This is an old favorite–written in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2011. I was new to the city and was working as an intern for CNN. My first assignment was to go out “to the field” with a photojournalist and capture B-roll of a city-wide protest of convicted murderer Troy Davis’s impending execution. This poem turned out far better than the B roll. But unfortunately, the protests, which spanned the nation and garnered endorsements of Presidents and the Pope, failed in their mass attempt to reverse the sentence of Mr. Davis. He was executed on September 21, 2011.
They saunter around Tivoli Square, between a cinema and a supermarket; at the cross section of American life. Fifty Samaritans with the face of a convicted murderer who found God in a prison cell. Meek and bespectacled, in three days he will be dead. Carter, Clinton, The Pope, and the rest of the world bate their breath and pray for justice as he palms his rosary beads and orders his last meal.
“Hey Hey, Ho Ho, The death penalty’s got to go! Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the death penalty’s got to go!”
But one of these things is not like the other. In a sea of royal blue solidarity, there is an aqua jumping bean darting between people like she’s at a carnival of pious-intention.
Her name is Hannah. She is 8 years old.
The moment they announced his execution I am flipping between news channels. As my soul sinks with disappointment at this tragedy of my country’s justice system, I think of her.
I imagine all of the protesters I saw that day, clad in royal blue with expressions of resounding determination to save someone they’ve never met. I imagine their faces, resting on pillows all over the city. I imagine Hannah sleeping in her child-sized beds, blissfully ignorant as she dreams of simpler things. When she wakes in the morning and gets ready for third grade, she will learn that her efforts were in vain.
The mid-September hours she spent marching and chanting while her peers played hopscotch–those hours yielded nothing to save the condemned man, clinging to his innocence as the poison fills his veins. I feel her confusion, her devastating disappointment, and her sophomoric anger at whoever let this happen, at the Supreme Court for not saving a human life when his case graced their noble desks minutes before his doom.
And as I think of this cherub of political activism, Hannah the pint-sized vigilante, I begin to weep.
As I weep I wish that he could have met her. I wish that he could have watched her skipping along the protest lines, singing the chant like a schoolyard rhyme, her sign decorated with magic marker, and naivete. I want him to know her innocence, because she so strongly believes in his.
I sit baffled, mouth gaping, tasting the salt from my own tear ducts, I want to be the only child at a death penalty protest. I want to know the blissful ignorance of being the youngest person rallying for a cause that they don’t fully understand, and I want to spout Sunday school dogmas to anyone that will listen because the first lesson I remember from the first church I remember was
“Thou shalt not kill.”
Photo source: newamericanmedia.org