Abolish Death Penalty in 4 Simple Steps
In the aftermath of Troy Davis, activists say they're closer than ever.
Moye, on the other hand, sees nuances when you look more closely. "I don't actually think that retributive justice is strongly rooted in U.S. culture as much as the concept of fairness is," she said. "When you start to talk to people in this country about alternatives to the death penalty that include ways that the offender can be held accountable, or provide for restitution to the murder victim's families -- and we can ensure that they're not going to be a future threat to society if they are truly not somebody who can be rehabilitated -- then you start to see that more people support those alternatives. They're not bloodthirsty."
The Gallup poll also found that 41 percent of Americans believe the death penalty is applied unfairly, and attitudes on the practice vary significantly between people of color and whites. While 68 percent of white adults polled favored the death penalty, support plummeted to just 41 percent among nonwhites.
"In our community, we face so many issues that people want to know that they can win before they really invest themselves," said Jealous, on where he thinks many African Americans stand on the subject. "What we saw with Troy Davis and the tidal wave of public opinion against that execution, and against the death penalty itself, not only gave us hope that we can win, but that there's no choice but to win. This is just a vestige of a dying social order that has to be stamped out."
4. The movement is bigger, now more than ever.
Although the modern U.S. movement against the death penalty -- including advocacy by the NAACP and other African-American-oriented groups -- has been a decades-long battle, the execution of Davis in September was definitely a critical tipping point.
"When they write the book on how the death penalty was abolished in the United States, there will be at least a chapter about Troy Davis," said Moye, who saw unprecedented traffic at Amnesty International's Troy Davis Campaign website, including, this year alone, nearly a million signatures on petitions protesting his execution. "Troy Davis was making news everywhere, with people holding vigils and protesting all over the world. This was a turning point for a lot of people who weren't really tuned into the death penalty before, where they started to understand the issue on an emotional level."
But will the momentum last or fizzle out? "That's really up to the movement that's been built up around Troy Davis, and those of us who have some leadership responsibility," said Moye. "We're trying to keep the name of Troy Davis alive, but also to put the spotlight on prisoners like Reggie Clemons in St. Louis, and other stories of people who represent the worst of what is happening in this system."
Warnock, who prayed with Davis on his final day on death row, said that it's critical for those who advocated for Davis to continue organizing around abolition of the death penalty. "Although we hoped to save Troy, and we were sincerely fighting to save his life, we always knew his death was a real possibility. But he continued to fight, not just for his own life but on the issue of the death penalty itself," he said. "In his last words right before his life was taken, he said he was innocent. He encouraged those who had been involved to continue looking into this case. He was an activist to the very end."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.