Troy Davis’ Execution Marks A Blow For Human Rights

Despite significant doubts in the case and international protests, Georgia’s board of pardons denied clemency for death row inmate Troy Davis on Tuesday, clearing the way for his execution at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The decision marks a huge blow not only to Davis and his family, but also to the larger human rights community that had made his case a rallying cry for years.

Those who oppose Davis’ execution are dismayed, but some are holding onto the thin shred of hope that he will be saved by a last-minute intervention. Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said, “This is a huge setback for human rights in the USA, where a man who has been condemned under dubious evidence is to be executed by the state. Even at this late stage, the Board must reconsider its decision.”

Davis was convicted in 1991 of murdering a Savannah police officer in 1989; the verdict, however, has drawn criticism due to inconsistent testimonies and the lack of physical evidence. In the two decades since his trial, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses have recanted their testimonies — and one of those who has held onto his testimony is the principle alternative suspect.

Amnesty and other human rights groups deemed Sept. 16 the International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis, and hundreds of thousands of people held vigils and other events to urge the Georgia board to grant him clemency. The case has drawn the attention of notable figures like Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI. Evidently, even the high profile nature of the cause was not enough to halt the execution.

Columnist Leonard Pitts wrote that this case in particular shows how bloodthirsty our nation can be: “But that need to see death — the inability to imagine how justice can be had without it — is compelling. Indeed, there can be little doubt that is what is driving Troy Davis toward execution.” His observation is particularly salient as Texas Gov. Rick Perry draws praise instead of criticism for his record of overseeing 234 executions at a recent Republican presidential debate.

Troy Davis is one of many people who have been sentenced to die on insufficient and inconsistent evidence, but his case had particular resonance for activists speaking out against our unfair, sometimes barbaric justice system. As crowds cheer the death penalty during presidential debates, the cries of those calling for clemency go unheeded — a chilling indicator of the direction our country is heading.


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