Troy Davis: a life extinguished, a campaign that isn’t

As the Guardian's Ed Pilkington's article suggests, the twists and turns in the last days and hours of Troy Davis's life were a form of torture in themselves.

His 10 reasons why the execution should not have gone ahead sum it all up pretty well, and his tweets from outside Georgia’s Diagnostic And Classification Prison in Jackson last night vividly illustrated the cruelty of a capital punishment system that can go from "death" to "life" and back to "death" again in just a few minutes. If this isn't a bizarrely cruel way to conduct a justice system, I don't know what is.

As Troy’s last hours were being played out in the US, Amnesty campaigners were assembled for a vigil outside the US embassy in London last night. I was there. The atmosphere was horribly jittery.

At midnight – the exact time for his execution to go ahead – there was sudden confusion about whether the Supreme Court had issued a stay of execution. Or was it instead just a delay? It was incredibly tense. Peoples’ emotions went from a kind of angry resignation tinged with desperate hope, to sudden (short-lived) jubilation, to fresh anxiety …. And then for hours Davis’ life teetered on the brink. Unbelievable.

In fact, the majority of the 500 people who attended the vigil left Grosvenor Square unsure whether Troy Davis would still be alive when they got home.

A hashtag being circulated last night was #TheWholeWorldIsWatching, and that's what it felt like. When I left the vigil and got in my car the first thing I heard on the radio was a BBC World Service news report and a correspondent saying “seven out of nine prosecution witnesses have recanted or changed their evidence" – that key detail from the case. Troy Davis was everywhere.

Troy’s execution was a horrible business and any justice system that can allow this to happen – Georgia’s, the USA’s, any country’s – needs to act quickly to abandon this experiment with playing god. Is any justice system in the world reliable enough to decide matters of life and death? More importantly, should it?

Now, two families have been left devastated because of an (indefensible) act of violence 22 years ago. Mark McPhail’s family and Troy Davis’s family have suffered for decades. No-one wins here. (With the Davis family in particular pain right now, please add a message of support to them here).

Earlier this week Troy Davis had himself said: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me, this struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me’.”

It’s a sort of epitaph. I think it’s exactly what will inspire campaigners to prevent further killings in execution chambers in the US and around the world. 

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