I Am Troy Davis And You Are, Too: Pondering The Death Penalty, Reasonable Doubt & Black Men

Troy Anthony Davis could be my father.

My husband.

My brother.

My son.

My nephew.

My friend.

One of us.

And I am sorely reminded of this as the hours, the minutes, the seconds tick closer to 7 p.m., when Davis, found guilty in the murder of an off-duty Savannah, GA, police officer 22 years ago, will have his veins injected with a lethal cocktail of execution drugs as punishment for the death of Officer Mark MacPhail, despite evidence that strongly suggests Davis may not have killed him.

I won’t rehash the particulars in the Troy Davis case by now, those of us who pay attention to such things can recite them by rote: 7 or 9 witnesses recanted or contradicted their original testimony; there is no DNA evidence or murder weapon to tie Davis to the slaying; the guy who fingered Davis is believed to have been the triggerman; the Pope, former president Jimmy Carter, the NAACP, Amnesty International and Bishop Desmond Tutu have pleaded for Davis’ life. What deserves to be shouted from the mountaintops, though, is that the land of the free, the home of the brave this country of resolute righteousness when it comes to human rights in everyone else’s backyard is about to soil its hands with the blood of a man who may be innocent.

As my friend Kevin Powell wrote so eloquently in his Huffington Post piece, Why Are We Killing Troy Davis?, anyone who is either a person of color or related to one by blood or heart, should be very clear on this one true thing: Davis’ execution is a travesty for him and his family and a threat to us all. In his piece, Kevin acknowledges that his childhood of poverty, a single mother, an absent father, and violence and great economic despair could have easily translated into him becoming one of the many black or Latino males languishing in jail for making bad choices or simply being around those who made them could have easily led to him finding himself in Troy Davis’s shoes.

So I cannot simply view the Troy Davis case and execution as solely about the killing of Officer MacPhail. Yes, an injustice was done, a killing occurred, and I pray the truth really comes out one day.

But I am just as concerned about America’s soul, of the morality tales we are text-messaging to ourselves, to the world, as we move Troy Davis from his cell one last time, to that room where a needle will blast death into his veins, suck the air from his throat, snatch life from his eyes.

Now two men will be dead, Officer MacPhail and Troy Davis, linked, forever, by the misfortune of our confusion, stereotypes, finger-pointing, and history of passing judgment without having every shred of the facts. I am Officer MacPhail, I am Troy Davis, and so are you. And you. And you, too.

I’ll tell you this much: Over the years, I’ve wrestled with my feelings on the death penalty. On its face, it’s always made sense to me: You kill someone, a jury finds you guilty, your crime is heinous enough to warrant the death penalty, you get what you got coming to you. This is certainly how my heart is led when I consider what I’d want if someone took the life of someone I love.

But then my brain takes over when I consider America’s dark history of lynching, mutilating and murdering African American fathers, sons, mothers and daughters all-too-many times for no other reason than because the accused was black and the accusers reveled in the killing. Evidence of wrongdoing was inconsequential. Emmit Till. The Scottsboro Boys. The Brothers Griffin. Those are the names we know. Scores more, we don’t. But their deaths sear my soul.

And the death of Troy Davis will, too.

Because the case against him is refutable.

And this just feels wrong.

Is wrong.

Particularly when our country continues to use the death penalty to mete out justice. If we are to continue to do so, the very least “the system” should do is make sure that the case is ironclad before it takes irreversible action.

And as a resident of the state of Georgia where Troy Davis will be put to death tonight as a black wife, mother, daughter and sister, as a human being, I do not want this man killed in my name.

God bless the McPhail family, the Davis family and Troy Anthony Davis, too. They will reminisce over you, my God.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Beautifully said. Some days seem like they last forever – hopefully this one will last long enough for something to happen before 7pm.

  2. I was shaking in anger as I wrestled last night with just how real this situation is. I was talking to Kris about it, and I we spoke of the very same issues you brought up. Troy Davis could easily be any black man in my family or circle of friends! This is a chilling reminder of how little power we have, yet how important it is to USE whatever gifts we have to speak up, share our perspectives, and stop waiting for justice to happen TO us. Clearly, that is NOT an option.

  3. Donnica Zemrah Gordon

    Thank you, Denene.

  4. Denene, very well said. As a mother to a young son (living in a southern state), I am ever more attuned to the peril that young black men face in this country. We should ALL be concerned when most of the Western world and international human rights organizations have stepped forward to condemn the persistence of this barbaric practice in the US.

    Indeed we are in a very dark place in our country now and our 24-hour media culture has made it more pervasive. I saw Gov. Rick Perry stand firm when he was challenged about his death penalty record and I was stunned at the cheering he received when he said he did not believe any innocent person was executed.

    I too believe we should pray for Officer MacPhail’s family because what can be worse than the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one in the prime of his life? I too also pray for Troy and his family and for some sort of peace in due time.

    It appears this story will come to its inevitable conclusion tonight at 7pm. I was very moved by Troy’s words about why he was refusing his last meal. God can work miracles so perhaps Troy will be saved. We should always hope. My pastor has a bumper sticker on his car that says, “Who would Jesus execute?” Indeed. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

  5. As a white woman in GA, I’m also outraged. There is so much reasonable doubt in this case that no execution should be occurring. This is wrong.

    When will we learn that taking another life doesn’t bring back our loved one? It doesn’t even give us that sense of closure everyone speaks of. Ask those who’ve been there. The execution of a murderer didn’t ease their pain. They may be happy he’s dead but it didn’t really help them.

    In so many cases, whether or not you die depends on your race and your socioeconomic status. God help you if you are arrested for a crime and you’re poor, even more so if you are poor and a minority.

    Our justice system needs reform.

    And this execution needs to be stopped. I’ve petitioned and posted, I don’t know what else to do at this point. But I am sad today. And I feel for everyone affected.

  6. My heart just aches at the thought of this young man being put to death. Not only as a person with a Criminal Justice degree who believed in our sytem, but also as a black female who has a brother that unfortunately is in out of the the TDCJ system.. You are correct, this could be him! I believe in justice, let them do the time for the crime.. but we have a SYSTEM for a reason, to step in and act on situations just like this one. We have seen time and time again, people set free after DNA proves their innocence 30 years later.. atleast they have a chance to pick up and start over…What can you do when you have put a person to death. You dont get a do-over! This is senseless murder on the part of Georgia. They only want to seek revenge for fallen police officer, they dont want the truth.

  7. I concur with your sentiments. It is unfortunate that two human beings were taken away. It just shows that the justice system is severely flawed in how it deals with things. Personally, I believe a person should never be put to death by MAN. If a person takes the life of another human being then VENGEANCE is not MINE but our supreme ruler, which is GOD. He is the official judge and juror. So, that’s why I do not like the death penalty. I believe we as a human race are playing with fire. It is always that doubt that a mistake has been made. And let’s face it, we are humans which means we are IMPERFECT. There is never no clear way to know who did what. It is between them and our supreme ruler.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. When I first read about the Troy Davis case and what was happening to this young man, I was annoyed. Okay, understatement, I was pissed!

    But I started to look deeper, and it’s sad, he’s joining a long list of people who were executed who should not have been because of serious doubts about his case. In one my blog post Guilty Until Proven Otherwise I gave some examples of how our justice system is really messed up.

    I hope that we continue to fight for injustice because this could be anyone’s child, father, husband, or brother. May he rest in peace.

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