I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw a picture of a vigil held for a condemned man.
I do remember wondering about those people in that picture, the ones who stood outside from evening into night, holding hands, singing, waving their candles, crying, until the midnight moment when the switch was thrown, then fading away to wherever such people dwelt when justice wasn’t being served.
It was a long time before I went from wondering why people would bother holding a vigil for a condemned man to wondering why the man had been condemned. After a longer time still, I wondered after justice itself, what it is and how it comes to be.
I wonder still, today, while I sit and listen as justice takes place within earshot.
I work in Atlanta, capitol of Georgia, in which state this morning a five-person panel decides whether Troy Davis shall die two days hence or, for the fourth time, be granted a reprieve from death for a crime of which he has maintained his innocence for 22 years.
Outside, people are chanting in the name of this condemned man, and they have brought drums, and the sounds of their drums echo off the buildings around the capitol, among them mine, where I sit and question my personal moral arc while several floors below me, five people will bring theirs to bear for keeps.
If I did not know otherwise, I might be made to believe that the sound outside is nothing more than a pep rally, just another band of fans, rallying their underdog team before the big game, and, in a way, I would even be right.
Not everyone loves an underdog, and for every voice raised in support of Troy Davis, there are a thousand silent in approval, apathy, or ambivalence.
There are those who look upon this rally, look on everything around it and leading up to it, with the same sense of befuddlement as I, a child, once looked upon that vigil photo; they cannot help but wonder why anyone would object to justice.
They hear the drums, but they perceive only a beat for the headsman, the staccato rhythm that will build until the appointed moment.
The drums beat for Troy Davis, and I am afraid to hear them stop.