On September 21, 2011, Troy Anthony Davis, a 42 year-old man from Savannah, Georgia, was executed by lethal injection for the death of police officer Mark MacPhail on August 19, 1989. Davis, an African-American man convicted of killing a white off-duty police officer during an assault at a Burger King restaurant , maintained his innocence throughout his various trials and appeals. In Davis’ case, no murder weapon was produced and eyewitness testimony changed over time.

Ironically, on the same day, 830 miles away in Huntsville, Texas, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed by lethal injection for the death of James Byrd, Jr. on June 7, 1998. Brewer, a white man convicted of dragging an African-American man behind a pickup truck for several miles until his head and limbs were ripped from his body, stated in an interview before his execution,  “As far as regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth”.

Two men murdered, two men sentenced to die by lethal injection on the same day – the similarities seemingly make the cases ripe for comparison; however, beyond the coincidental time, date and method of their executions, there are few if any parallels between Lawrence Brewer and Troy Davis.

Perhaps the most profound difference between the two cases has been the involvement of national and international figures, activists and organizations on behalf of Troy Davis. Between June 25, 2007 when Davis’ first execution date was scheduled and September 21, 2011 when Davis was finally put to death, activists consistently rallied to his defense and attempted to spare his life. Petitions were signed, letters were written and demonstrations were held in the hopes that, by voicing public outrage and disapproval, Georgia state or federal authorities would intervene and halt the execution.

Davis’ appeals for a new trial based on questions surrounding the evidence and witness testimonies drew the support of several high-profile advocates. These included Monsignor Martin Krebs, an envoy for Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote a letter that signaled the pontiff’s opposition to Davis’ sentence and former United States President Jimmy Carter who requested clemency for Davis. In addition, Davis’ plight was championed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former FBI Director William Sessions, more than fifty members of Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and thousands of individuals throughout the United States and across the world.

In Rome, Berlin, London and Paris, groups of international activists held demonstrations in front of the United States embassies to demand clemency for Davis.  In Frankfurt, Brussels, Strasburg, Bologna, Toronto, Trondheim, Montreal and several other major cities, activists held vigils, teach-ins and rallies to express their opposition to Davis pending execution. While many of these events were organized through a loose affiliation of local Amnesty International chapters, others were relatively organic actions hurriedly planned by individuals and small groups after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Davis clemency on September 20, 2011.

The Davis case demonstrates how small groups of disconnected activists can coalesce around one particular issue or event even though their driving ideological, philosophical or moral beliefs may differ.  For example, many involved in the demonstrations against Davis’ execution were motivated by a belief that substantial problems with the physical evidence and witness testimonies existed and, subsequently, a potentially innocent man was to be put to death despite the existence of reasonable doubt. Others rallying for Davis’ cause did so based on their absolute opposition to the death penalty regardless of the particular circumstances surrounding a case. Many of these activists, despite the different underlying motivations that led them to Davis’ defense, rallied around the unifying cry of “I AM TROY DAVIS”, whether printed on placards, embossed on t-shirts or simply chanted by activists. The construction of a sense of solidarity with Troy Davis and his case by individuals from across national, ethnic, racial, religious and political lines resulted in a powerful social force that helps to explain why the execution of Davis generated such outrage and opposition throughout the world. It is perhaps then the absence of such ideological, philosophical and moral convergence that offers some explanation as to why Lawrence Brewer and the 35 other men executed so far this year in the United States did not receive similar national and international support.

The outpouring of collective opposition to the execution of Troy Davis also provides insights into how international and transnational activism operates in a world increasingly connected through electronic communication, digital media and social networks. Using an array of organizational tools and structures, large transnational organizations, such as Amnesty International, politicians, religious leaders and concerned individuals were able to function independently yet towards a collective goal without any hierarchical structures, formal organization or established leadership. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, listservs, websites and talkback sections have increasingly become the tools to facilitate activism for disparate groups of people connected by a common cause; a trend that has been repeated throughout the political uprisings in Egypt, the formation of the Tea Party in the United States and the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ efforts currently underway in New York City.

