy Davises behind him. There were Troy Davises in front of him, and the struggle goes on. If we don't fight, we're going to lose much more than this fight against the death penalty. We'll lose ourselves.

I know that a lot of people are saying "we can't afford the death penalty anymore," and some of the legislation abolishing the death penalty is based on economics. But I hope at one point, the U.S. gets to be where we start teaching kids in schools about human rights. Most people don't even know when their human and civil rights are being violated. I think that happens so much in this country. And I think we need to have some people with integrity running for office, and we need to start holding them accountable.

I think that it's going to take a revolution. And it's coming, because with all the things that are going on--the death penalty, human rights, economics, racism--it's like a powder keg, waiting to explode. Someday soon, people are going to see what other people see--that we need to have human rights and human dignity for all.

Hopefully, one day, we won't have a need for an organization named the Campaign to End the Death Penalty because we won't have a death penalty. I look forward to that day in my lifetime. I look forward to that day very soon.

If we have to start marching in the streets from city to city, then we're going to have to start doing that--because these people need to understand that we're standing up for justice. And if they're not going to uphold the justice that we're supposed to have, then we're going to demand the justice that we need.

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