I sit inside the screened porch of my beloved friend Ali’s home in Carrboro. Lazily, a late summer storm approaches—echoes of thunder ripple through the thick air while a panoply of birds squawk excitedly, as though trying to get their songs out before the rain. My dog is cowed—he hangs his head, won’t eat his full bowl of supper. Finally, he settles uneasily beneath my chair.
My friend Joel built this porch. My friend Kimowan lived here for two years. Soon, we will gather out at Snipes Farm—the beautiful land where we kick off the HoopPath Retreat each year—to remember Kimo, who has been gone now almost two months. Two months.
In two hours, the State of Georgia is set to execute a man who is believed to be innocent. Seven out of the nine witnesses who testified against him have recanted their testimony, detailing extreme police coercion. There is no other evidence connecting him to the crime.
Life is arbitrary and painful. Injustice is alive and well in all its forms: media coverage of a real people’s movement—an enduring citizens’ sit-in on Wall Street—is breathtakingly scant. While I was researching today about where the protests and vigils for Troy Davis—the innocent black man who, unless a miracle happens, will be killed by the State of Georgia in one hour and forty-three minutes—one of the top hits I got was a site proclaiming that “cocksucking niggerlovers” were gathering in the streets in his defense. The ugliness that can be. The ugliness that is. What is our power to stand against it?
There are so many beautiful, funny, magical stories to tell about the weeks I spent traveling and teaching hoops in Europe this summer. And there is another story: How, after a couple of weeks, my Americanness began to pop up and hit me in the face again and again. “Where is the fucking ATM?” I heard my voice say, loudly. “Do we really have to walk six blocks?” (America is convenience. America is not having to walk.) “You could start a website!” (my voice again.) “You could take that on the road. Make a business out of it!” (America means business. How could you make money off that? You could, you know.) “We need a security guard.” (Someone’s bothering me. I want them to go away. I’m afraid.) “Where are the security guards? Where are the cops?” (Another voice answers mine. I hear a different voice, from a different place.) “There are no security guards.”
“This is Germany. People work it out themselves.” In this moment, no one is afraid the way I am afraid. Except maybe my American girlfriend. “There are no guns here.” No guns. I am suddenly aware that this fact has not occurred to me—not once. No guns. We’re in a public park. People are sitting on the grass, enjoying the late afternoon light. Where are the cops?
For the first time in my life I notice the degree to which I am acclimated to being surrounded by firearms. Even though I’ve never owned, shot, or even touched a loaded gun (unless you count BB guns) and would never knowingly allow a gun in my house, if I’m in a public park, I’m expecting a police officer to be armed and nearby. How strange that seemed, all of the sudden. How familiar…necessary…and safe. I felt less safe in a place with no guns. How could that be? This was the measure—the exact unit—of the depth to which I had become habituated to living within a culture so ready to expect violence.
And, in this moment of such stark contraposition, for the first time in my life I wondered if I really wanted that.
In 4 minutes, the State of Georgia will either execute or not execute a man believed overwhelmingly, from all conceivable angles, for reasons that any rational adult would find compelling, to be innocent. I haven’t checked the news to see if there has been one of the last-minute reprieves grace sometimes allows to rain down on us, drop by drop. I don’t want to check. I would like, just for another minute or two, to feel the unmistakable feeling of hope.
** Postscript: Troy Davis was executed just after 11pm on September 21st, 2011.
*** The title of this blog is taken from Tony Hoagland’s poem, “My Country.”