By Elizabeth Beck
with Sarah Britto
Neither Sarah nor I have met Troy Anthony Davis. I first met his family in about 2003, which was about 18 years into his death sentence when Sarah and I were working on In the Shadow of Death: Restorative Justice and Death Row Families. At the time, his sister Martina Correia’s cancer was in remission, his mother, Virginia, was alive, and very few people had heard of Troy Davis. In my first conversation with Martina, she talked about regularly working late into the night sending out letters and press releases trying to tell Troy’s story to anyone who would listen, to gain support in her fight to save his life. At the time her effort was a lonely one.
Since then there have been many changes. We have watched Martina receive national awards for her fight for women’s health and breast cancer, and we are deeply saddened to hear that her health has become compromised again. On May 4, 2010 not long after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Davis, Virginia took a nap and did not wake up. Martina is quoted as saying that she “died of a broken heart. I don’t think my mother could have taken another execution date.” Martina’s lonely and tireless work for Troy grew into a worldwide movement. We have seen protests and signs of support for Troy from around the globe, and the effort to save his life brought together such unlikely allies as former House of Representatives, Republican member Bob Barr and Jesse Jackson. As Martina says, “Troy Davis has impacted the world.”
At present, I am out of the country and what I know is through friends, newspapers and, I must admit, Facebook. Responses about the execution have included shock, anger, and resolve to end the death penalty. Today we say, “Troy Davis, Rest in Peace,” but what Troy’s death also shows us is that, as a society, our commitment to justice and our sense of humanity is tenuous. We must “keep the faith” as Troy Davis said to his family and supporters in his final moments. We are not alone in worrying if some day we as a nation will be saying Rest in Peace to the values of reconciliation, forgiveness, and justice. However, there is reason for hope. The worldwide action for Troy shows that people will continue to fight for justice. Ross Byrd’s desire to stop the execution (which occurred on the same night as Troy’s) of Lawrence Brewer, the white supremacist who killed Ross’ father James Byrd by dragging him through the streets of Jasper, Texas behind a pickup truck is but one example. And there is Martina Corriea’s reminder, prior to her brother’s execution, to not give up hope and or lose faith.
In our reflection and our grief for Troy and his family we should also reflect on the pain and anguish suffered by Marc Allen MacPhail, Sr.’s family. Officer MacPhail died much too soon and left behind his beloved mother, siblings, wife, and children. His family has suffered in ways unimaginable to most. The divisiveness of the death penalty issue should never make us immune to the suffering of others. Today, our hearts go out to the MacPhail family, the executioners, the correctional officers, and judicial officers who helped facilitate the execution, the witnesses and jury members on this case, to Martina Corriea and the rest of Troy’s family, and to individuals on both sides of the death penalty debate.
Elizabeth Beck is Associate Professor of Social Work at Georgia State University, Director of the Center for Community Social Work, and Principal Investigator for the Georgia Council for Restorative Justice. Beck is also involved in a number of community-based and forensic initiatives, and has consulted on numerous capital cases and has been asked to serve as an expert in state and federal cases. She edited the volume Social Work and Restorative Justice: Skills for Dialogue, Peacemaking, and Reconciliation with Nancy Kropf and Pamela Leonard.
Beck is author with Sarah Britto and Arlene Andrews of In The Shadow of Death: Restorative Justice and Death Row Families. Read their previous posts on Troy Davis here.