By Ernie McCray
I found myself, a day or so ago, kind of tearing up, thinking about a passage I had read in “Just Mercy,” a story of justice and redemption, or better yet, the lack thereof.
Bryan Stephenson, the author of this incredibly revealing narrative about the inequities in our justice system, says, concerning a man who was less than a day away from being executed unbelievably wrongfully, “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that we think a thing like that?”
I’d say that we can entertain such thinking because we have no real values of any substance to guide us as a society. Oh we have documents that say we’re high on freedom of speech and freedom of religion and so on and so on and we sing:
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.
But do we really honor such thinking? Not by a long-shot. Mr. Stephenson cited case after case of people, including children, each broken, and poor, represented by lawyers who are underpaid and don’t give a damn, found guilty, basically, for just “being who they are.”
Walter McMillian was one such human being, a friendly, upstanding, hardworking, law abiding well liked black man. He spent six years on Alabama’s Death Row for a murder he was nowhere near around, framed by a man who was coerced to tell lies by the police. And he was taken to Death Row right after his arrest. As a matter of fact, they had to take him from Death Row for his trial which was moved from a county which was 40 percent black to one which was only 13 percent black.
All that to say, he was black – and he had made the mistake of having an affair with a white woman. So, to use the vernacular, they wanted his black ass. He was convicted after a one-and-a-half-day trial on the testimony of three witnesses who hadn’t seen a thing because, of course, there was nothing to see. Not to mention that Walter had tons of credible evidence that showed that he was innocent and shouldn’t have been on trial in the first place. Shouldn’t have ever been incarcerated.
So, back to America, the Beautiful, I have to ask would a nation wherein citizens truly cared about each other and vigorously promoted brotherhood and sisterhood for “all” – would such a travesty be allowed?
Oh, don’t misread me. We do marvelous things in our country. There are so many people dedicated to making it America, the Beautiful. Let a hurricane or a tornado or an earthquake wreak havoc among us and we’re there to lend a helping hand. We’ve got crisis down.
But how about our daily lives? How do the broken people fare day to day in our neighborhoods and downtowns? The homeless? The jobless? The uninsured needing medical attention? The hungry? All the old folks in families that don’t care about them anymore? The closeted gay person? The immigrant who desperately misses his family? The families devastated by their unarmed sons being shot down in the streets by those hired to “protect and serve?” The man or woman hearing voices where there are none? The child contemplating shooting his classmates in the school library? The molested child, the woman beaten by her husband, the husband? The breadwinner working a less than minimum wage job? Those who need the services of the suicide hot line? the prostitute who sees no way out?…
We, as a people, see such human beings as these as expendable and that gets in our way, big time, when it comes to our creating a just nation and that is definitely what we need to become: a nation dedicated to fairness.
And what about the criminal element in our midst and the innocent who are caught up in our overflowing prison industrial complex? Bryan Stephenson has worked with hundreds of accused, convicted, and imprisoned men, women, and children and says through that experience he has learned “so much about hope, justice, and mercy.”
He believes that “mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving.”
He’s speaking, of course, of compassion, and there can be no building of a better world without people showing sympathy towards people who are less fortunate than they are. The more we can learn about why people do the things they do, the more we can learn about how to end human suffering and become more compassionate towards our collective needs and cries.
Then, looking ahead, we could honestly contemplate bringing about peace in the world because those who advocate for such like to say: “No Justice. No Peace.”
Hmmm, I’m liking my own thinking. It’s soothing me. Just imagining crowning “thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea,” changes my tears of despair to ones of joy. I say Justice and Peace and Compassion to all.
Photo courtesy of Robert Nunnally.