Troy Davis is dead. Gone from the Earth forever for the alleged murder of police officer Mark MacPhail in a Savannah, Ga., parking lot, Aug. 19, 1989. In a death nearly 22 years in the making, many questions remain: Was he innocent? Was he culpable for the crime? Nobody knows. However, one thing we do know is that he is not the first and will not be last person to be executed under a plea of innocence. In fact, it may be our attention spans matched with our short bursts of intrigue that are the ultimate deterrent of real justice.
What is it that draws us to people on the cusp of execution? Is it the novelty of public violence? The world loves a good show, if it’s not happening to us personally. Preferably an episode full of tension (racial, sexual, etc.) in an off-the-radar place, and personal recollections from the scene of the crime, all neatly packaged into something we can watch. I assume it is the same appeal that glued our eyes to the television when Casey Anthony was on trial for the death of her daughter. Ultimately, it’s sensationalism and consumers that direct what events the general public pays attention to.
What do we gain from jumping to action right before an execution takes place? Is it a search for self-importance that drives us to try in vain to save a person from their destined fate? I know of friends and classmates who had never heard of Troy Davis and his conviction until the days leading up to his execution. Sure, we organize candlelight vigils, write letters and sign petitions. But do any of these of these things reflect investment in the actual case? At these moments, we love to criticize our judicial system and suggest our own solutions. But truthfully, do any of us ever follow through with our concerns? Deep in my stomach, I feel like I’m having déjà vu every time a questionable execution is taking place. We are attending to our daily tasks, the potential execution comes out of nowhere; we care, and once it’s over, we forget.
Why do we forget? Is it in our nature to look at the bright light only once it’s directly in front of us? Here today, gone tomorrow. I am sure that the families of Mr. Davis and Mr. MacPhail understand this fact very well today. As a matter of fact, we all do — when something happens to us, of course. Our insensitivity to the lives of others allows us to be fully invested in a cause but totally detached at the same time. We can appeal to whomever we want without remembering the pain of those involved. It is an unsettling thought; there are very few people who feel pain when a large number of deaths flash on a TV, computer or phone screen after a disaster. Why then do we feel sympathetic when our focus is on one person, an individual?
From the ebb and flow of emotions we feel in the aftermath of the execution of Troy Davis, maybe it’s not about the vicissitudes of crime and punishment. Perhaps the answer lies in the conversations we should have about our relationship to the judicial system, our sense of justice. Perhaps we should show commitment, and remain more reliably sensitive to the events that resonate in our minds repeatedly, but are gone as fast as we think of them. It is no longer enough to be invested in an execution from a detached, flighty lens. It is only through dialogue and commitment that we can implement change in our search for justice — and perhaps more importantly, remembrance.
Morkeh Blay-Tofey is a junior in Trumbull College.