Category Archives: Troy Davis

An opportunity to be heard

New Yorkers protesting the lack of accountability in the police killing of Mike Brown

New Yorkers protesting the lack of accountability in the police killing of Mike Brown

In light of the lack of an indictment in the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson MO, the correspondence I’ve been having with prisoners around the country about I Am Troy Davis has taken on a new level of meaning for me. The “Black Lives Matter” signs that I’ve seen at protests in Seattle and New York resonate powerfully with the letters I have been receiving from the mostly young, black men whom society and the state has rejected and warehoused.

Mike Brown was a victim of state violence and a failed justice system that is based, in part, on institutionalized racism. Troy Davis was also a victim of racist state violence and a failed justice system. And so many of the prisoners I have been hearing from are victims of the same.

But, for those who are willing to look deeper into the images of burning shops and overturned cars in Ferguson, what they will see is people refusing to quietly tolerate oppression and refusing to submit to the victimization of state violence any more.  And for those who have been reading the breath-taking responses to I Am Troy Davis that I have been receiving from prisoners, I believe they will hear the same.

Here is a letter I received from Tim McKinney, formerly on death row in TN, now in Shelby County Jail in Memphis:

I received both your letter, also the I Am Troy Davis book. I was already very familiar with Troy Davis’s story, the struggle and the unbreakable bond of his sister Martina along with the love and relentless fight of his family, friends and thousands of supporters. In November 2013, I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Troy’s nephew De’Jaun at a Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) march and protest in Texas. It was such a privilege and an honor to be on the same platform as De’Jaun, the Reed family, and all the other wonderful speakers and supporters against the death penalty.

Thank you and Ms. Marlene Martin (from CEDP) for even thinking of me and allowing myself as well as many others the opportunity to participate in the Community Book Club as well as the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

First, I must deeply apologize for not responding to your letter earlier. Since I’ve re-entered the county jail on Feb 1, 2014 I’ve been extremely depressed and haven’t had the drive, energy or motivation to do much of anything. I thank God for giving me the strength to wake up and get this letter off to you.

I am Troy Davis, literally. Our case and events in our lives was very similar. Starting with the background history of our upbringing and the circumstances concerning our case. The likeness of our charges both being off-duty police officers. Both of us falsely charged and convicted of crimes we did not commit. All the issues with the police, the witnesses changing their statements and testimonies, along with prosecutorial misconduct and the many stages of appeals that were denied, with every nerve-wracking newly scheduled execution date being set and the thought of going to death watch befriending fellow brothers that has gone before you/us.

Troy Davis is surely a must-read, it makes you hopeful, devastated, and then inspired all at the same time.

It inspired me to find the strength within to write you. The fight against the death penalty must continue. I’m no longer on death row physically, but spiritually and mentally I am and I have to continue to share our stories, letting our voices be heard fighting this broken system to put an end to the state murders! I am a living witness and the fight continues because I Am Troy Davis. I’ve walked in a pair of those shoes and I pray that I can be of hope, motivation and inspiration to others as well as being empowered and impactful with putting an end to the death penalty and other injustices within and outside the justice system.

Reading I Am Troy Davis was such a dark reminder of my own hellish experience, that at times tears ran down my face, my head starts hurting all the while thinking about my own family and the hurt and pain all the family, friends and supporters feel doing many years of waving emotions.

At the same time, maintaining an unshakeable faith in God, our Higher power…

Again, thank you and Ms Marlene Martin for even thinking about me and giving me another opportunity to be heard and hope to be an inspiration to someone else while being part of the vehicle that will put a stop to the death penalty. I know that my response may be a little late for you to add to your blog concerning the Community Book Club or the World Day Against the Death Penalty. I’m just grateful that you was able to hear of part of my experience that I shared with Troy and many others that faced death and the prospect of being killed by an unjust system. I would love to hear more from you and any help, advice, support that you’re able to offer is greatly appreciated–all reading material you can offer as well.

Again, thank you!

