October 9, 2018 10:34:14 AM
Lessons from Harper Lee
Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill Mockingbird" achieved international fame and an almost unequaled movie was made staring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The story takes place in a small town in Alabama in the early half of the twentieth century. It is about a small town lawyer who dares to take on a client who has been falsely accused of some sort of sexual assault. The client is a black field hand and the accuser is a white girl of dubious standing in the community. It is pretty predictable as to how this story will end.
The reason Miss Lee's story was internationally acclaimed and won a Pulitzer Prize was that it embodied the raw and ugly truth about what happens to individuals when they are singled out by prejudice and discrimination and denied due process (the presumption of innocence) because of their skin color or gender. There was no doubt in the novel that this was one time when the woman's word would go unquestioned. As might be expected, the field hand lost his life because he had no trust in the legal system he found himself in.
I commend Mississippi schools that continue this novel as required reading. The fundamental truth in this novel is that all of us have a god-given hope for fairness and equal justice under the law regardless of how many lives are lost or destroyed by prejudice and a mob mentality. The greatness of this book lies in the way it tells a most tragic tale through which good and just people are even more compelled to seek out truth and guarantee justice to all regardless of skin color or gender. What we witnessed this past week could have been lifted from the pages of Miss Lee's novel. .. Senators accusing all men and especially "old, white and powerful men." This is not new. Along with blacks, Asians, Irish Catholics, Spaniards, etc., have all had their time in the barrel. Remember this one, "the only good injun is a dead injun"?
This is America. The Constitution of this nation handed down to us, and the quintessential definition as to who we are as a people, makes no difference under the law for women or men and Lady Liberty is color-blind. I am extremely sad that there are undoubtedly women who have been assaulted and battered and have not had justice. They, more than most of us, should be able to understand the plight of the client in Miss Lee's book. However, justice is never served by revenge, mob rule or prejudice. Every one of us deserves, under the Constitution and our Bill of Rights, the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt. Some said, "it's only a job interview." If it ever was a job interview, it ceased to be a job interview when criminal accusations of sexual assault, which don't generally have a statute of limitations, were made against the "interviewee" on national TV.
Let's say for the moment, that you were robbed and you reported it to the police. They would surely want to know where and when it happened. They would want to know how you got there or how you got home after the robbery. "I don't know," gives them little or nothing to substantiate that a crime took place. Worse, it effectively and completely deprives the accused of any reasonable way to defend himself. How would anyone possibly defend themselves under those circumstances? It would seem we have come full circle to a small town in Alabama in the 1920's. One wonders, are we any better as a people than we were 100 years ago.
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5. Editorial cartoon for 12-14-18 NATIONAL COLUMNS