A letter from Rev. Dr. William J Barber, II, President, NC NAACP
September 22, 2011
Last night the entire world saw the failure of the American judicial system. Last night we witnessed criminal in-justice execute an innocent man — Troy Davis. Last night, we saw a system that was so blinded by revenge it could not see justice. Seven witnesses recanted, but the system could not see justice. A former FBI Director said this was wrong, but they could not see justice. Former wardens, including a former warden of the prison where Troy Davis took his final breathe, said, "Stop, you are wrong and you will regret this." But the system could not see justice. Politicians, who are often on the opposite side of the political spectrum said, "There’s too much doubt," but the system was still blinded by revenge. The religious community, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and others cried out, "Not in my name!" But the system could not see justice. People who themselves have been exonerated from Death Row and know the flaws of this system all too well said, "I am Troy Davis." But the system could not see justice.
In the last few days, we have heard and seen people who have become so insensitive, so hard hearted, they actually applauded the state machinery of death. They have come to believe executions are a badge of honor for the state, acting in our name. They have convinced themselves that, despite our flawed humanity that has never been capable of rendering perfect justice, we can take the place of God and assume authority to take another human life. They have convinced themselves that we humans can overcome the void caused by death with another death.
This is sad and tragic. The scriptures teach us, however, that some deaths actually serve to expose evil openly. Some deaths force us to look at evil directly. Some deaths shake us so we become even greater ambassadors for change…and for life.
Troy Davis has now joined tens of thousands of other martyrs in the long march against legalized lynching and for the cause of justice. If you look back in history, especially during the days of Jim Crow, down in Georgia and across the South, the death penalty was used almost exclusively against Black men. One of the NAACP’s founding principles was to fight the sinister reality of lynching. In North Carolina alone, defendants, be they black or white, with white victims are 3.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty than when the victim is black. And in the nation, some statistics show that a black man is six times more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white. Davis is now another martyr in this long struggle. A martyr’s death is greater and has more power when it is placed on the bending arc of justice than the meanness that killed him. In the martyr’s death, the death of the very system that killed him is sown. When the martyr dies, his voice is not silenced, but rather cries out from the grave, echoing and reverberating through the universe, serving to fertilize and give birth to new and stronger movements against the system that killed him in the first place.
The mean might rejoice in the death of Troy Davis, the martyr. But in the spiritual realm, he is not destroyed. His spirit is released to inspire even greater work against the systems of injustice.
The name Troy, according to some definitions, means foot soldier. Foot soldiers are those who keep pressing on, against great odds, on the battlefield of life, step by step, until victory is won. Troy Davis was a foot soldier for Justice. His spirit was too big for a jail cell. Too large for a casket. His voice, echoed by his own last words, has now been released. It will call us again and again to keep on marching, keep on fighting and keep on pushing for justice. When we say "I am Troy Davis" let it mean we too are foot soldiers. We too will never retreat, but will press on until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.