In solidarity,

Peace, love and friendship,

Tim McKinney

once again

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If society would only see how foul the judicial system is…

Ray_Domineque_ALDomineque Hakim Marcelle Ray had not originally been on the list of prisoners to whom we sent a copy of I Am Troy Davis. However, another prisoner with him on Alabama’s death row had been sent the book, and spoke to Domineque about the Community Book Club, passing the book onto him so he could participate.

Here is what Domineque wrote about I Am Troy Davis:

The book titled I Am Troy Davis was very good reading. It relates to the article “Prison is the New Slave Ship.” His sister Martina was a real ride or die activist. Also a woman of true family value.

Death penalty cases like Troy’s are so many throughout this nation. But it always is disregarded and it prevents the accused for a fair trial.

Publications are very good reading but documentaries show more attention-wise. If society would only see how foul the judicial system is concerning the death penalty cases, then perhaps the fight to end it would prevail.

Like Troy, I’m also innocent. The trial attorneys sold me out and even stayed on my appeal process until I wrote a letter to several different law firms requesting representation. Some of the Black Civil Rights Activists in Selma had helped put me in here. The false imprisonment was pure politics. So I can see just how Troy felt.

I’d like for my story to reach the outside. You don’t hear too many like it from Alabama, especially someone with my background.

Once again, you ha a world of supporters to help put the word out and I appreciate that. But don’t stop.

[…]

Well, until then, knowledge and God

Love your love,

Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray

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Mumia Abu Jamal responds to I AM TROY DAVIS: “May it fuel the anti-death penalty movement”

Mumia Abu JamaI knew that my publisher (the amazing Haymarket Books) had sent a copy of I Am Troy Davis to Mumia Abu Jamal.  So when I saw his name and return address on the envelope, I should not have been surprised–yet I was. Surprised, and a little star struck. I had been following Mumia’s case–and his writing–for years now. It took me a few minutes to really process that he was writing to me, and that he was writing in response to the book I had written with Troy Davis and his family.

The next day, I got another letter from Mumia. This one was the text of what I later found out was a radio spot he had done about the book for the Prison Radio, an independent multi-media production studio dedicated to challenging unjust police and prosecutorial misconduct that results in mass incarceration, racism, and gender discrimination.

You can listen to Mumia’s three-minute radio spot about I Am Troy Davis here.

And, below, is the letter he wrote me, which I received his permission to post.

And–you can buy a copy of I Am Troy Davis to be sent as a gift to a prisoner here.

Dear Jen,

As you may know, I’m in the midst of working on a book, so it took me awhile to get to Troy’s. But, of course, I did.

It is, as I’m sure you know, a powerful, damning story of a human tragedy.

It is, moreover, a real condemnation of the U.S. Way of Death.

When reading it, I couldn’t help but think of how politics has completely dominated the judiciary–and, without question, the pardon/parole machinery.

His family (esp. Mom & Sister) fought–quite literally–to their last breath, never doubting that in an injustice so strong, surely they could finish their days in the company of their son/brother.

I think, in many ways, the family and the activists underestimated the level of rot in the system, never really believing that they would betray their oaths–and visit on Troy the foul fullness of state murder.

I remember being buoyed when the U.S. Supremes actually sent it back for an evidentiary hearing.

Once again, they raised hope, only to spit disappointment on the friends and family of Troy.

I will surely distribute it, and, perhaps, donate it to the library, so that many, many guys can read it.

I thank you for sharing it with me. And I thank you for writing something that I can imagine was almost too painful, too horrific to bear.

May it fuel the anti-death penalty movement, and make it more powerful than they are today!

Alla best,

Mumia

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“Troy Davis’s struggle is also my struggle”

Many of you have been following the responses to I Am Troy Davis made by a group of prisoners serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in Texas. They each wrote in response to several questions I had posed, including:

How was it for your emotionally to read I Am Troy Davis?

Are books like this useful for challenging and changing the system?

Here are their answers to my third and final question:

In what ways does I Am Troy Davis reflect your and your family’s experience? In what ways does it not?

