THE BLOG

A Sister's Love: Martina Davis-Correia

12/14/2011 05:08 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2012
  • Diann Rust-Tierney Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

I imagine angels weeping today. But no soul shuddering sobs of despair are heard.

I imagine angels weeping quiet tears of recognition. These are the same tears we shed when we encounter a thing of extraordinary beauty, or are touched by unexpected and we think, undeserved compassion.

These are the tears we shed when we encounter a soul possessed of a different quality of yearning for goodness.

I imagine angels weeping because today, family and friends of Martian Davis-Correia are gathered to mark her exit from our world to theirs.

Martina Davis-Correia died on December 1, 2011. She died 10 weeks after her brother Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. For more than a decade there was a synchronicity between Martina's struggle to save her brother and her own personal battle to survive breast cancer.

Martina approached both challenges with the cleared eyed pragmatism of one determined to find a way to prevail.

She would not be deterred by the challenge of a serious health condition requiring extraordinary stores of personal courage, perseverance and determination. She summoned the "right stuff" mustered by millions and their families to survive and then advocate for more resources and research to find a cure.

She would not be deterred by the challenge of a criminal justice system that is too often incapable of getting things right and worse, less than candid about its propensity for mistake.

She was not deterred by a system in which the quality of justice is too often sacrificed to expediency.

But her greatest challenge was to open our eyes to the fact that the struggles she faced required our already overstretched and limited attention and involvement.

She showed us by her own example. As Martina fought to save her own life, she became an eloquent, impassioned advocate for improved healthcare, access to treatment and breast cancer research.

As she fought for justice in her brother Troy Davis' case, she became a seasoned and dedicated champion for human rights for the sons and brothers, fathers, mothers and sisters of others, speaking forcefully as a leader in Amnesty International.

Martina opened our eyes by patiently telling the story of her brother to any and all who would listen. It was the simple quality of Martina's truth telling that was her secret weapon.

I will never forget my meeting with Martina. It lasted more than two hours. She arrived unexpectedly. I had read about her brother's case. However, Martina's account of the many irregularities and missteps before, during and after his trial painted a vivid, compelling and disturbing picture of a legal system gone terribly wrong. Her description of the personal indignities she suffered simply because she continued to love and support her brother stirred a passion for justice in me that would not rest.

She stirred that same passion in others -- one at a time and then by the hundreds, thousands and more.

Martina was the spark for a multi-racial, multi-generational, bi-partisan cause forged in the hot flame of one family's desperate search for justice.

At times such as these we speak of legacy.

What is Martina Davis-Correia's legacy?

First and foremost, her legacy is her son De Jaun. She raised him to be a fine young man even with the enormous obstacles set before her. Martina focused on providing him with the love, security and support that would enable him to stand with poise and clarity as a person of faith and whole to address thousands at the funeral of his uncle Troy Davis. She raised him to move forward, despite loosing a grandmother, an uncle and now mother within a year.

Martina was true to her brother. Troy Davis did not die in vein. Because of Martina, the world has an up close and personal view of the workings of the capital punishment system in Georgia and a deeper understanding of how it operates in every state that continues the practice.

Even though capital punishment is in its waning days, shrinking in popularity and use, we now know that at some point, in a remaining, increasingly isolated number of places it does not matter how much doubt there is about your guilt.

It does not matter how many people say: hold the train; take one more look; make sure its right;-- be they former presidents, world leaders, the Dalai Lama or the Pope.

The protest of millions of concerned voting citizens can not save you. No amount of the irresistible life force of a sister's love can open the heart or mind of one determined to deny his or her accountability to justice.

This is why capital punishment must end once and for all.

Martina's most remarkable legacy may be the high standard for activism she set in the face of injustice. The bar is high -- once our eyes have been opened to suffering and unfairness -- we can not turn away.

Martina's call was answered by an unprecedented number of people who believed the unfair system in Georgia had to be challenged. They will continue to work, in Georgia and elsewhere, picking up where Martina's strong and gentle hands left off.

They will add their voices and new energy to the voices and energies of those who have been working, since long before Troy Davis was sentenced to death, to expose capital punishment as the biased, error-prone system that it is. The death penalty is a punishment that inflicts a singularly unique form of cruelty on all it touches: the accused and convicted, the families of the accused and convicted, homicide survivors, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors and correction workers.

Out of the sadness and grief of this past year, momentum for change is building.

With the grace and care of an earthbound angel, we can sow seeds of healing and compassion for all people touched by the tragedy of homicide. We can demand a system of justice that respects human rights and never loses site of the fact that it derives its legitimacy from the people and the people's confidence that it operates with integrity.

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