Harvard’s Black Community Leaders and other student groups held a vigil for inmate Troy Davis on Thursday, just a day after last-minute efforts—including a letter drafted by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum—failed to prevent Davis’s execution in Georgia.
Forty Harvard students gathered at 12:03 p.m. and again at 1:03 p.m. to join together in a moment of silence for Davis, whose case drew international attention after doubts were raised as to whether Davis was rightfully convicted in what opponents said was a racially-charged case.
BCL Co-Chair Ijeoma B. Eboh ’12 said that the vigil was organized the night before, in order to demonstrate broad support of the sentiments expressed in the BMF letter.
“[The BCL’s] purpose is really to organize the black community around large things that don’t pertain to a specific group,” she said.
Eboh went on to say that individuals were encouraged to “[wear] all black as a sign of solidarity to the injustice of the execution,” and the moment of silence was meant as a way to honor Davis.
To diversify attendance at the vigil, information about the event was circulated over House open lists last night, in addition to black student organization lists.
In 1991, Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail. He always maintained his innocence, and seven of nine non-police witnesses later recanted their statements. Some witnesses indicated that a different man had confessed to the shooting.
After delaying the execution for four hours while they considered his appeal, the Supreme Court ultimately denied the request, and Davis was put to death at 11:08 p.m.
As students gathered in a circle outside the Science Center, BCL Co-Chair Oluwadamilola “Dammy” T. Akinfenwa ’12 gave a brief speech before the moment of silence began.
“We are going to take a moment now to remember Troy Davis,” he said, as brightly colored umbrellas opened to shield the black-clad attendees from the rain. After a few minutes of silence, the vigil dispersed and attendees went off to class.
Vigil attendee Kayla M. Shelton ’13 said she found the events of the previous several days difficult to swallow.
“It’s kind of been a shocker for me,” said Shelton.
She went on to say that, because she is not involved in activist organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the fact that the execution took place was “startling.”
The day before, Shelton attempted to fax the BMF’s protest letter to the team that was to administer Davis’ lethal injection. The fax did not go through, however, because other supporters clogged the lines.
“I was more heartened by how many people are in support of [Davis],” she said. “[The execution] sounds more like vengeance than justice.”
“It’s something that you’d never think would happen in today’s society, but history repeats itself,” Shelton added.
For Akinfenwa, that sentiment goes hand in hand with the point of the vigil.
“[The vigil happened] because it is a good idea to remind people that there are things outside of Harvard going on,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is an issue that affects everyone.”
—Staff writer Katie R. Zavadski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.