Our journey to rally for Troy

September 19, 2011

Thousands of people rallied for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis on an international day of action called on September 16. On September 19, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold a hearing on whether to grant clemency to Troy, just two days before his scheduled execution--and activists will hold a vigil outside the hearing.

Davis, who was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty Savannah police officer, has spent the last 19 years on death row setting out his innocence and his right to be free. There is no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and since his conviction, seven of the nine witnesses who accused him at his original trial have recanted their testimonies.

When an execution date of September 21 was set two weeks ago, Troy's many supporters around the world stepped up the campaign to stop this miscarriage of justice--organizing the day of action that turned out people in Atlanta and across the country.

The largest protest was in Atlanta, where more than 3,000 people from near and far turned out to make a last-minute appeal for Troy. Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, traveled with abolitionists from Chicago to take a stand in Atlanta for Troy Davis. Here, she described that journey.

FOUR OF us in the Chicago chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty set out in the wee hours on Friday morning for a 12-hour trek to Atlanta to take part in a march and rally to save the life of Troy Anthony Davis, who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, September 21.

We were weary and anxious as we pulled into Atlanta's downtown, parked and then headed over to Woodruff Park, where the march was due to begin. Then we saw it--a sea of blue shirts adorned with the slogan "I AM TROY DAVIS"--and our collective weariness faded away.

More than 3,000 people gathered in the park--old and young, with handmade and printed signs. We soon found our contingent, a group of people chanting and beating plastic drums. We saw Mark Clements, a former Burge police torture victim from Illinois in the middle of it all, leading the chants with his trusty bullhorn.

Mark had flown down a day earlier to take part in a panel discussion for Troy. Former death row prisoners Darby Tillis and Lawrence Hayes would also soon be joining us in Atlanta.

Protesters gathered in Atlanta to demand clemency for Troy Davis
Protesters gathered in Atlanta to demand clemency for Troy Davis

Three busloads of people arrived from Troy's hometown of Savannah, Ga., four busloads came from North Carolina, and one from Columbus, Ga.

AFTER A few minutes, we started off on the mile-long march. We were heading straight for the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was once pastor.

Our contingent swelled to more than 100, with many around us joining in, as our chants rang out confidently: "Say what? Testify! We won't let Troy Davis die!" "It's not justice, its a lie, Troy Davis must not die!" and " They say death row, we say hell no!"

It was clear when we arrived at the church that not everyone would get in. Sure enough, Ebenezer Baptist filled to its capacity 2,500.

For those who couldn't get in, an impromptu rally began just steps away. Mark Clements spoke first. He told the crowd how he, too, was Troy Davis--having been arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, for which he served 28 years in prison before winning his release. Mark underscored the importance of fighting back, saying, "We have made a determination to be noisy. It's time for us, the people, to understand that in all of us, there's a Troy Davis."

What you can do

Appeal from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

There will be a vigil and rally outside of Troy's clemency hearing on Monday, September 19--the last change for an innocent man to plead for his life from the state of Georgia.

We are urging everyone to continue to fax (404-651-8502) and send e-mails to [email protected] to the parole board with the message that that Troy must not be killed--and to continue to get signatures on petitions and letters of support for Troy. Three out of five of these members have to vote for clemency for it to be granted. The decision of the board is expected late on Monday or Tuesday.

If you are able to hold a petitioning event on your campus or in your community to stand in solidarity with the vigil in Atlanta, we urge you to do so.

For more information about Troy's case or how to get involved in this struggle, please go to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty website.

Darby Tillis sang a song about Troy and talked about the racism inherent in the system, and Troy's cousin spoke, urging people to keep up the pressure on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

People were spirited, encouraged and realized the importance of what we were doing--that it was up to us to save Troy. That was a mission everyone seemed to take very seriously. And we were very aware that we were just one part of an international effort to save Troy. We chanted, "The whole world is watching!"

Meanwhile, inside the packed church, people heard from various civil rights leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network; Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP; entertainer and civil rights legend Dick Gregory; as well as exonerated death row prisoners Shujaa Graham and Larry Drinkard. Prayer and music filled the program, including a song by the Indigo Girls. People rose to their feet many times, applauding the rousing speeches.

It was announced that solidarity actions were taking place all over the U.S. and all over world on this Global Day of Solidarity for Troy, as far away as Nigeria and Hong Kong.

The most moving part of the program came at the very end when many people had already started leaving. The Davis family was asked to come to the front to address the crowd.

Troy's sister, Martina Correia, who has led the fight for her brother, was too sick to attend--she suffers from breast cancer. But with cane in hand, Kim Davis made her way across the stage, accompanied by her 20-year-old nephew De'Jaun, Martina's son--both of them wearing their bright blue "I AM TROY DAVIS" T-shirts.

Kim, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, thanked the crowd for all they were doing and reported that Troy was amazed at the showing of support. De'Jaun then spoke and talked about how he has visited Troy for the past 20 years, and what a positive presence his uncle has been in his life.

De'Jaun talked about the courage he has gotten from his mother Martina. He said the press asks him how their family is dealing with the upcoming execution date, and he says that they are responding the same way they have for over 20 years--with strength and courage. Many of us in the audience were crying when he spoke. He ended by leading the crowd in a chant of "I AM TROY DAVIS, YOU ARE TROY DAVIS, WE ARE TROY DAVIS." It was electric.

ON OUR way back to Chicago the next day, we called Martina. Her voice sounded stronger than it had a couple of days earlier. She was anxious to hear about the march and rally. "I heard De'Jaun said I had passed him the baton, and he agreed to take it," she said Yes, we told her, and we gave her a blow-by-blow description of the event.

As Martina told us:

After all the years of going to speak at different events, getting on planes and in cars and traveling all over to speak to so many different organizations, I just never would have imagined that this was going to be the result. It's like the movement for Troy has a life of its own. It's so wonderful. And now, if they try to go through with it, they are going to have such a hard time, because so many people are going to be outraged.

During our conversation, Martina talked about how she was hoping to visit Troy, even though she has been too weak to get out of a wheelchair for more than a few steps, and had recently had a feeding tube inserted, as well as a tube placed in her lung to drain fluid. "My oncologist is arranging to go with me so I can visit with Troy," she said.

When I asked her if there was anything that we could do for her or anything she needed, she said only, "Please tell everyone about your coming to Atlanta and what that was like."

So here this is--for Martina and for all of you.

On our way down, we scribbled out a note to drop in the mail to Troy. I saw the part that Ken, another Campaigner who made the journey down from Chicago, wrote to Troy. He thanked Troy, explaining that because of him that he was inspired to get involved in the abolitionist movement.

It is clear that many thousands of people now feel exactly the way Ken does. It's clear by the massive outpouring of support for Troy that people have been inspired by his case and will continue to fight for justice.

We left Atlanta optimistic and encouraged about what is to come in the next few days. Georgia officials must now know that they can't get away with killing Troy without it resulting in massive anger at a system so reluctant to stop a tragic injustice from occurring.

Randi Jones Hensley contributed to this article.

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