A family struggles to understand why Georgia prisoner Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed, even though the case against him has fallen apart
Flickr/The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
"How does it work?" my eight-year-old asked last Saturday morning . "Will he just stand there and have to -- let them kill him?"
She was asking me about Troy Davis, a man on Georgia's death row who is slated to be executed on September 21.
There's been much talk about Davis in our house, so the night before, I'd tried to explain: Found guilty of killing a police officer, Davis was sentenced to death in 1991, but in the meantime, the case against him has fallen apart.
Seven out of the nine people who said it was him have "recanted" or changed their testimony, I told my daughter and her older brother, explaining what that meant. "What about the other two?" my son asked.
Death row inmate Troy Davis / Reuters
Well, I don't know about one of them, I said, but the other -- Sylvester "Redd" Coles, the first person to accuse Davis -- might have actually been the shooter. Since Davis's conviction, several people have testified that he lied about Davis to protect himself. And boasted about getting away with it.
To make things worse, I said, they don't have any physical evidence against Davis either, nothing you can see or touch. What little physical evidence the State of Georgia once had it has since withdrawn -- new forensics technologies have revealed grievous error, and the assumptions of the past were shown to be wrong.
I explained a little about the appeals process, but also that once you're found guilty of something, it's very hard to get that changed. Try as I might, I couldn't reasonably explain to my children why the judge who heard new testimony at a 2010 hearing rejected that testimony -- I don't understand, I said, why he felt the witnesses must have been trustworthy in 1991, but that they no longer were 19 years later.
Especially, I said, because most of them said they'd been pressured by the police to blame Davis.
I turned to my 12-year-old boy, and explained that one witness was 16 years old at the time. Darrell "D.D." Collins now says he was alone in a room with five police officers -- no parent, no lawyer, just the police who were anxious and angry and looking for a suspect -- and they just kept yelling at him to say that it was Troy, threatening that he would go to jail if he didn't. So he finally did.
Imagine if that were you, I said to my boy. Imagine how frightened you would be.
There's one chance left, I said: Clemency. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles might decide that the case against Davis is simply too weak to support a death penalty, and they will commute his sentence.
We were at dinner at the time, so the conversation continued and meandered. Their dad explained why we oppose the death penalty generally ("me too," said the 8-year-old, "we shouldn't kill anybody"). Both kids said that they wished they could do something to help.
I admit I teared up at this point. I explained that this can't be their job right now, that fighting the death penalty has to be on the grownups. And that no matter how hard we try, we won't be able to get the world fixed by the time they grow up -- they'll be able to continue the work. That in the meantime, the fact of them in my life gives me the kind of joy and rest I need to be able to be available to people who need help.
Dinner ended and bedtime came. We read Harry Potter, snuggles were given and received. The night passed.
The next morning, the first words out of my daughter's mouth, sitting up in her bed, were about Troy Davis.
"You know how we were talking about Troy last night? How does that work?"
"I'm sorry," I had to say, "how does what work?"
"Well, how do they kill him? Will he just stand there and have to -- let them kill him?"
There are moments in parenting when not telling the whole truth is very important. I did not say "They will wheel Troy into a tiled room. They will strap him to a gurney. They will inject him with a series of drugs that will kill him in stages, despite the fact that there is real evidence that these drugs do not always work as smoothly as we are told. Despite the fact that he may suffer as he dies, they will strap him down, and people will watch, and they will inject him, and Troy Davis will die, even though he is almost certainly innocent."
Instead, I swallowed hard and thought about our cat, the one we put to sleep a couple years back, the one whose last living memory was of being in my arms. I said "Oh no, honey, they'll give him drugs like we gave Chauncey. The first one will make him sleep, and the next one will stop his heart. Do you remember how Chauncey died, quietly in my arms?"
I lied. I could not tell my daughter the truth. She's in third grade, and if she didn't have the mother she has, she wouldn't even be thinking about such awful things. I let her believe that it will be peaceful for Davis, that it will be like being held in someone's arms and falling asleep.
"But I still wish I could help," she said.
I thought hard, and suggested she write him a letter. She liked that idea: "If they were about to kill me and an 8-year-old girl wrote to me to tell me she believed me, that would help me feel better."
The day, then the weekend, passed and I thought -- I suppose I hoped -- that she'd forgotten. It's like I don't know my own daughter, though, because she is nothing if not a dog with a bone.
