By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International
As part of the Freedom School that Amnesty International is sponsoring in Savannah this week, Kim Davis, Troy Davis’ sister, came today to speak to a group of young activists about how the death penalty affects the families of death row inmates. Towards the end of a day spent learning about and discussing the death penalty in the United States and abroad, the group focused in on the Troy Davis case. I took them through a history of the case and tried to explain how he got to where he is today, awaiting an imminent hearing on evidence of his innocence after almost nineteen years on death row.
The day was packed with new information and the audience was getting tired, but everyone revived when Kim announced: “Troy is actually my hero.” She described a close-knit family involved in church and sports. As a teenager, she was excited to join her older siblings in the local high school, where she played basketball, ran track, and was in the marching band. The listeners became riveted as she told about how she collapsed one day, was taken to the emergency room of the hospital, and woke up the next morning totally paralyzed due to multiple sclerosis. She remained that way for a year.
When she was ready to go back to school, Kim had to go to one that was accessible by wheelchair, and so she couldn’t be with her siblings anymore. Her mother had to come home from work to get her ready for school and later to take her to her physical therapy. It was wearing her out. Without any prompting, Troy dropped out of school and enrolled in a night school program so that he could take care of his sister during the week and spare his mother the trouble. He did more than just drive her to physical therapy; he coaxed and prodded her to get out of her wheelchair and relearn to walk, and he taught her to play basketball in her wheelchair, and inspired her to participate in the Special Olympics. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she recalled.
Kim noted that many people who have written to Troy to offer encouragement find that they themselves receive words of encouragement. After his mother’s first visit to death row in Jackson, she reported back to the family, “Troy said, I’m going to be alright. I want you all to be strong. I’m strong no matter what.” Amazingly, the same Troy who pulled the wheelchair away from his little sister and said, “If you want your wheelchair, you’ll have to walk to it,” continues to inspire his family and others from prison.
Laura Kagel is the State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Georgia for Amnesty International USA. She is currently in Savannah to observe Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.