The men’s answers, which I have consistently found thoughtful and illuminating, are below.

Mr. Charles McKinley:

To begin, the ONLY way this life story doesn’t reflect my own is the death row aspect. Every thing else is such a mirror of my own dilemma and the drive, love, and belief of those who help me to this day. I too am the victim of a broken, unjust, classist/racist court system. My attorney failed me unspeakably at a very crucial point in the legal process.

So there are many, many moments where I had to put the book down, take a deep breath, and just think and absorb it all. One of the most gratifying themes I took was that without the positive supporting network of family, the struggle is almost lost. For even though blood relations make a big difference, family doesn’t end there; each and every supporter is family too. I’ve seen so many people give up and give in because of the fact that they have no support outside themselves.

The fact that Troy was still ultimately killed is…a silent dread, I think most prisoners with inordinate amounts of time or death sentences share. There have been times that I’ve grappled with thoughts of possibly dying here in prison. It’s not a pleasant thought because a life term is its own slow death sentence. I’ve been fighting for 12 long and very frustrating years to be actually heard and listened to, and not just rubber-stamped denied. Troy Davis’s struggle is also my struggle.

I’ve seen the hurt in the eyes of loved ones, not hearing that I’ve finally prevailed. My mother’s soul has been severely blotched by my incarceration. My fear, too, is that heart break will be her demise. These are my silent and personal distresses dealing with a system that favors bottom lines over fundamental fairness. We, Troy Davis and I, share the painful experience of being poor, initially unversed in criminal law, naive to this ghastly beast of a system, being African American going through it all.

 

Kenneth Foster:

My plight and Troy’s plight was profoundly similar. While the circumstances of the crime we were accused of was different, the prejudice, corruption and family support was amazingly similar.

First and foremost, I come from a very faithful family like Troy’s. I was raised by my grandparents in a God-fearing home. Unfortunately, both of my parents were drug addicts and hustlers, thus while I had the best examples through my grandparents, I had the worst through my parents. Therefore, I became a by-product of both–a youth that graduated high school, started college, but also liked the wrong crowd. The wrong crowd put me at the wrong place at the wrong time.

My grandparents, like Virginia and Martina, stood by my side through thick and thin. That includes driving long hours for visits, staying on top of lawyers and gathering support.

As Troy watched his nephew and niece grow up, I, too, watched my infant daughter grow up behind the glass. Opposite of Troy, I didn’t touch my daughter for 12 years until I left death row. Like Troy, I had to build with my child in visiting rooms and letters.

And the same way Troy lost his mother while incarcerated, I lost my grandmother (who was truly my mother) while being incarcerated.

In Troy’s case he had an entire police department against him. I had an entire courthouse against me as the victim’s father was a prominent attorney in my city and it was common knowledge that revenge would be sought against the defendants. While the admitted shooter in this crime was executed, the victim’s family still cried for my execution even though it was established fact that I did not kill nor encouraged the killing of their son. I was sent to death row for being an alleged get-away driver. As Troy, I knew what it was like to have people screaming for your blood even when evidence was in their face that showed them I was not a guilty party.

Then, the sheer strength that Troy and I was invested with was perhaps the greatest trait, because we acted as the glue that kept our house together. If we had lost it, caved in, given up, how could our people have stood as strong and focused with us? Troy had tremendous faith. I gained a powerful faith and that faith allowed me to have vision and gain knowledge and understanding.

As highlighted in I Am Troy Davis, society rarely sees how the State turns a family in a victim as well, In truth, that is something that needs to be revealed more, because while people may not relate to a “criminal,” I do believe they can relate to caring for a family member. Not just “thugs” go to death row. Look at Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Randall Adams. As long as there is a box to put a check mark FOR the death penalty, there is no blue print for who goes to death row. While it may be disproportionate, it is not exclusive. It is inclusive.

This is why it must find its eradication so that the American mentality of “Kill” can be replaced with “Heal.”

