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2011-10-03

Mourners Call for Abolishing Death Penalty at Funeral for Troy Davis in Georgia

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This weekend in Savannah, Georgia, Troy Anthony Davis was laid to rest. Davis was killed by lethal injection in Jackson, Georgia, on September 21 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop his execution. The 2,000-seat Jonesville Baptist Church was filled to capacity for his funeral. While his body was being lowered into the burial ground, 23 doves were released. The first was symbolic of his spirit, and the remaining 22 represented each year Davis spent in prison. He was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there was no physical evidence that tied Davis to the crime scene. Democracy Now! was in Savannah for the funeral, and we play excerpts from the eulogies by Jason Ewart, Troy Davis’s attorney and an eyewitness to his execution; Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP; Larry Cox, president of Amnesty International USA; Edward DuBose, president of NAACP-Georgia; Ledra Sullivan-Russell, friend of Troy Davis; Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church; Antone De’Jaun Davis-Correia, nephew of Troy Davis. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday in Savannah, Georgia, Troy Anthony Davis was buried. He was executed by the state of Georgia on September 21st. The 2,000-seat Jonesville Baptist church was filled to capacity for his funeral.

Troy Davis was a death row prisoner. He was killed by lethal injection in Jackson, Georgia, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop his execution. He was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer, who was moonlighting as a security guard, Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony or changed it, and there was no physical evidence that tied Davis to the crime scene.

Among those who opposed the execution were the Pope; the former FBI director William Sessions; the former Republican congressman from Georgia, Bob Barr; and the former warden of Georgia’s death row prison itself.

Democracy Now! was in Jackson for the execution and then again this weekend in Savannah for the funeral, which lasted four hours. One of the first speakers was Jason Ewart, Troy Davis’s attorney and an eyewitness to the execution, followed by others.

JASON EWART: Many have spoken of Troy as a symbol, a symbol of something political, something profound. But Troy wasn’t a symbol. He was the soul of something larger, something profound. The reason Troy meant so much to so many may have been political, but Troy meant so much to so many more. And that’s why we’re here today, to celebrate the many Troys that we knew.

And I know I speak for all of Troy’s lawyers and people who have worked on his case with Amnesty International, NAACP, that when I state that our first response in learning that the execution would go forward was this makes no sense, that no possible purpose can be served by executing a man in the face of the mountain of doubt in whose shadow this case will forever lie.

Last week, as we saw justice pass us in the night, Troy, strapped to the gurney, raised his head and made his last pledge of innocence. While his final statement made headlines and garnered much news coverage, to me, it seemed commonplace. This is what Troy said to me on a regular basis. It was newsworthy, only because it was true. It was newsworthy, only because his death was truly senseless. But as we grieve for Troy today, we may yet find some sense of purpose, for we’re gathered today in a place dedicated to the most famous unjust execution in the history of humankind. Jesus was killed on the cross, not because He was guilty, but because we are.

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Ledra Sullivan-Russell, St. Simons.

LEDRA SULLIVAN-RUSSELL: Whenever I would speak with Troy and we would receive good or bad news, he would always say to my husband, Walker, who was also a very dear friend of Troy, "Tell Ledra to quit crying and wipe those tears away." And I, in turn, would take the phone and pretend that I was utterly composed and hadn’t shed a single tear, which he saw right through every time. And every time I was upset about anything, he would tell me to stop, take a breath and smile. So, for all of us, for Troy, if you’re crying, or trying not to, feeling sadness or perhaps gratitude that we had him while we did, let’s take a breath and smile. Let us smile because our sweet man is no longer Inmate No. 657378. He is Troy Anthony Davis, and we are all Troy Anthony Davis.

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Edward DuBose, Columbus, Georgia.

EDWARD DUBOSE: On my last conversation with Troy, it was seven of us in the room. I want to thank the staff. They accompanied me. And we talked to Troy, and Troy talked, and his spirit was so strong. Strong. And we were looking away trying to hold back emotions, and he was—he was comforting us. Troy was comforting us.

He said to us, when [inaudible] asked him, "What do you want the people to know, Troy? What do you want them to know?" he said, "I want you to tell the people, they need to keep the faith. When they execute me, it’s not about Troy Davis. You need to fight for every prisoner that is on death row in this country." That’s what Troy wanted us to know. Troy said that. Even in death, he wasn’t thinking about his self. He thought about all of those faces and names of people who did not get his attention, even in Alabama as they executed a person on the same night. He said we need to fight for those people.

Then he turned, and he pointed to the young people, the young people in the room, to understand this. Troy said that you all are the future. If this barbaric system is to be changed, it is going to be at the hands of the young people that this movement will rise up to change. That’s what Troy wanted us to know.

The state of Georgia, the state that I love, the state and this country that I served 21 years in the military for, murdered an innocent man.

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Nephew of Brother Troy, I want you all to welcome De’Jaun Davis-Correia.

ANTONE DE’JAUN DAVIS-CORREIA: You know, when I look back at, you know, the times that we had with my Uncle Troy and the times that we had with my family, there was never a dull moment, never a sad moment, it was always happy. And, you know, reporters and different people always asked, you know, "What is Troy’s life like in prison?" And I was like, "It’s just 300-something miles away and behind brick walls, but it’s just like he’s home with us. And, you know, it’s nothing changed, nothing different." And, you know, well, it was like, "Well, why is it that you’re always so happy? Why is it that you’re never sad?" and things like that. And I was like, "Well, you know, you really shouldn’t be sad all the time. You just always should make—you know, be happy and be positive. And that’s the type of attitude that my Uncle Troy always put in—instilled into me, and, you know, to be positive and just make the best out of every situation." And I’d just like to thank you for coming and thank you for celebrating the life of my Uncle Troy. And, you know, like everyone else says, and everyone believes in here, don’t let his name go in vain.

