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Marcellus Williams Is Living Proof That Social Media Activism Can Make A Difference

You may think your voice doesn't matter, that it doesn't count... but it does.

08/24/2017 09:44 EDT | Updated 08/24/2017 14:51 EDT
Handout . / Reuters

Friday night, I received a Change.org petition, with only about 30,000 signatures, about the execution of a man named Marcellus Williams in St. Louis, scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. Despite new DNA evidence pointing to his innocence, the state of Missouri still planned to move forward with his execution.

I started to dig and couldn’t find much. I dug a little deeper and still couldn’t find very much. There was minimal information on the internet, which I found odd considering the execution was four days away. One thing I did find was his lawyers’ contact info.

I decided to reach out to see what I was missing, as this story was not making sense, it was not sitting well in my soul, something felt very, very wrong.

The lawyers emailed me back with some information on the case Friday morning and as I started to read everything they sent me, it became very clear that something was indeed very wrong.

Here are some of the facts:

  1. This is a black man accused of killing a white woman.

  2. This happened in Missouri, a state with a long history of racial division.

  3. In Missouri, if a murder victim is a white female, execution is 14 times more likely than if the victim is a black male.

  4. Eleven of the 12 jurors who decided the case were white.

  5. The primary evidence that led to Marcellus’s conviction was from two witnesses, both who had criminal records and who received financial compensation that they both desperately needed at the time.

  6. Just this month, the NAACP issued a travel warning for people of color traveling to the state of Missouri.

So if you take all of the above into consideration, where do you think that leaves a black man with prior convictions?

There was no attention around this case, no media, nobody reporting it... so I decided to get to work.

I continued to speak with the lawyers all day Saturday and the more I heard, the more I felt compelled to do something.

I then posted a video on my Instagram telling the story of Marcellus William and asked my followers to sign the petition on Change.org.

I asked them to go to the Instagram page for the Governor of Missouri (@EricGreitens) and leave a comment. I asked them to tweet, share, repost, tag others and do anything they could to get this story in the public eye. I reached out to all the major networks, a bunch of celebrities and shared the story, and of course not one knew anything about it. 

Alison Brettschneider

How is it possible in 2017 that a man is on the verge of execution with evidence pointing to his innocence and nobody knows a damn thing about it?

Sadly, this is the world we live in and this story is all too familiar for black men across America.

After two days of speaking with his lawyers, emailing and posting on Instagram, I decided to fly down to St. Louis so I could really jump in.

At the same time, CNN finally reported on the story.

Eric Greitens’s Instagram was flooded with comments. He normally has 5-10 comments on a post, suddenly he had hundreds about the execution. He was being tweeted at constantly, and people were starting to post about the case all over social media.

Suddenly, Marcellus Williams, a name nobody had heard of before, was everywhere, as it should have been way before three days prior to his scheduled execution.

On Governor Greitens’s Instagram page, he had a contact button to email or call. His emails were bouncing back as his inbox was flooded, his voicemail was full. So we got his press secretary’s number and tried that course of action. Eventually, they were forced to close down their switchboards.

OK, next plan, call the governor of your state. Actually, call the governor of any state while you’re at it. They will feel compelled to call the governor of Missouri to let him know that they are getting calls and people are outraged. Somebody is bound to let him know that all hell is about to break loose in his state.

The lawyers had put in an appeal with the Supreme Court to delay the execution until the new evidence could be presented which would prove his innocence. If the Supreme Court denied this request, the only remaining recourse would be for the governor to grant clemency. However, the governor was not making a statement or acknowledging the very serious situation on his hands, a potentially innocent man’s life at stake.

So why would they not hear the evidence? What would be the downside for an extremely pro-life governor to delay the execution to ensure that an innocent man was not killed?

I think we can all answer that question. 

We are living in a very tense, racially charged political climate; can you imagine if they ignored the evidence and executed an innocent black man? Sadly, it would not have been the first time, as our current legal system has proved time and again to be corrupt, failing and flat-out broken.

By the time I arrived in Missouri, we had less than 48 hours to get the governor to make a favorable decision.

A decision that would honor humanity, dignity, morality and all of the other things that this presidency does not.

On the heels of Charlottesville and the soon to be three-year anniversary of the riots in Ferguson, did the governor know just how dangerous the potential execution would be, not only for his state but for the country, for our morale, our hope, our faith in wanting to believe that we are not going backwards?

The country needed a sign, a step in the right direction, in my opinion the governor was being handed a layup. He could only stand to gain the support of people who had never heard his name before.

Oh and speaking of never hearing names before...

Marcellus Williams, a man four hours away from execution, who had been just another number in the system, was now trending on Twitter. Everybody became personally invested and suddenly there were close to 275,000 signatures on the petition I had been sent.

We got the call four hours shy of execution that the governor granted the stay.

It is almost unheard of for an execution to be stayed so close to the deadline. A governor of Missouri has not granted such a stay in at least 20 years.

Do we think all of the pressure of social media and the press coverage was a factor in this decision? ABSOLUTELY.

We live in a different world now, where you can’t hide. You can try but the truth will prevail. Who knows if Marcellus Williams name had not been trending on Twitter if he would still be alive as I type this.

What if people like me had skipped over that email about his execution in my inbox as it was mixed in with thousands of others?

What if hundreds or thousands of people had not flooded the governor’s office with phone calls, emails, and social media comments? 

Would Marcellus Williams be just another nameless, faceless statistic that nobody even knew existed?

So I leave you on this note: please use your voices, please stand up, please speak up... especially with the state of the world today.

You may think your voice doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t count... but it does. 

Remember, there are millions of people just like you and millions of people speaking up at the same time is exactly what this country needs right now.

Everything going on today is no longer about politics, it is about humanity.

Don’t be scared to stand up, as all it takes is one person standing up and saying this is wrong to encourage and motivate others to do the same. 

 Like one of my favorite quotes goes...

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead

Marcellus Williams is living proof.

You can follow Alison @25park on Instagram for the latest developments