(IPS) Numerous Protests, Arrests as Georgia Executes Troy Davis

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on Inter-Press Service’s website at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105207

ATLANTA, Georgia, Sep 22, 2011 (IPS) – The U.S. state of Georgia executed Troy Davis at 11:08 p.m. on Wednesday, Sep. 21, despite serious doubts about his guilt that inspired mass protests in Georgia, across the United States, and indeed, around the world.

Davis had been sentenced to death for the killing of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Following his conviction, seven of nine witnesses against him recanted their testimony, two witnesses implicated another person as the killer, and two of the original jurors who found Davis guilty came forward to oppose the execution. There was no forensic evidence presented at trial that Davis was the shooter.

“We have come a great distance in Georgia, but today we have demonstrated we still have a great distance to go before we build a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being,” Congressman John Lewis said in a statement following the decision by Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles (SBPP) to deny clemency.

“We are not there yet. I am deeply saddened and deeply disappointed by this decision, but in light of all I have seen through the years, it does not surprise me,” Lewis said.

Davis’s case gained international attention, attracting high-profile supporters like Pope Benedict XVI, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former FBI director William Sessions.

Protests this week included several acts of civil disobedience.

On Tuesday, Rev. Marvin Morgan, 63, of Atlanta’s First Congregational United Church of Christ was arrested in downtown Atlanta outside the SBPP offices after he chained himself to a flagpole. Georgia Capitol police had told Morgan the flagpole was public property, but he refused to move, noting that he had taken great care not to harm the flagpole.

Morgan had previously written the SBPP offering his life in the place of Davis’s, and had been engaging in a hunger strike as of Tuesday.

Some 12 protesters, including students from Howard University, were arrested at the White House in Washington Wednesday, where they urged President Barack Obama to stop the execution.

Eleven sat down on the sidewalk and refused to move after being told that they did not have a permit to protest, and that only 25 protesters could stand on the sidewalk at a time but had to keep moving. A twelfth protester in the crowd of several hundred was also arrested.

Then, at the Jackson State Prison where Davis was executed, nine people were arrested in conjunction with a protest organised by Tim Franzen of the American Friends Service Committee Southeast Regional Office.

“Our plan was to walk into the prison to intervene,” Franzen said. “Of course we knew we’d get arrested. We got about 20 feet.”

Police arrested seven activists who attempted to enter the prison, including Josh Babb, Steve Babb, Stephen Dear, Shawn DeAngelo, Franzen, Daniel Hanley, and Kurt Rosenberg.  Police also arrested two members of the crowd, Franzen said.

One of those arrested in Jackson appears to have been tasered by police, according to a video posted on the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition’s website.

After the execution was announced around 11 pm, some young people, including those dressed in bandannas, took to the streets, Franzen said, marching from the Georgia Capitol to Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta, where they were confronted by police.

Five young people wearing bandannas were arrested as part of late night protests, the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement to IPS. The activists had been told to remove their masks because of an ordinance against wearing masks in public.

“Around midnight Wednesday, a group of individuals who were part of a group of marchers protesting the Troy Davis execution were observed Downtown wearing masks that covered their faces,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement.

“An Atlanta Police Department lieutenant approached the group, advised them that it was illegal to wear masks covering their faces in public, and asked them, more than once, to remove the masks. The individuals refused and continued marching in the area of the state Capitol,” APD said.

“The lieutenant attempted to speak with the mask-wearing protestors, and a brief confrontation ensued at Peachtree and Wall streets near Underground Atlanta. Several of the suspects became verbally and physically abusive towards police officers and resisted arrest,” APD said.

“For officer safety reasons, additional units were called in to take the mask-wearing suspects into custody. Atlanta Police had been on duty in the area to ensure a peaceful protest,” APD said.

The arrestees are Chelsie Buckley, James Jackson, Lauren Masters, Katherine Nelson, and Andrew Zonneveld.

Four of the five arrested in Atlanta after the execution were members of the Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, according to the organisation’s blog.

During Davis’s last two weeks, there was a massive campaign, relying widely on the Internet and social media, to urge the SBPP to grant clemency. About one million petition signatures were collected and delivered to the SBPP days before the execution.

The SBPP denied Davis’s request for clemency on Tuesday.

“This morning, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued its decision denying clemency for Troy Anthony Davis. The Board members have not taken their responsibility lightly and certainly understand the emotions attached to a death penalty case,” the Board said in a statement.

“Since 2000, the Board has commuted three death penalty cases. In considering clemency in such cases, the Board weighs each case on its own merit,” the Board said.

“The Board has considered the totality of the information presented in this case and thoroughly deliberated on it, after which the decision was to deny clemency,” the Board said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said it obtained information that the Board’s vote was split, two to three, with two in favour of granting clemency.

After the SBPP denied clemency, activists turned to a wide array of strategies: Some lobbied President Obama to intervene; some lobbied Dr. Carlo Musso, CEO of Rainbow Medical Associates, the organisation contracted by the Georgia Department of Corrections to oversee executions, to decline to participate; others lobbied Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm to intervene.

Some lobbied the SBPP to reconsider. “The Board has denied the request to reconsider its decision of September 20, 2011, denying clemency to Davis,” the Board said in a Sep. 21.

Davis offered to take a lie detector test, but the GBPP declined that offer.

The NAACP requested intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice, apparently to no avail.

Lawyers for Davis also filed a last-minute appeal that was rejected by each court up to the Supreme Court of the U.S. The Supreme Court issued a stay so it could review the appeal. So, Davis’s execution, which was scheduled to take place at 7 pm, was postponed for a few more hours until the court denied the appeal.

“The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied,” the Court wrote.

“My heart is heavy. I am sad and angry. The state of Georgia has proven what we already know. Governments cannot be trusted with the awful power over life and death,” Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign coordinator for Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“Today, Georgia didn’t just kill Troy Davis, they killed the faith and confidence that many Georgians, Americans and Troy Davis supporters worldwide used to have in our criminal justice system,” Moye said.

Activism also took place internationally. Over 300 cities participated in an international day of protest last week. And on the final day of Davis’s life, activists gathered at the U.S. Embassies in London and Berlin to hold protest vigils.

(END/2011)

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