What We Saw at the Troy Davis Protest in Washington, D.C.


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On September 21, a crowd of about 500 people—many of them students at Howard University's law school— gathered outside the White House to protest the scheduled execution in Georgia of convicted cop killer Troy Davis. On death row for two decades, enough questions had been raised about Davis' guilt that his death led to an international outcry. In a grim pairing, Davis' execution was scheduled for the same night as one for Lawrence Russell Brewer, a Texas man guilty of killing a black man in a racially motivated murder.

While some held signs reading "Free Troy Davis," the prevailing sentiment was strictly a moral opposition to the death penalty, which some placards equated to "legal lynching." Somber, emotional, and peaceful, the demonstrators passed the time singing spirituals, reading personal messages from Troy Davis, and eventually engaging in silent prayer.

At 7 p.m., nearby church bells broke the silence, indicating that the scheduled time of execution had arrived. A few tense minutes passed without any news, when someone put a radio up to a megaphone. Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman reported that a stay of execution had been granted, sending cheers throughout the crowd. Moments later, the NAACP's Benjamin Jealous told Goodman that he had spoken with Davis' lawyer and while he had not been executed at the scheduled time, no stay had been granted.

Demonstrators took to their smartphones looking for the latest news, which indicated that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering whether or not to grant a stay. Disappointed and confused, the crowd began a spontaneous march to the Supreme Court, chanting "They Say Death Row! We say 'Hell, No!" The court ultimately declined to intervene.

After arriving at the steps of the Supreme Court, the crowd continued to demonstrate. But at around 9 p.m., rumors percolated throughout the crowd that a delay of a week had been issued and the crowd began to disperse.

By 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis had been executed by lethal injection.

Despite the international attention the case has received, it remains to be seen whether Davis' execution will affect attitudes toward capital punishment in the United States. United States regarding capital punishment. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia do not have a death penalty. The other states and the federal government have capital punishment laws on the books, but not all have executed anyone since 1976, when the Supreme Court lifted a comprehensive ban on the practice. In 2010, there were 46 executions in the United States. The practice remains popular with voters; about 65 percent approved of capital punishment in a 2011 Gallup survey.

Given the executions of Davis and Brewer, capital punishment will certainly be a hot topic at tonight's debate for candidates vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Adding to the mix will be the defense of the death penalty that Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) made in the last debate. After declaring his belief in the "the ultimate justice" for convicted killers, the audience applauded. Given that fewer countries still perform executions—the U.S. is joined by despotic regimes such as Cuba, Iran, and North Korea—it will be interesting to see how the candidates handle the issue.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

About 2.30 minutes.

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