"Oh!" she suddenly said this morning. "I still have to write to Troy! And I better do it soon, because it has to be before the 21st."
And if the clemency bid fails, and Troy Davis is executed next week, I will tell her (and I will pray that it is so) that her message and all the other messages and all the well wishes of all the tens-of-thousands of people who have supported him these many long years were in his heart as authorities gave him those drugs -- that as his life ended, Troy Davis at the very least knew he was being held by tens-of-thousands of loving hands.
This week highlighted all the ways in which it’s likely to follow Clinton—all the way back to Washington.
Amid a fired up sea of supporters chanting “Lock her up!” with renewed vigor, a freshly emboldened Donald Trump took to the campaign stump on Friday afternoon in New Hampshire, moments after the FBI announced it was reviewing new emails related to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. “This is worse than Watergate!” he bellowed. The crowd was in agreement.
James Comey announced in July “that no charges are appropriate in this case,” and there’s no reason, at this point, to believe that the new emails will alter that conclusion. But the toll this takes—and will continue to take—on Clinton’s ability to secure public trust is not to be discounted. Should she win the presidency on November 8th, (as polls suggest she will), the controversy is likely to follow her to the White House: This latest review may take time to complete, and this isn’t a cudgel Republicans are likely to give up anytime soon. After all, their entire strategy has been to erode trust: in public institutions and, lately, in elections. The president herself will be no different.
We built a fake web toaster, and it was compromised in an hour.
Last week, a massive chain of hacked computers simultaneously dropped what they were doing and blasted terabytes of junk data to a set of key servers, temporarily shutting down access to popular sites in the eastern U.S. and beyond. Unlike previous attacks, many of these compromised computers weren’t sitting on someone’s desk, or tucked away in a laptop case—they were instead the cheap processors soldered into web-connected devices, from security cameras to video recorders. A DVR could have helped bring down Twitter.
Great, I thought as I read the coverage last week. My DVR helped bring down Twitter. (Probably not, at least this time—the targeted products were older than what you’d find in most American homes, and less protected.) But the internet is huge! There are around a couple billion public IPv4 addresses out there; any one of those might have a server, a desktop computer, or a toaster plugged in at the other end. Even if the manufacturer of my gadget gave it a dumb and easily guessed password, wouldn’t it be safe in this sea of anonymity? How would the hackers find me?
Just why was Tom Hanks dancing in a black-and-orange suit on Saturday Night Live so funny?
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live offered a mini masterpiece: a gloriously silly Halloween-themed piece revolving around a “Haunted Elevator” ride and its unusual star attraction. Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon played a couple looking for spooky thrills who instead found something far more bewildering: a pumpkin-suited man who would randomly appear alongside two cheerful skeletons and perform a dance routine. “Who are you?” asked a frustrated Bennett after the man (played by Tom Hanks) appeared for the second time. “I’m David Pumpkins!” came the reply.
McKinnon followed up: “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is … ?”
The agency is investigating more emails related to Hillary Clinton. Whether or not it finds something in the next 11 days, its announcement could affect the outcome on November 8.
The FBI has announced that it is investigating newly discovered messages related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. According to The New York Times, these emails were found in the course of the agency’s investigation of the former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and the longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
With just 11 days to go until November 8, FBI Director James Comey’s decision to disclose the investigation could affect the election. The timing raises two important questions: What was his legal obligation to provide the public with information on this investigation, if any, and what could happen to him as a result of his choice?
It’s possible Comey was partly motivated by fear. When he chose not to prosecute Clinton for her use of a private email server, he was brought before Congress to defend his decision; a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee in September lasted nearly four hours. If he failed to amend his testimony and inform Congress about new evidence potentially relevant to that case, he would almost certainly face more hearings—particularly if the agency discovered information about Clinton’s actions after November 8. “I have a suspicion that he didn’t just do it because he felt like doing it,” said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007. “This close to the election, you have to get out with it. How many of these dang things are there?”
This is an item I wrote last night but was too busy to look over and check this morning, so I didn’t post it. Then I was in meetings all day. I’m posting it now with a new opening paragraph in the wake of today’s announcement from FBI director James Comey about “re-opening” the email investigation into Hillary Clinton. Otherwise I think the main point still stands.
