“A life for a life.” This is a statement typically associated with the death penalty process. However, members of the Howard University community looked to prevent that motto from coming to fruition as they marched to the White House, roughly a dozen facing arrest, to rally for death row inmate Troy Davis.
However, protests, phone calls and petitions from supporters worldwide were not enough to save Davis’ life. Officials declared the 42-year-old dead at 11:08 p.m. last Wednesday at the Georgia Diagnostic Prison.
Davis had been on death row for 22 years after his conviction for the murder of an off-duty Georgia police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989. There had been several appeals to his death sentence, due to reasonable doubt. The execution schedule had been pushed back several times, including on Wednesday night.
“To the people who are about to take my life, may God have mercy on you and may God bless your soul.” These were some of Davis’s last words.
Davis did not go down without a fight. He claimed his innocence until his final moments, according to media observers at his execution. “I did not have a gun,” he said. “I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent.”
Millions of people all over the world supported Davis. Among those supporters were Howard students, many of whom marched from campus to the White House. Through the busy street of Georgia Avenue, to the crowded streets of Chinatown, Howard students marched straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“It was hot, it rained but we kept marching,” said sophomore Ashley Woodley. “We had signs; we chanted songs, all for the justice of Troy Davis.” Cars honked, and people nodded in approval as the students chanted, “No justice no peace” and “Free Troy Davis.”
When the students finally reached the White House, they continued to demonstrate for the cause. Though the protest was peaceful, more than a dozen Howard students and one professor were arrested.
Officers warned the students to move from a designated area. After a few refused to comply, they were taken into custody. The students stood silently and then began to cheer in support, as officers handcuffed their classmates and placed them in the back of a police van. The students were later released with the help of their classmates who collected money toward their bail.
Students rallied on until shortly after 7 p.m. when they received word of the delayed execution. They chanted “too much doubt,” they sang “We Shall Overcome” and they continued to lobby for what they believed was justice for Troy Davis.
As the news of his final fate spread, students used social media as a venue to express their views. Sophomore Jasmine Gordon tweeted: “It’s gonna rain tonight because of the injustice. God is watching in disgust at America and mankind!”
The story of Troy Davis is a controversial one. What is now peace for one family is now unrest for many others.
Benjamin Woods, co-founder of Students Against Mass Incarceration, said even though he was pleased by the turnout of students now and a few years ago, he hopes to see more energy around this cause.
“I’ve been following the case for a minute, I actually had to do a project on death row and I am from Georgia so this is not my first time hearing about Troy Davis,” Chelsea Kilborn, sophomore English major, said before the execution. “His faith is strong, and I am praying we can make some change to get something paused.”
Being from Georgia, Kilborn said that she wasn’t surprised that Davis landed on the wrong side of the law. “The saddest part about it is that it could’ve been anyone, anybody in that area, anybody walking around,” she said. “They can’t prove that he is guilty so it is kind of counter-productive and it sets a bad example for what is being tolerated versus what is not.”
Woods had a similar mindset before the day unfolded.
“It is going to take a lot in terms of his case,” Woods said then. “Most likely an innocent man will be executed, but we have to make this a larger case.”
Woods said this case goes beyond that of Troy Davis and looks at the prison system as a whole. “This is about the prison system. This is about the prison industrial complex. This is about capitalism itself and the role the death penalty plays in maintaining authority over populations.”
Additional reporting by Camille Augustin.