Students gather in the Quarry Plaza on the evening of Sept. 21 for a vigil in honor of executed inmate Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer in 1989, and sentenced to death two years later. Photo by Morgan Grana.

 

Despite the evening cold and fog, students gathered in Quarry Plaza last Wednesday to remember Troy Davis, pending his execution. Tealights were arranged to spell out “justice” on the pavement, the low light bouncing off a mix of curious and somber faces.

Davis, a Georgia death row inmate, was executed that evening amid public outcry. The NAACP, Amnesty International USA and prominent public figures rallied around Davis.

Davis was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga. in 1989, and in August of 1991, he was sentenced to death. Doubts surrounding Davis’ guilt were raised, and in June of 2010, several eyewitnesses recanted their testimonies. His appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected in early 2011.

Led by SUA commissioner of diversity and UC Santa Cruz third-year DT Amajoyi and fourth-year Crown student Iman Barre, about 35 students discussed the implications of Davis’ execution, institutionalized racism and the role education can play in addressing injustice.

“[It’s important] that you’re all cognizant about what’s going on in the world,” Amajoyi told the crowd. “It’s very important to be tuned in … because these things affect you.”

Amajoyi stressed throughout the evening that Davis’ case is “not an isolated incident” and noted the now infamous Oscar Grant case as an example of continued injustice and race politics.

“This can’t be something we just keep in our community. It’s a huge opportunity not just to educate student-of-color communities, but allies as well,” she said. “It’s an issue of raising consciousness. It’s happening all the way in Georgia, but it’s important we know.”

Sharing their personal experiences in the workplace, their hometowns and within the context of the UC, students expressed concern over climate and diversity issues that currently plague UCSC.

“I’ve learned more in college discussing topics such as these with my fellow students than in the classroom,” Barre said. “Especially last year, there were a lot of incidents of racial tension on campus — around Cinco de Mayo, around Black History Month — there is a lot of racial tension on this campus I think is covered up by the administration.”

Conversations spiraled out from firsthand accounts of racism, to the push for critical race and ethnic studies at UCSC, to national legislation that may remove polling places from college campuses. The resounding message was the need for young adults to make their voices heard.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was talking about [the Davis case],” said fourth-year Dominic Calhoun, who attended the vigil. “Injustice is unacceptable and intolerable.”

One student quoted Cornell West: “Are we so well-adjusted to injustice?”

The vigil was the beginning of a much larger dialogue that has been rumbling on the campus for some time. Barre said she hopes students who attended the vigil say to themselves afterward, “This is my campus — what can I do to impact it?”

“Realize that issues are not tied directly only to one race or one community, but that it’s a human problem,” Barre said. “It’s a human issue and we should all rally against issues such as these.”

Shortly after the vigil ended, Davis was executed in Georgia at about 11 p.m.