For Too long I have remained silent. I too understand the anger and the hatred and the suffering. Don’t judge me by my skin color but rather by my experience.
I did my New York University graduate film project about Thomas Battle, the longest living African American male incarcerated on Missouri’s Death Row at the Potosi Correctional Center. Some would say I committed academic suicide.
And Jay Nixon was associated with this case as well and it was a Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan at the time who presided over the stay of execution and allowing Thomas’s inevitable death—the stench of the injustices surrounding how Capital Punishment is administered in America like racism and hatred crosses all boundaries and all economic classes – don’t prejudge and don’t assume one party or political machine is anymore altruistic. I bore witness to the hypocrisy, the hatred and injustice first hand. Two years being an advocate opens your eyes.
When you hear a person’s last words before they throw the switch you start to reconsider life; you also lower your expectations and your aspirations. You find it hard to finish; fear of completion becomes a nagging everyday reality.
Even more unnerving is when the person you are advocating for disappoints you; you discover it’s not all black and white – that the very person who you believed was completely innocent was at the very least involved in the brutal gang rape of the 80 year old black woman — Birdie Johnson.
Black on black crime in America is far more prevalent—yet this form of mass genocide and execution of a race and a whole generation of our great nation goes undocumented. It’s not just a racial tragedy but an American tragedy. Any time you take someone’s life with a gun it’s an execution—unless it is in self-defense.
Poor role models, poverty, ignorance and, yes, the mass media and the easy access to illegal fire arms and drugs are all to blame – but that does not bring back Birdie Johnson or any other victim. Why are guns and drugs easier for our youth in America to get access to then love, caring role models and a decent education?
The greatest tragedy of Ferguson like Treyvon could have been avoided if any of the above factors were recalibrated for both parties involved – victim and executioner. Call me an idealist, but I believe in the power of Jesus Christ – the universal power of love. What happened to love and respect in our society?
Still, I don’t have all the answers – I do understand the internal pain – the feelings they invoke those of ostracization, discrimination and isolation and hatred that come from bullying and low self-esteem—all products of prejudice, misunderstanding and self-hatred.
Recently, I had my own death sentence to contend with when doctors gave me two years to live. Since then, I have become numb to life, grateful for each passing day, and the opportunity to live and serve.
But I think Thomas made a point before he died – a point that rings truer to me today than it did a decade ago—as put more perspective on it with each passing day. A truth we can all learn from today in wake of Ferguson.
Thomas said on his last day that it was the best day of his life because he found love the love of Jesus and the love of his estranged family. Thomas was already a Christian when he arrived on death row 19 years prior; yet Jesus became his source of light and truth; a beacon of love in a dark place. May be more of us should turn to Love, wherever, you find it in this time of strife – turn to love. Forgiveness is our greatest strength.
Wearing someone’s death as your badge of blood and vengeance as an excuse for looting and rioting and lawlessness and more violence just gives way to mob rule. Hatred only fans the flames of injustice and begets more pain and suffering for all. It’s morally reprehensible. I know this is not what Thomas would have wanted – Thomas did not seek out vengeance, although falsely accused, nor is this what Martin Luther King or Gandhi would have espoused. We need more love and forgiveness to allow for the calmness of lady justice to shed her light.