On Wednesday night, the Internet demanded justice. Somewhere in the small town of Rosebush, Mich. — a tiny community of less than 400 citizens — sat Amy Bruce, a 7-year-old girl allegedly dying of terminal illness. Her family was strapped for cash, her medical bills were unpaid. So Amy became an online sensation: Every time her virtual plea was copy-pasted into a Facebook status, Make-a-Wish would donate $7 to save a young life.
Amy Bruce does not exist, nor has she ever existed. But the idea of Amy Bruce has been around since 1999; that’s when she first appeared as a subject of a chain email imploring readers to “send this [message] along, I thank you so much.” The forward-this-email-to-save-a-fictitious-kid is standard Snopes fare: the kind of thing that makes us feel like we’re doing something without, you know, actually really doing anything.
That same Wednesday night — a little bit past 11 p.m., after dozens of Amy Bruces made their pleas on my news feed — the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis.
In 1989, Troy Davis was accused of murdering an off-duty police officer, a crime for which he was convicted two years later. Troy Davis was sentenced to death.
Since 1991, Troy Davis has had four execution dates. Since 1991, witnesses have recanted testimony; evidence of police coercion has emerged; assumptions have been called into question. What once seemed proof beyond a reasonable doubt soon became anything but.
Davis’ execution had been postponed three times. As the fourth planned date approached, people around the world rallied behind Davis’ cause, opposing the execution of a potentially innocent man. Protestors took to the streets; petitions circulated; celebrities, from P. Diddy to the Pope, called for clemency.
But on Wednesday evening — a little bit before 11 p.m. — Troy Davis received a lethal injection. He died at 11:08. Even in his final words, he maintained his innocence.
It’s now time to have a serious conversation about crime and punishment in America. It’s time to think about what the death penalty really means — not just in its theory, but also in its practice.
Since its inception, the Innocence Project — an organization “dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing” — has freed over 250 individuals by way of DNA testing, 17 of who faced the death penalty. These numbers represent a fraction of misidentified and wrongfully convicted prisoners in the United States.
It’s a simple and powerful proposition: Innocent people should not be executed, nor should the mere possibility of guilt be grounds for execution. If we want to live in a nation where the justice system is actually just, we need to live in a nation where the process of conviction is a lot more flawless than it currently is.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know if Troy Davis was guilty or innocent. Hell, I guess we’ll never know now. But as sure as I know Amy Bruce doesn’t exist, I know Troy Davis was a real person. And while Amy Bruce asks us to mindlessly forward a trite $7 plea, Troy Davis asks us to consider, solemnly and sincerely, the human impact of our nation’s policies: What it really means to send a human being — not some fictitious Facebook figurehead — to die beyond a reasonable doubt.
Troy Davis’ last words were as follows: “For those of you about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”
Guilty or innocent, that’s a message I’m willing to forward.
Marissa Medansky is a freshman in Morse College.