Troy Davis' death at the hands of the state on Sept. 21, 2011, transformed Occupy and kindled Black Lives Matter.
ORDAN TAYLOR REMEMBERS PRECISELY WHEN TROY DAVIS WAS EXECUTED. It was 11:08 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2011, less than an hour before Taylor’s 18th birthday.
“I had never heard his name before,” says Taylor, who says he nonetheless attended a rally fellow students at SUNY New Paltz organized for a death row inmate they told him was innocent. On the threshold of adulthood, Taylor’s eyes were opened: The execution of a Black man by the state of Georgia was connected to Black America’s overall subjugation. “This new understanding of what it was to be a young, Black male washed over me,” he says.
Five months later, when Trayvon Martin was killed by vigilante George Zimmerman, Taylor helped organize his campus’s response. “Troy Davis cracked the screen of reality and Trayvon literally shattered it,” he says. While he had initially seen Davis’ case as the outcome of a broken system, he now understood that the system was functioning just as intended. Taylor later became a founding member of Black Lives Matter-Hudson Valley.
The current wave of racial justice organizing is often traced back to Zimmerman’s acquittal, when the slogan “Black Lives Matter” came into being. But for Taylor and many others, it was Troy Davis’ execution that planted the seeds of political consciousness.
Kenneth Foster Jr., an activist previously on Texas’s death row (now serving a life sentence) puts it like this: “ ‘I am Troy Davis’ created a kinship among victims and supporters. ‘I am Trayvon Martin’ and ‘I am Mike Brown’ unified and spread the message that this could happen to anyone. This new awareness fueled Black Lives Matter.”