Originally published by Anthropology News.

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October 18th, 2015

Mapping the Dead in the Latest Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Basma Atassi at Al-Jazeera has put together a great storymap that explores the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Complete with pictures, text and place location, this resource allows you to get a good sense of where, when and how the violence is occurring. Definitely worth a look.

October 16th, 2015

Netanyahu, Context & Responsibility

At the center of this current iteration of violence in Israel and Palestine stands the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has reacted to this violence as if he was surprised that Palestinians would resort to violence when for decades he has done everything within his power to thwart the establishment and growth of a responsible Palestinian civil society, expanded settlements with the explicit aim of crippling an emerging Palestinian state, and undermining the responsible leadership of Mahmoud Abbas at every possible opportunity.

October 8th, 2015

Abbas, Netanyahu and Responsible Leadership

Abbas is demonstrating his commitment to deescalating tensions and calming the violence that is a direct result of Netanyahu’s persistent efforts to whip Israeli society into a panicked frenzy about an existential threat lurking behind every corner.

June 30th, 2015

Our Dictator in Cairo – Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

So, once again, the foreign policy of the US has chosen perceived immediate stability over the somewhat more bumpy and unpredictable evolution of democracy in the Middle East. It’s not the first time we’ve done this… it’s sort of our thing at this point… we’re pro’s out it.

June 22nd, 2015

The Many Victims at Mother Emmanuel

The problem with Gosnell and others who make these arguments is that they believe intentionality serves as some magical “Get out of Jail Free” card that absolves perpetrators of the violence they commit. Further, and in many ways far more problematic, is the realization that Gosnell and others only want to use this logical canard to absolve themselves or other like them. No such compassion regarding intentionality and the multiplicity of victims derived from violence will ever be used with the families of the 9-11 hijackers. In the end, the fundamental mistake that Gosnell and others make over and over again is that they focus on issues of intentionality rather than on issues of responsibility.

March 4th, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Congress

There are two things to never forget when considering Netanyahu’s views of regional threats. First, he is desperately seeking his “Churchill moment”. Second, he has a record of being blinded by his own biases and is never, ever a sober analyst of a situation

February 16th, 2015

Cursed Be The Peacemakers?

This video, produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, has been released as part of the current Israeli political contest where the extreme right wing of Israel is attempting to maintain the rightist complexion of the Israeli government. For me, the truly offensive aspect of this video is how it makes the case that working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians or defending Palestinian and Israeli human rights somehow makes you a threat to the country.

February 14th, 2015

The Danger of Molly White’s Islamophobia

Rep. White is the new poster child for the anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamic hatred and Islamophobia that is so deeply embedded in American society that it can hide in plain sight.

July 15th, 2014

In Focus: The Gaza Strip

As Israeli bombs are dropped throughout the Gaza Strip and Hamas missiles are launched into Israel, the media coverage has focused on discussing Gaza as a known yet ill-defined entity. We are made aware of roughly where it is (next to Israel), who lives there (Hamas) and what happens there (rockets are made and launched). But this reductionist view of Gaza doesn’t provide any insights into the common, everyday lived experience of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live in the 360 sq. km that makes up the Gaza Strip.

July 14th, 2014

Middle East News Review #28

The Middle East was plagued with news of violence this week. In Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Libya, episodes of violence resulted in death and destruction. Iran continued its negotiations with the US and EU this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement over the country’s nuclear program and removing the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. In Iraq, violence between the militant group ISIS and the Baghdad government reached new heights as 29 people were found massacred in an apartment and Human Rights Watch condemned the government for mass executions carried out earlier this year. The direct physical violence in Iraq was mirrored this week with political turmoil as the government of Nouri al-Maliki erupted into conflict with the semi-autonomous Kurdish government.