by Shane Bernardo
I’m still trying to work out the layers of feelings that sparked from Troy Davis’s death. It seems only more questions rise from the chaos of emotions that I am still slowly piecing together. Although I did not know Troy Davis personally, his struggle for redemption is one that many others like myself can connect to. On September 21st, Troy Davis was killed by lethal injection. That same night, Mos Def, who was performing with Talib Kweli at St. Andrew’s Hall expressed it clearly, “If one of us ain’t free then ain’t none of us free.”
In a way, Troy Davis’s salvation was inextricably tied to our own. In a world that has seen dictators fall and thousands around the globe marching on city centers and demanding democracy, Troy Davis became the epitome of struggles around the world. His solemn voice resonated with the support and solidarity of others also struggling for their own freedom.
As I watched developments leading up to Troy Davis’s murder, I came across a photo of officer MacPhail and members of his family. MacPhail’s family and a relatively small group of supporters had a sign with bold letters that said, “Justice for survivors!”. In some way, MacPhail’s family believed that justice would be served when Troy Davis’s life was taken.
How would Troy Davis’s death initiate their healing process or bring closure to their suffering? How would MacPhail’s supporters have felt if MacPhail was the one being executed? Would they still feel that the death penalty was justice for survivors?
When Troy Davis died, a piece of ourselves died along with him. The integrity of our humanity became compromised. When we dehumanize others, we all suffer—not only making them less than who they are but also preventing us from connecting with them as another human being. We all suffer when the justice we seek is the death of another.
It is here where the movement building in Detroit, in particular anti-racist work, intersects with the life and death of Troy Davis. Looking through the lens of anti-racist values allows ourselves to see how we internalize and perpetuate the oppression. By analyzing white privilege and internalized racism, allies and people of color can actively work together to dismantle all systems of oppression by recognizing the roles that we all play in our personal and professional lives.
Transforming Our Language
When we allow our own selves to let go of our egos and look inside, we have the opportunity and power to change our perceptions, how we treat one another, and start to see each other as whole people. By changing how we see others, we can begin to transform not only hurtful language, but the intentions behind our words and actions. It is at this point we start transcending conventional politics and start seeing each other as integral
pieces of a collective whole. By breaking down our own individual barriers, we simultaneously open ourselves to being part of the change needed to transform our community. Through this ongoing practice, I am often reminded that the struggle to heal my community is inexplicably linked to the struggles that exists within. Our collective liberation and healing is dependent our own individual process.
Recently, I attended the monthly Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System gathering. At that particular gathering, I learned about how the practice of non-violent communication can help heal myself as someone that has suffered from internalized racism. By changing the language and the intent to which I speak and interact
with others I am better able to break the cycle of pain that I experienced as a young person of color growing up in Detroit. I reflected that day the many ways in which society reinforces the use of very hurtful language to evaluate and judge others. Through this observation, I realized that when I speak or act, I am meeting some basic fundamental and very human need.
I don’t know if others that attended felt as strongly as I did learning to develop a deeper level of awareness words can have. I feel more awakened to the struggles of realizing a more just a beautiful world exists both inside and outside of myself. By thinking of what need I am serving when I act, I can start to diffuse potentially harmful situations. Non-violent communication allows me to break down the walls of others by paying attention to the ones inside myself.
Collective Wellness and Liberation
That’s why I was strengthened to see solidarity efforts for Troy Davis springing up across the world. A friend from Paris sent me a photo of nearly a thousand folks in the city chanting, singing, and praying for justice for Troy Davis. I was heartened to see that on some level, we still have the capacity to connect with others on a very real, very raw and human level. But most of all, I was greatly and deeply heartened by Troy Davis’s last words:
“Well, first of all I’d like to address the MacPhail family. I’d like to let you all know that despite the situation—I know all of you still are convinced that I’m the person that killed your father, your son and your brother, but I am innocent. The incident that happened that night was not my fault. I did not have a gun that night. I did not shoot your family member.
But I am so sorry for your loss. I really am—sincerely.
All that I can ask is that each of you look deeper into this case, so that you really will finally see the truth.
I ask to my family and friends that you all continue to pray, that you all continue to forgive. Continue to fight this fight.
For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls. God bless you all.”
Troy’s final words remind me there is still some possibility for our work, for our communities, and for our vision of equality and justice and peace. That in some way, each of our salvations are inherently tied to our collective healing, both externally and internally. As we continue Troy Davis’s legacy of justice and peace, I encourage others to retain compassion for each other. We need to be willing to break down barriers that exist inside us to transform ourselves and our community. To heal Detroit and those that live in it, we must recognize that our understanding of peace and our collective wellness are dependent on each other.