 

David E. Davis

Like Troy, I was a young, black man living in a government-divested urban community in a conservative town in the South.  A community militarized, after years of white-flight had taken place, by the state law enforcement bureaucrats occupying the area. The streets in the community were infested with illegal substances, high powered weaponry, and liquor stores on every other corner. There existed a high unemployment and crime rate. And absolutely no resources. As I’m certain Troy was, I was overwhelmed by the setting…with all this transpiring, should it be surprising that the environment is overflowing with criminality?

I received double-life sentence, which means I could’ve ended up on death row, just like Troy, for defending my home, now ex-wife, and adult step daughter who was four at the time of the incident, so, like Troy, I’ve seen children grow into adults while here incarcerated.

I Am Troy Davis reflects my experience personally in that: he was tried in the news by the local media-bureaucrats during the investigative stage of his case before being indicted. There were blatant miscarriages of justice during the investigations by the bureaucrat investigators while handling witnesses and other evidence, the evidence was collected to support the media’s theory and relied upon to lead to the truth of the matter. I was not allowed to question investigators pertaining to the destroying of exculpatory evidence. Like Troy, I also lacked the funds to employ an effective defense.  Federal funding for the Innocence Project attempting to prove my “actual innocence” case after I was time-barred due to the anti-terrorism death penalty act, was halted  at a critical time during the procedure. There are many more likenesses, because this is a system and systems repeat themselves, while hoping we’re not educated towards how it operates.

In the end, ultimately, my case resembles Troy Davis’s in that all of the social illnesses prevalent in our communities have been scientifically proven to ‘effectively exterminate’ those living in the areas where they’re being intentionally implemented. Place an agitative military [police] embargo/blockade around any community in the world. Then fill it with: drugs, guns, alcohol, and take away its resources, divest in the community, and what you’ll get is criminality!

My an Troy’s experiences don’t just resemble, they’re one in the same. We are men-of-color in an imperialistic society, our standing within the system is the same. We have one alternative, assimilate to one stereotype within the system, or another. We’re being dis-allowed to be ourselves.

I Am Troy Davis.

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Reviews from the Row #6: We were with the Davis family when they lost Troy

It continues to be overwhelming and inspiring to receive such thought-provoking responses to I Am Troy Davis from men and women on death row around the country. The response below is from Louis “Big Lou” Perez, on death row in Texas. He wrote it on September 9, which marks 16 years that he has been on death row. I was not sure until further correspondence if I had his permission to post his letter to me–thus the delay. Louis gave permission in his next letter, which is why I am posting it now.

If you would like to send the gift of I Am Troy Davis to a prisoner, you can do so here.

From “Big Lou”:

I’d like to share something with you…first thing, I just finished reading your book. It is Awesome!! Congratulations and I hope it becomes a World Wide Read.

Today…September 9…will make it 16 years that I’ve been on Death Row. The day I turned myself in (like Troy did) to clear my name. Reading the book reminds me of what I’m still going through and of how my family is still here for me. Like I said, Ms. Marlowe, I’m a very blessed man.

Reading about all the things Martina had gone through for her brother is such a carbon copy of what my sister Delia is doing for me. I am very honored that you allowed me to have this book, but you say here in your letter that you want me to share it (Plus…I already told every one around me that I have it and they ALL want to read it too) But I will get it back from them when they’re finished with it.

As for me, Ms. Marlowe, it was really easy for me to read because I’m still going through all the things Troy did. His struggle…his fight…all his let downs…EVERYTHING, I’m going through them right now. But, it was still a great read.

Troy was a blessed man too, but what REALLY caught my attention was that throughout his ordeal…he was still able to have contact visits with his family.  THAT made me both feel really good for him and jealous too. Here in Texas, Death Row doesn’t allow contact visits. After reading your book and then going back to look at all the photos….I won’t lie to you…I shed some tears because I didn’t get to hug my mother before she passed. My Grandparents, some cousins and friends either.

I sat there thinking about hugging my father and shed more tears.

