Troy Davis was murdered barbarously but joined his ancestors with the dignity and spirit that they couldn’t crush – and he told them so. Like many thousands of others, I feel a swirling set of emotions – from anger at the injustice of executing an innocent man to despondency that worldwide protests could not prevent it.
But I also feel joy that so many decent people across the globe united on Twitter and Facebook to will and pray for humanity to triumph. I take heart from the fact that over two hundred people gathered outside the US Embassy in London last night over an issue that would normally be entirely domestic to America.
I am uplifted by the genuine sense of unity between African peoples in Britain and America, that the spiritual Diaspora connection blossomed in the midst of tragedy. For while it was positive that people of all races came together to oppose the death penalty, at the heart of the Troy Davis story is the issue of race, and every conscious black person knows it.
Like Mumia Abu Jamal, on death row in Philadelphia, the penal system seeks revenge for shooting of a white cop regardless of the innocence of the black man picked up for the crime – or perhaps because of it, depending on how deep one wishes to take this.
Unity between races is as essential in defeating the death penalty as it was in bringing about the end of enslavement. Yet it remains important to also acknowledge that while some supporters wore the “I Am Troy Davis” t-shirts and posted Facebook profile pictures out of genuine solidarity, those of African ancestry wearing this slogan did so knowing in their hearts that they, or their relatives, could really be Troy Davis.
And while we don’t have the death penalty in Britain – although David Cameron wants a free vote in parliament soon cheered on by right-wingers like Priti Patel – we know about the experience of black people dying in police custody, in prisons and youth offending jails, and especially in mental facilities. Unofficially the death penalty does exist here. And that is why so many people of melanin stood up and said “I Am Troy Davis.”
The other emotion I feel following his execution is one of hope. Hope that the pendulum has swung against the death penalty ritual that has taken so many lives, sometimes to aide political careers, such as the case of Willie Horton.
The other thought that gives me hope is the memory of Sam Sharpe (pictured) who led a rebellion against enslavement in Jamaica in 1831. The preacher was hung in Montego Bay in May 1832. Little over a year later, Britain passed the Slave Abolition Act which finally banned the practice of slavery.
Sharpe’s uprising was the last major slave rebellion before the evil practice was officially outlawed. His death, publicly strung up in the town square, served only to strengthen the abolition movement and hasten the end of slavery.
As America struggles with its’ economic slump and faces being overtaken as the world’s premier superpower, it is wise to remember Sam Sharpe today. We never want to see any innocent person’s life taken away, but we never know just how significant that death will be – especially if we continue to unite as a Diaspora and build wider alliances for justice.
What kills us can indeed make us stronger.