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Benjamin Todd Jealous.

BENJAMIN TODD JEALOUS: We at the NAACP are proud and humbled to have been part of this fight, from coast to coast, and we are committed to staying in this fight until the death penalty is abolished and the school-to-prison pipeline, which so clogs our judicial system, that it makes justice so distracted that even the innocent can be executed, is crushed, as well. We must end the school-to-prison pipeline. So, when you see De’Jaun or you see Kiersten or you see your own children, don’t see knuckleheads. See leaders. See prophets. See those who will get the job of freedom done.

James Donald, the chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, told our president of the NAACP in Georgia many times, "You have my vote and the vote of the other black member of the board. You got to stay focused on getting one of the whites to vote, too." Well, one of the whites voted, too. And then General James Donald switched his vote. We don’t need any cowardly generals here!

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Larry Cox.

LARRY COX: We know, from painful experience working with many, many other victims, what any and every killing does. Twenty-two years ago, when Officer Mark MacPhail was senselessly killed, his human rights and dignity were brutally eliminated in a matter of moments. And his needless death left a gaping hole in the lives of his family and in this community. But what is tragic—no, no, not tragic—what is much worse than tragic is that the state decided to respond to that terrible act of violence by preparing to commit another one, and that’s wrong. It put in motion a torturous, unfair and inhuman process by which it prolonged the lack of closure for one innocent family and inflicted indescribable pain and suffering on another innocent family. When other people in other places are forced to wait and watch while guards are preparing to kill them, it has another name. It’s called torture. And torture is what was committed by the state of Georgia. And now, now, the state of Georgia believes it’s over. I don’t know. Is it over?

AUDIENCE: No!

LARRY COX: Is it over?

AUDIENCE: No!

LARRY COX: That’s right. We’re here to say today, it is not over. If you think you saw us fighting to save Troy Davis when he was alive, now that we have been inspired by Troy Davis, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Until—until we have wiped from this country forever a practice that can only be called by its right name—evil—a practice that does not stop violence, but is violence, a practice that does not serve justice, but mocks justice, and above all, a practice that does not protect the innocent, it kills the innocent. That is the practice that we are going to wipe out once and forever.

FUNERAL SERVICE CHAIRPERSON: Our eulogist, the right Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock.

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We want to thank God for Troy Davis, 42 years old. And I can’t help but think about the fact that as he, at least the body, the remains, lie there—his spirit has gone on to be with God, but at his body lies there, and I stand here, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that both of us are 42 years old. But he transformed a prison cell into a pulpit. I don’t have to preach long today, because he’s already preached a sermon, turned death row into a sanctuary, and showed all of us what faith and hope and love look like. And from one of the darkest and murkiest places of human existence, he allowed his light to shine. And that light radiated from Jackson, all the way to the Netherlands, all the way to Nigeria, all the way to London, brought men and women, boys and girls, red, yellow, brown, black and white, to his jail cell.

Convicted by a criminal justice system that is too often more criminal than just, stigmatized by the state in a process more obsessed with finality than truth, yet he held fast to his dignity while on death row. And so, all over the world, people are chanting, "I am" — who ever heard of that? "I am Troy Davis." And we say that because, existentially, we all live, don’t you know, on death row. We all live on death row. The difference between us and Troy is that Troy knew it, and some of us have yet to figure it out. We all live on death row.

AMY GOODMAN: Senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Raphael Warnock, giving the eulogy. He was speaking at the Jonesville Baptist Church, where the funeral was held for Troy Anthony Davis, executed on September 21st by the state of Georgia. When we come back, we hear from his older sister, Martina Correia, and from Dick Gregory, who has started a hunger fast until next September 21st. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We were in Savannah, Georgia, this weekend for the funeral and burial of Troy Anthony Davis. After the funeral, we went to the cemetery. The family was there, as they watched Troy Anthony Davis’s body lowered into the ground. Twenty-three doves were released. We spoke to Tina Harris, who explained the ceremony. The first dove they called the "spirit dove," that of Troy Anthony Davis, she said. The remaining 22 doves represented each year that Troy Davis spent in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell me your name? And tell me what you did today.

TINA HARRIS: Sure. I am Tina Harris, and I am the owner of Lowcountry Lovebirds. We’re a white dove release company, and we were requested to release white doves in honor of Troy Davis.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you read what you read before you released them?

TINA HARRIS: Sure. I’ve been asked to attribute to celebrate and honor the life of Troy Anthony Davis. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." Psalms 91:4. The releasing of doves raises our eyes up and fills our hearts with love, joy, hope, peace and remembrance, as symbolized by the white dove. Doves represent the presence of the Holy Spirit and the essence of the eternal spirit, the part that will never die, that will never pass away. The spirit dove released today represents Mr. Davis’s eternal spirit. Releasing this dove is a symbolic gesture that expresses our love and helps us to say goodbye for now. As a spirit dove is released to soar into the sky, a flock of escorts will be released. Escorts are symbolic of the waiting flock of angels as they fly up to guide the spirit dove on his final journey home. Observe as they will leave all flying side by side. As you experience this moment in time and as you raise your eyes up, may your hearts be filled so that you will forever know peace and God’s promise of everlasting life. "Oh that I had the wings of a dove, for I would fly away, and be at rest." Psalms 55:6.

AMY GOODMAN: After the burial of Troy Davis, the family and hundreds of supporters, families, friends, went to the International Longshoreman’s Hall in Savannah.

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