I just visited with my sister Delia and told her about this…and she cried! But…they were good tears. I also got to see and thank Marlene Martin (from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty) for sending you my name.

Well Ma’am…I’m not sure how I can help you with this, but I will do what I can to do whatever you may need me to do. I’m somewhat of an elder here and I have a pretty good rapport with the men here. I’ll keep your address and will pass on this letter of yours to the men who do read the book. Maybe they will respond?

Again…thank you so much for allowing me to read your book. If there is anything else I can do to help, please…you only have to ask.

If you are ever again in touch with the Davis family…Please let them know that we were there with them when they lost Troy.  We were in awe of the injustice! And that my family and I send our deepest sympathies for their loss.

God bless you, Ms Marlowe.

Con Todo Mi Carino y Tambien Unos Fuerte Abrazos!

Louis C. Perez

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Reviews from the Row #5: The impact of a family’s love & support

(I received this review of I Am Troy Davis from a death row prisoner in Texas named Ker’Sean Ramey. Another prisoner had passed on the book to Ker’Sean, and had invited him to send me his review. If you are interested in reading reviews from other death row prisoners, you can do so here and here. And, here are responses from prisoners about why books like this matter, and what the experience was emotionally of reading I Am Troy Davis.)

From Ker’Sean Ramey:

I Am Troy Davis is very well articulated. It not only opens your eyes to the things that go on in the judicial system, but more importantly, it allows you to relive vicariously all the things the Davis family went through in their struggle to save a loved one and an innocent man. Through it all, they refused to let their personal issues or Troy’s situation tear their family apart. The sacrifice, strength and love the Davis family showed is a beautiful thing. I enjoyed this book to no end. I appreciate Sis. Martina Davis and Jen Marlowe for having both the courage to tell the story and the sense to know it’s one that really needs to be told. I recommend all family members and friends of those incarcerated read this book. It shows just how much of an impact their love and support has on us.

Stay focused, push, and believe!

Ker’Sean Ramey

 

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A torch in the dark: prisoner responses to “I Am Troy Davis”

Dear friends,

As many of you know, dozens of prisoners have been sent copies of I Am Troy Davis (you can gift a book to a prisoner by clicking here) and were invited to participate in the I Am Troy Davis Community Book Club.

One of the suggested discussion questions I sent to the prison book groups was: “Are books like I Am Troy Davis useful for challenging/changing the system? Why or why not?” You can read responses to this question from three men incarcerated in Hughes Unit in Gatesville, TX here.

The same group of men also responded to the question:

How was it for you emotionally to read “I Am Troy Davis”?

Here are their answers below:

From David E. Davis:

From an emotional stand-point, reading I Am Troy Davis was polarizing. At times, I was spilling over with inexplicable joy due to the many triumphs of the two courageous main siblings involved in the story, then, at others, I was overwhelmed with extreme remorse, because of the multiple abuses rained down upon them through an apathetic system by an unempathic state bureaucracy designed to exterminate and discourage designated groups in its environment.

I found myself in retrospect longing to be a part of a family as committed to the best-interest of one another as the Davis’s, because once we’re divided, we’re easily conquered. What many families don’t seem to understand is that to someone being unjustly disposed of, what matters is that those who should stand at their side, stand and not fold over. It’s the fight that counts, not that they’ve won or lost or any level. But the manner in which they’re seemingly defeated! If the family doesn’t care, who should? The Davsis’s are winners, despite how things may seem to the lesser-minded individuals. They maintained their dignity!

A movie that moves me emotionally is Brave Heart, starring Mel Gibson. I’m inspired by the scene at its ending where while being eviscerated before being decapitated and with the state’s executioners urging him to renounce his belief in the struggle, he yells the word, “Freedom!” indicating his desire for the people to continue their struggle to be freed from an unjust ruling class. I was as touched by I Am Troy Davis as I was by this classic movie, because of the similarities: both were fighting against unjust government systems designed to oppress the groups they were a part of, both fought and were eventually executed by the state, and, most importantly, their stories lived on long after they were deceased, effecting change for the better.

