Can Technology Save an Innocent Man from Death Row?

by Kenneth Mallory on September 15, 2011

As many decry the sufficiency and reliability of the evidence used to convict Troy Davis for murder and place him on Georgia’s Death Row, the NAACP is organizing efforts to try to save him before his execution, scheduled for Sept. 21.

The organization’s efforts evoke the many stories of those in this country’s history who have endured onerous physical toil to protest and rally support around civil rights and social justice issues.

Mother Pollard’s oft-quoted saying – “My feets is weary, but my soul is rested” – is illustrative of the dedication of civil rights stalwarts and organizations of yesteryear, who marched, picketed, boycotted, knocked on doors, telephoned, and sang in the name of bringing awareness to injustice, providing a voice for the voiceless, and saving a life.

But the advent of broadband technology, and more specifically, online social media, has engendered a seismic shift in the primary methods civil rights organizations are using to bring awareness to and garner support for social justice causes.

Now, at some points marching seems unnecessary.

Using “Snail” mail to spread the word? – obsolete.

A click appears to be all that is needed.

‘The Revolution Will Be Digitized’

“I’m a firm believer of the thought that the revolution might not be televised, but it definitely will be digitized,” says Curtis Johnson, social media strategist for the NAACP. Johnson, who is working on the organization’s campaign to achieve clemency for Davis through social media, recently witnessed its power as the NAACP was successful in working with other groups to receive pardons for the Scott Sisters, who were sentenced to life in a Mississippi prison for an $11 robbery.

Johnson sees Davis’s case – which involves a 1989 Savannah, Georgia, murder of an off-duty police officer – as one that is just as egregious as the Scott Sisters’.

According to the NAACP, several of the witnesses whose testimony was used to convict Davis have recanted their statements. Some even say they were coerced into providing testimony to incriminate Davis or that they were not even witnesses to the crime. What’s more, additional witnesses implicated another man as the perpetrator and a key suspect was not investigated by officials.

Davis has run out of all recourses through the federal appellate process, and the NAACP states that the “Georgia courts have refused to consider new evidence and the recanted testimony.” His fate lies with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole, who will hold a clemency hearing on Sept. 19 in Atlanta to decide whether to remove him from death row.

According to Johnson, the NAACP has been working with Amnesty International and has created the “Too Much Doubt Campaign,” which uses Facebook, Twitter, and online engagement in attempts to rally action to free Troy Davis. If the numbers of Internet and cell phone users participating in the campaign are any indication, the campaign is experiencing much success.

Using Web 2.0 to Spread the Word

Troy Davis hash tags on Twitter have more than 25 million impressions, according to Johnson. The groups are also using the hashtag #toomuchdoubt and tweeting out daily facts about the Troy Davis case. In the past week alone, the groups have seen more than 18,000 original tweets about Davis.

They have made custom Facebook profile pictures and Twitter avatars and are encouraging our people to adopt them on their profiles.

The NAACP has sent out an email blast to a list of 600,000 encouraging them to sign an online petition to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole – more than 70,000 have signed so far.

The NAACP also sent out emails requesting participation to write online letters to the Georgia Board – the organization received more than 15,000 letters in less than 24 hours, said Johnson.

There is a mobile messaging component to the Campaign, too – cell phone users can text TROY to 62227 for the latest information about the case from the NAACP. Johnson said about 3,000 people are signed up for the TROY keyword updates.

The Troy Davis campaign has also harnessed some traditional protest methods.

For example, there has been a student teach-in at Georgia colleges and there are plans for the NAACP and Amnesty International to march, rally, and hold a prayer vigil in Davis’s honor.

But the fact still remains loud and clear: these events were primarily advertised and promoted on the Internet.

‘Clicking for the Cause’

So many would have never heard of Troy Davis’s case – let alone had the opportunity to become engaged in the cause to remove him from Georgia’s Death Row – were it not for their access to broadband.

Although Davis’s fate now lies with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole, many of those who have sent a message to the Board to support his clemency have not had to march on location until the soles of their feet were haggard and worn down like Mother Pollard, or they were alternately shooed away by law enforcement.

They have merely had to click a mouse or press a key on their computer or cell phone.

As the country awaits the Board’s decision, words by MMTC President and Executive Director David Honig about the unique position of Davis’s case are loudly reverberating: “[This] will present a potentially history-making test, if ever there was one, of the power of broadband technology in the right hands.”

  • Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has free-lanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.

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  • Innocent

    Makes you wonder how much worse life would’ve been for the black man (if it’s possible to even imagine that) if our justice system was based on “Guilty until proven innocent” and not the other way around. This case shows us – the state of Georgia won’t even LISTEN to the evidence. I really hope all this media (and internet) attention work to save this man’s life…

  • Mae

    This poor man will be in my prayers. It’s a shame that such injustices still go on in this day and age. I pray that all these efforts really do make a difference and save his life…

  • Make A Difference

    The online petition has 15,000 signatures! Add your name and tell your friends to make a difference! Your actions can mean the difference between life and death for Troy Davis!

  • ReasonableDoubter

    I’ve personally seen a lot of online petitions regarding this case, and I’m going to do my part to help.

  • Chad

    Interesting “test.” Is the test to see how many people are mobilized online for this issue? As of 6pm 9/17, there are nearly 140,000 signatures on the online petition – the movement seems to have gained momentum and snowballed. The movement is also getting a lot of press as his execution date gets closer.

    I think the real test, though, will be whether the parole board changes its mind. But apparently the mother of the slain officer is saying his execution will “bring her peace.” There are many who remain convinced of his guilt based on this flimsy evidence.

    I hope for his sake that all this attention on the details of the case sways the board’s mind.

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