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On Wednesday night a couple hundred people marched in circles in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to protest the impending execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia man convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer in Savannah in 1989.
Davis denied committing the crime, and despite the fact that his conviction was largely based on eyewitness accounts, and that seven of nine key witnesses later recanted or changed their testimony, he was executed at 11:08 p.m. to international outcry.
Back in D.C., it was the sort of night that made a native Georgian feel awfully foreign.
In my home state, several friends and hundreds of strangers crowded outside the Jackson, Ga., prison where Davis was being held. They posted Instagram photographs and tweeted about police officers in riot gear. Here in D.C., I went to an Amnesty International protest in Mount Vernon Square, where social media helped a group of Howard University students meet up with us as we marched toward the Supreme Court, where justices ultimately denied a stay of execution.
Professionally printed Amnesty Internation signs reading “Save Troy Davis” were flanked by handmade posters with #toomuchdoubt written in marker, the letters’ outlines filled in with neon squiggles. There were the obligatory gawkers: an undergraduate awkwardly interviewing protesters for a student magazine, a man in a salmon-colored suit who I assumed was affiliated with Code Pink.
Like many others at the protest, I spent a lot of time rubbing on my phone. The occasional news update was momentarily gratifying, but for the most part it was a hollow and sad shared digital experience. The common sentiment — “This is a really unjust thing that is happening” — while undoubtedly true and perhaps cathartic, brought no comfort. But Twitter became a means of sharing and gathering information from people on the ground, my ground, ground that was more and more maligned as the night wore on.
As a Southerner, I’m painfully aware of my homeland’s problematic, complicated history with civil rights. Though my South is far more than the sum of a Klan hat and a Civil War reenactment, Troy Davis’ death being referred to as a lynching carries a cultural weight that it would not bear had he been executed, in, say, Nebraska. But as the night wore on, Georgia-bashing became a component of the Troy Davis Twitter commentary. A friend who moved to Georgia from Minnesota tweeted “Biggest tip I got when I moved to Georgia: set your clocks back to 1954.”
Troy Davis didn’t die because some zany redneck lawyers continually mistried him in hillbilly court; he died because an entire justice system is flawed. As my friend Rachael wrote on — you guessed it — Twitter, “If blood’s on our hands, it’s on yours too.”
The Supreme Court seemed small as we marched in front of it. After the court’s stay ruling, that feeling of smallness seemed prescient. I left around 9:30 p.m., because my boots were leaking and my cat needed feeding. As I heated up dinner, my boyfriend called to tell me that Davis would be executed within minutes. All I could do was cry on the cat.
Luckily, my boyfriend was watching the news back home on Democracy Now’s livestream in Jackson. Over Gmail chat, he paraphrased Kathyrn Hamoudah, a Public Policy Associate with the Southern Center for Human Rights: “I keep on coming out here because I think my state can do better and society can do better. And the minute I stop coming out is the minute the state has won, and I can’t do that.”
It was the first time I’ve ever thought “Man, it is good for my soul that someone is relaying television news to me.”
One of the chants we bellowed in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday night was echoed in Georgia: “I am!” “Troy Davis!” “We are!” “Troy Davis!”
But maybe we’re all Georgians too—heartbroken, but confident that we can do better.