Martina is the character in the story that I won’t ever forget. She knew the effects her and Troy’s story would have on its readers’ emotions. She has touched my heart deeply. Martina did not have to give into the innate feelings she carried inside her towards her brother and, thereby, stand at his side for all those years. I have a bio-sister who’s my only sibling and the exact opposite of Martina. The last thing she told me and the first was that she did not put me here! Is she totally blind/unaware that “I did not put me here?” Or that I wasn’t born a criminal?

I am a victim of social genocide, imperialism/capitalism. I Am Troy Davis…long live the Davis family and their unique commitment to struggle, and active love for one-another.

From Kenneth Foster Jr.

[Reading I Am Troy Davis] was dreadfully painful. As a prisoner who spent 10 years on death row and came within 6 hours of my execution (which I protested by refusing to walk to the death house) it was a brutal reminder of the grueling death penalty process.

Author Eduardo Galeano said, “Remembering and forgetting are both political acts.” For example, take the Jewish Holocaust. Many people try to propagate that it never happened. Others try to downplay the numbers. That is an attack. It’s suppression. However, the Jews said “NEVER FORGET!” That is a statement of self-determination and resistance. I take the approach the Jews did to anti-death-penalty activism– “NEVER FORGIVE. NEVER FORGET.”  This is not to trap myself into hate. I can, and will, forgive when the death penalty has been ended and programs are in place to instill justice and healing. I can’t forgive someone for something they continually seek to do.

Right now, my memory is my weapon. My memory will save what is worthwhile. My memory knows more about me than I do. It doesn’t lose what deserves to be saved. That’s why I Am Troy Davis  is so important to people like me and people who do this activism. It doesn’t allow us to forget what needs to be saved.

Emotionally, when I think about that memory, I think about something Albert Camus said:

“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punsh a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, has confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

As one who survived death row, reading I Am Troy Davis makes me relive that. I know the author doesn’t seek to instill feelings of pain or depression in the reader, but when we face this reality (the capital punishment one), we face a cold reality of systemic social genocide that targets a certain segment of our society, and throws them into a system that is biased, and that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why we call it “a modern day legal lynching.”

Because I have been blessed with strength, vision, and passion, I use such books as guidance materials. It’s a torch in the dark. It reminds me when facing off against such a monster that might does not make right. When right is wrong, change is passed due!

From Mr. Charles McKinley

Reading I Am Troy Davis sent me on an emotional roller coaster. The tumultuous riot of anger, sadness, empathy, frustration, bewilderment, and inspiration had me constantly considering the nature of familial bonds, the court system, and human nature. I can’t begin to imagine how it is having a death warrant issued for your life. And at that, repeatedly!

I’m currently serving an aggravated life sentence for vehicular manslaughter. I was involved in an incidental wreck in which a young white woman passed. I empathize with Troy Davis and his situation in light of mine. Yet there are dynamics in his that are hard to grasp. It was enlightening and very inspirational to read of how positive and endearing Troy Davis remained in the face of such injustice and bigotry.

The so-called justice system failed Troy, his Mama, his sisters, his nephew and the myriad of supporters involved. The court system also miserably failed the MacPhail family. Instead of seeking TRUTH & JUSTICE for that family, the law enforcement officials involved provided no true closure. I am truly angered by this trend which has persisted for at least 2 centuries. Perhaps that’s why [Officer MacPhail’s mother] never truly attained the peace she sought.

Of course, I’m bewildered by how the courts could ignore and discard such critical evidence as the recantation affidavits and testimony that went alongside the flimsy crime scene “evidence.” It’s saddening, because it dims the light of hope for people like me. I could relate to so much of the book and the Davis’ struggle. I was constantly teary-eyed. Reading about his death row experience helped build my understanding and expanded my perspective on guys I’m doing time with. I know guys that have fought their way off the row and are now tacking capital life terms or terms of life without parole.

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