COLUMBIA — Jamal Andress stood before an audience gathered at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center and asked a simple question.
“As humans, are we past the death penalty?”
Andress helped facilitate “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” a discussion Wednesday night regarding the September execution of Troy Davis. The event was sponsored by the MU chapter of the historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.
Davis, an African-American man from Georgia, was found guilty in the 1989 slaying of an off-duty police officer. He was sentenced to death in 1991, and after four delays and 20 years, he was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 21.
Andress, historian of Alpha Phi Alpha, began addressing the crowd of mostly students by presenting the facts of the Davis case. MU law professors S. David Mitchell and Paul Litton took questions from the audience and discussed Davis' possible motivation and the rationale behind the death penalty.
The floor was then opened up for discussion, and many audience members expressed a sadness about the disproportionate number of executions for crimes involving white victims over crimes involving black or other minority victims.
Some discussed their personal experiences related to victims of crime.
MU student Jazsmin Thomas said her uncle was murdered and his killer was sentenced to life in jail, a decision she agreed with.
“I’m opposed to the death penalty,” she said. “It doesn’t deter anyone, and it’s not right to take another’s life.”
“So how can we take an issue like this and push toward the better good?” Andress responded as he guided the conversation.
Maikieta Brantley, another MU student, said she strongly believes in educating others and raising awareness about wrongful convictions and how the legal process works.
“We’re the future,” she said. “One of us could be the next juror in a case like this.”
Several audience members said social media sparked their interest in the Davis case. Brantley said she had not been familiar with the case until she saw it mentioned on Twitter.
Korian Harrington, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, agreed with Brantley.
“I saw his (Troy Davis') name all over social networking sites, and it really bothered me,” Harrington said. “We needed a discussion like this, and the Troy Davis case was really a catalyst.”
Brantley said overall she was pleased with how the discussion went.
“This was an articulate and fair discussion,” she said. “I think it was beneficial and informative for everyone involved.”