The Death of Martina Davis-Correia: Mourn AND organize

Earlier today I wrote about the Philadelphia DA’s decision not to seek the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Preceding this good news was the tragic news of the death of another death penalty abolition organizer, the utterly amazing Martina Davis-Correia, who fought tirelessly and with grace and dignity against for not only her brother Troy Davis, but for all victims of the prison-industrial complex. In a heartbreaking miscarriage of justice, Davis was executed in September by the state of Georgia, despite undeniable evidence of not just police and judicial misconduct, but his innocence. The evidence was so compelling and Troy’s death sentence was so abominable, that his international campaign enlisted unlikely allies including Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor and Republican congressman from Georgia, and former FBI director William S. Sessions. But the real leader of the movement for Troy was his older sister Martina, whose death last Friday, deserves far more attention than it has received. Correia was fighting two death sentences, her brother’s and her own, having been diagnosed with breast cancer over a decade ago and given six months to live.

I remember watching DemocracyNow’s amazing 6-hour live broadcast from outside the prison where Troy would be executed and being in awe of Correia’s words of hope and inspiration. I could not get over her composure and relentlessness. She stood by her brother’s side til the end and during the painful night as the world waited to hear if Troy would receive another stay of execution, Martina got out of her wheelchair and addressed the crowd in a speech that connected her own personal anguish to larger structural injustices:

We cannot sit idly by and watch children be plummeted into prisons and jails, not including my brother, but children of all races and colors, based on socioeconomics. What we need to do is we need to let politicians know that you will not be elected if you do not do something about these atrocities that are happening in our states and in the prison and jail system. we will not sit by while you idly put our children of school age in prisons and jails. We will not sit by and watch you deter movements of change and live in a state, a city, that housed Dr. Martin Luther King, and can go to his celebrations every year and still say that they support civil rights and change. Obviously—obviously, people don’t understand the difference between human rights and civil rights and how they interact. But we look at our state, that we’ve had death row exonorees from and also other types of exonorees, and we look at our state of Georgia, who’s still not willing to accept that they make mistakes. And we have to point out those mistakes. We cannot go back idly, no matter what happens tonight, and say, “Well, we marched down the street, we wore ‘I am Troy Davis’ shirts, and that is it.” We have to be the catalyst for the change that we want to see.

And after Davis died, Correia remained positive and continued to call on others to work towards fulfilling Troy Davis’s dream of abolition:

You know, it’s amazing, because people are asking me, you know, can I sleep and things like that. And I told them that, you know, I say my prayers, and I think of my brother’s legacy and what he wants us to do, and I sleep like a baby, because I know the fight is not over, and I know that millions of people from around the world are very upset by this, and that Troy’s case is going to be a catalyst for change in the death penalty, particularly in the South. And it’s just really amazing, because a lot of legislators from Georgia and Savannah, that wouldn’t even give us a conversation, turned deaf ear when we asked them to step up, you know, and support Troy or at least talk about an abolition bill, did nothing. And now, since Troy is deceased, everyone is coming out of the woodwork, because they see that millions of people are faxing them and shaming them. And so, now, all of a sudden, they want to talk about abolition. And my thing is, we’re going to receive abolition in Georgia and throughout the South, but we’re going to expose the racial judicial system that killed my brother Troy.

And, you know, and I don’t want anybody to think that the fight is over, because we’re going to get through… And I want people to use their energy in a positive way and to know that they will be able to have a voice, because they’re giving Troy a voice.

She compared the Death Penalty Abolition Movement to the Civil Rights Movement and outlined how people could pressure politicians to help end the death penalty:

And I think some of these young people have just a taste of what it was like during the civil rights movement, when they saw all the riot police and the billy clubs, and they had the dogs up in the cars and, you know, the police riding up and down the street with sirens, showing their force to a bunch of students who were unarmed, who were just holding up signs saying, “I am Troy Davis.” And the police were very defiant, saying—you know, pretty much saying, “You’re not going to stand against the state and make us look bad,” and so they were trying to use intimidation.

But we’re going to turn—we’re going to turn all of that on Georgia’s ear, and we’re going to shame the state, whether we have to go through with boycotts and things like that. And it was really amazing that the governor came out and made a statement how important it is to protect the innocent in Georgia, but he never once said anything about Troy’s case. And the fact that Troy could be innocent, you know, really is like a slap in the face, because he doesn’t care anything about innocent people. All they care about is voting and money to the state. And we’re going to show them that we have voting power and that we can stop buying in this state and supporting this state, because we want them to listen to what happened to Troy Davis. And so, my brother’s fight

I already knew that Correia was an amazing woman, mother, sister, activist, organizer and recipient of countless awards such as Amnesty International’s Sean McBride Award for Outstanding Contributions to Human Rights, the Georgia Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Frederick Douglass Award from the Southern Center for Human Rights. And I knew that Correia was the chair of the Steering Committee for Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. But I only learned from reading her obituary that she had so many other outstanding accomplishments: she joined the army after high school and graduated from the U.S Army Combat Medical Specialist School in the top 2% of her class, before getting a Bachelors and Masters in Nursing. Correia worked in Savannah in various medical capacities including Lab Manager at OB/GYN Associates, was President of the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer, a member of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, on AIUSA’s National Steering Committee for the National Weekend of Faith in Action (NWFA). Correia was a State Death Penalty Abolitionist Coordinator for the State of Georgia; on the Board of Directors for Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP); a member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), Board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty; member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Chair of Georgia CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants),which focuses on Excessive Sentencing, Mental Illness, Recidivism, Prisoner Abuse, Incarcerated Veterans, the Death Penalty and Prisoner Family Support; a steering committee and organizing member of Left Behind, a Black Male Initiative and grassroots organization in Savannah, Georgia that fights against racial discrimination, unfair punishment and quality education for young black males in the public school system. As if that weren’t already enough,  Martina volunteered throughout the city and in the public school system, coached basketball and baseball in the Savannah area with the YMCA and served as a mentor to young athletes.

Correia did so much for the world and the least we can do for her is transform the tragedy of her death into positive organizing against the death penalty as she did with her own brother’s death. In the name of Troy and Martina, and for the sake of all the Troys and Martinas in the world– all people whose lives have been claimed or effected by the death penalty– let us fight against the death penalty and the criminal industrial complex. Check out the current death penalty campaigns of  Amnesty International and the NAACP, two organizations which advocated for Troy and worked with Martina.

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