After having a few days to reflect on the travesty of Troy Davis’ death, after digging through the Facebook posts, Tweets, and emails about the grave injustice, after talking with friends about how to take this momentum and create opportunities for change, I’ve finally gotten to the bottom of what all of this is about.
No, I’m not going to discuss the case, the evidence, the flawed judicial system, or the blatant disregard of human life. Not today.
Today, I’ll take a different perspective to explore the root of why things went so terribly wrong. The concept is simple: grace and mercy.
The Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines grace as:
Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace.
Mercy is defined as:
That benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant.
The laws of grace and mercy extend beyond Christian ideology; it is a human concept that we inherently show to other human beings. In the animal kingdom, there is no real sense of what we call “mercy”. There are no lions showing gazelles any mercy in the African Sahara. The Polar Bears of Antarctica typically aren’t being gracious with the fish they catch to ensure their fellow bear friends have food to eat. If we do see acts of mercy and kindness in the animal kingdom, it makes the last 30-seconds of Access Hollywood as the “feel good” story of the day.
It’s a kill or be killed world out there for them. Get yours before I take mine.
However, as humans, we have the ability to extend grace and mercy; we see, know, and understand the human condition and because of it, God has graced us with His mercy. We understand the pains and sorrows that come with life and our compassion is what drives us to give a little more, love a little harder, and extend mercy towards other people. God sacrificed His son for humanity because He knew we needed someone to save us from the same human condition that can also cause people to kill others, steal from the poor, and choose self-preservation over communal liberation.
As I mentioned in my letter to the state of Georgia, we had a chance to extend mercy to Troy Davis. Whether we can agree on his innocence or not, mercy says “I’ll grant you [insert compassionate human emotion here] even if you don’t ‘deserve’ it”.
The laws of our land require us to submit to decisions made by our courts that extend beyond the heartfelt message I’m writing today. Many of our laws (when enforced fairly and consistently) are rigid and intended to keep the proverbial carrot of freedom dangling before the salivating mouths of its constituents.
There are some moments, however, where one decision driven by mercy can catapult an entire society to new levels of compassion for their fellow-man. Even those political leaders who fail us repeatedly receive a level of mercy from us. They let us down, never fulfill promises, but we continue under their leadership with the hopes that eventually they’ll make good on their word. We show them mercy by electing them back into office. We can only hope they remember these merciful moments when they prepare to fail us again.
I’m reminded of when Big Red from the movie The Five Heartbeats hung Bird out the window for not following his “9-to-5 office hours” rule. With beaded brow and torn pants, Bird begged for mercy. The anguish on his face expressed that he wanted one thing and one thing only: another chance to make it right.
Big Red, in all his permed-out, fictional glory gave it to him.
How much more to our real brothers and sisters of this world?
There’s a lesson to be learned here, something deeper and greater than I think we could have all imagined.
A little grace and mercy goes a long way.
We should take this hidden message in Troy Davis’ death to understand that we all receive a level of mercy that we don’t deserve. We all, in some kind of way, are Troy Davises who need just a bit of mercy to extend the length and breadth of our lives.
Troy wasn’t as fortunate, but we are. With a greater understanding of how powerful this grace and mercy is on a global scale, we must challenge ourselves to be intentional with our own servings of mercy towards others.
Showing more mercy,