“A Time to Kill” was released in 1996.
The movie depicts a black man, Carl Lee Hailey, who struggles with the horrific rape of his 10-year-old daughter Tonya by two white men in Mississippi.
In response, he kills the white men for their crimes to ensure they would not be acquitted at a later trial.
Needless to say, Carl Lee Hailey was arrested and charged with the murder of James Louis “Pete” Willard and Billy Ray Cobb.
Carl hires a young white lawyer, Jake Tyler Brigance, to defend him. Although the case appears to be a longshot and retribution from the Ku Klux Klan is imminent, both the defendant and his lawyer proceed.
In his closing argument, Jake asks the jury to close their eyes and imagine. He then begins to graphically describe the details of the rape.
Tonya was grabbed by these men while walking home from the grocery store. They took her to a nearby field, tied her up, ripped her clothes off, and raped her repeatedly. In addition, they threw beer cans at her, urinated on her, and tried to hang her.
While the jury’s eyes were closed, Jake makes his final statements. “Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white. The defense rests your honor.”
The jury, the defendant, the judge and the audience could no longer keep their eyes closed. The image changed.
The crime was no longer committed against “the other.” It was committed against one of the privileged. The perspective has now shifted.
On Thursday, April 30, 2020, a group of angry citizens protested in and outside the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. Pictures emerged of men and women holding signs that accused Governor Gretchen Whitmer of tyranny and that she was ignoring the effects of a statewide ban on small businesses.
What’s most disturbing, however, are the pictures of many of these citizens armed with rifles and shouting aggressively at lawmakers. State police were required to stand in a line and block the protesters entrance into the House chamber.
The United States Constitution permits citizens to protest. Nonetheless, I can’t resist closing my eyes and imagining if those individuals that protested at the capitol were black.
What if the group of armed protesters were black? Can we honestly say that the state police would have simply formed a line to block them from entering the House chamber?
I think not. We all know that the reactions would have been different and there would have been significant life lost.
Why is that? It’s because black people’s bodies are not valued as much as white people.
It is not the same playing field. Injustice is a part of America’s DNA that must be exorcised.
Consider the case of Ahmaud Arbery – a 25-year-old black man known in the community for exercising and staying physically fit.
While on a daily run, two white men, Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael, assume Ahmaud is a burglar that the community has been looking for.
They get in their truck, track him down, and execute him in broad daylight. The company line of “self-defense” is given, even though the young man was unarmed.
This incident happened February 23, and the men didn’t get arrested until May 7.
There have been district attorney recusals. Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael are silent.
The case has moved forward only after intense pressure and vast media coverage. The entire situation feels wrong, immoral, unethical and unjust.
Unfortunately, this is now a regular occurrence. It happens so much now that one could be tempted to be numb to it.
But we must resist becoming so accustomed to these atrocities that it doesn’t register the outrage that it should.
We should never allow ourselves to think, “Oh, it’s just another black person killed for doing absolutely nothing. No big deal. We’ve seen it before.”
“We’ve seen it with Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson and Tamir Rice. It’s nothing major. Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, that’s too bad. Oh, it’s just another.”
Close your eyes and imagine a young man running in a Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood. People in his community know he’s a fitness junkie and it is not uncommon for him to go on a run.
While running, he stops to look at a house under construction and then continues on. Two men see him looking at the construction and are automatically suspicious.
Without justification or verification, they grab their guns, hop in their pickup truck and confront him. After the confrontation, shots are fired, and the young man is killed.
Can you see him? I want you to picture that young man.
Now imagine he’s white. The defense rests your honor.
Cory Jones is senior pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Burlington, New Jersey, and serves on the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master of Divinity from the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center, and a Doctor of Ministry from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.