New intro: Are these extra emails that James Comey has found, however many they are, likely to contain a criminal or national-security bombshell that was not present in the thousands of other emails the FBI has already reviewed? Anything is possible, but my guess is no. Is this announcement, which is so certain to roil the news through this weekend, likely to change the fundamentals in the election and give Trump the edge? Again, anything could happen, but again my guess is no.
Start-ups are proving more efficient than government in areas like transportation. Should some services be privatized?
Cities such as New York and San Francisco have extensive public-transportation systems that carry millions of residents by bus, train, boat, and light rail. But in recent years, there’s been an expanding fleet of private vehicles too: Lyft, Uber, Juno, Uber Pool, and the Google Bus, to name a few. These offerings give commuters more choices, but may also undermine the public services available. They raise fundamental questions about the future of how people will get around cities.
I used to think these services were just for the rich—a friend of mine who lived in New York insisted on taking an Uber Pool to work every day because he said it was a much better experience than public transit. But as the options increase, they carry an expanding array of people. This morning, for instance, I walked one block from my house to take a private van service called Chariot to my office in San Francisco. Before Chariot, this commute took at least 40 minutes and consisted of riding a bus to the subway to another bus. Chariot—a shared van service run by a private company—brought me directly from my house to my office in just over 20 minutes. And it cost roughly the same price as the lengthier public transit option.
Director James Comey tells lawmakers that the bureau has uncovered more emails and is reviewing them “to determine if they contain classified information.”
Updated on October 28 at 7:25 p.m.
Hillary Clinton’s email saga isn’t over.
The FBI is reviewing a new set of emails “to determine whether they contain classified information,” the bureau’s director, James Comey, told congressional committee chairmen in a letter on Friday. Comey wrote that the FBI discovered the messages in an unrelated case and “cannot assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote in the three-paragraph letter. “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”
The FBI has announced that it is reviewing new emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system, after the messages turned up in an unrelated inquiry.
Here’s that October surprise. The FBI will investigate newly revealed emails from Hillary Clinton related to her use of a private email server and address while secretary of state, Director James Comey informed the chairs of relevant congressional committees on Friday.
In a letter, Comey wrote, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the case.” He wrote that he had learned of the emails on Thursday and felt that the FBI should look into the new emails. But Comey added that the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take for us to complete this additional work.”
Inferno is only the latest Hollywood product to insist that its lady-stars galavant around in infernal footwear.
There are several scenes, in the new movie Inferno, in which Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones)—Robert Langdon’s latestlady-sidekick—runs around Florence in a pair of wedges. Not full-on stilettos, to be clear, like the ones in which Jones’s co-star, Sidse Babett Knudsen, will be forced to sprint later in the movie, but wedges that are, in Sienna’s case, multiple inches high, and made of patent leather.
It happens like this: Sienna begins Inferno as Langdon’s nurse, and the opening scenes find the pair suddenly fighting for their lives against baddies who have infiltrated the hospital where Langdon is recovering from a gunshot wound that was inflicted, ostensibly, by those same murdery baddies. The pair, having barely escaped the hospital, go back to her apartment to regroup. She changes from her scrubs into civilian clothes. At which point—knowing that her day from there will prooooobably involve more murdery-baddie-evading, and knowing as well that such evading often involves running—Sienna Brooks scans the contents of her wardrobe and decides, for reasons that are best left to the Illuminati and/or Dan Brown himself, to don not just a shirt of white silk, but also … those intensely impractical shoes.
What is lost when disadvantaged students are forced to commodify their backgrounds for the sake of college admissions?
Shortly after moving to New York two years ago, I began volunteering as a writing mentor at Minds Matter, a large, multi-city nonprofit that helps prepare underserved high-school students for college. Just a few months earlier, I’d graduated from a liberal-arts college I’d attended after participating in a similar program, and I felt both obliged to pay my good fortune forward and uniquely qualified to do so. If my experience had taught me anything, it was the power of a compelling personal narrative.
By the time I’d decided, mid-way through high school, that I wanted to attend college—and not just any college, but a competitive one, filled with Gothic Revival buildings and storied histories—I had to contend with a spotty transcript, virtually no extracurriculars, and an SAT math score inferior to that of many middle schoolers. Then I heard about QuestBridge, a nonprofit that connects low-income youth with top schools.