Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ox-Bow Incident

When Richard M. Daley (King Richard II) was mayor of Chicago, the city started a program called “One Book, One Chicago”. According to the website, “One Book, One Chicago launched in fall 2001 as an opportunity to engage and enlighten our residents and to foster a sense of community through reading.”

Years ago, I read “To Kill a Mockingbird’, but the only other book on the list that I’ve read so far is ”The Ox-Bow Incident”, which was the recommended book in the spring of 2005. The book was originally published in 1940, and was made into a movie (starring Henry Fonda) in 1943.

The short version of the story is that a group of vigilantes hang 3 innocent men, but quickly learn of their mistake shortly afterwards, when they return to town.

The story itself is set in the late 1880’s, but vigilante justice existed long before that. More significantly, it continued well into the 20th century. From 1900 to 1931, there were 1595 lynchings of African Americans in the United States. Georgia had the most (302) but Mississippi wasn’t far behind (285).

In the late 18th and early 19th century, our country was a very dangerous place. As a result, laws were passed that reaffirmed the right of people to defend themselves. In essence, they were the first “stand your ground” laws.

Things quieted down for a while, but in 2005, the state of Florida (with the assistance of the American Legislative Exchange Council) passed the first of the modern “stand your ground” laws. Since then, at least 21 other states have passed similar laws, again with the assistance of wording provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

One of the first, and certainly the best known, victims of the new “stand your ground” laws was a 17 year old Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin. Even though the man who killed him (George Zimmerman) was not convicted of any crime, at least 2 of the jurors in the case have stated that they felt that he got away with murder, but were unable to press charges due to the way the law was written.

George Zimmerman is a prime example of a modern day vigilante. Even though he had been advised by a crisis center operator to NOT pursue Martin, he still got out of his car, and pursued him on foot. When the unarmed teenager tried to defend himself, he pushed Zimmerman backwards, causing him to fall and hit his head, which resulted in the injuries shown below:

Almost immediately, Zimmerman pulled out his gun, and fatally shot Martin.

Less than a month after the shooting, a picture started making its rounds on the internet that claimed that the man pictured below was Trayvon Martin. Admittedly, he’s a pretty scary looking guy, but he’s NOT Trayvon Martin. He’s actually a 33 year old rapper named Jayceon Terrell Taylor, who goes by the stage name of “Game”.

The picture that you’re most familiar with of Trayvon was taken in August of 2011, seven months before his death, and the picture below was taken 9 days before his death. He’s pictured on the far right of the picture, and he doesn't look very scary to me:

After the jury verdict, many people across the country expressed dismay, but there were no violent confrontations anywhere in the country, a stark contrast to the reaction to the Simi Valley verdict in California in 1992.

Senator John McCain of Arizona recently said that it would be appropriate to review Arizona’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which was passed in 2006, and other legislators across the country are saying the same thing about their own laws. At this point in time, though, it’s unlikely that any of the laws will be repealed, due to the fact that they are still popular in many states.

However, the story below will demonstrate why they SHOULD be repealed:

let's pretend he was your white daughter

Regardless of whether any of the laws get changed or not, one simple fact remains:

Vigilante justice was wrong in 1885 - and it’s still wrong today. Where we’ve deviated as a society is that we seem to have lost our sense of conscience. Certain elements of our society are more concerned about “their 2nd amendment rights” than the safety of society as a whole, and they have no concern at all for the victims of gun violence. The most glaring example of this attitude is the heckling that Neil Heslin (the father of Jesse Lewis) encountered when he testified in Hartford earlier this year, which can be viewed at the link below:

Neil Heslin testimony.

In the Ox-Bow movie, one of the men who was hanged (Donald Martin) wrote a letter to his wife, and asked the one member of the posse that he trusted (Arthur Davies) to deliver it to his wife in the event that he couldn’t be saved. Several members of the posse (including Gil Carter, who was played by Henry Fonda) vote to bring the men back to town rather than hang them, but they were outnumbered.

On the way back to town, the posse met the sheriff, who tells them that the man who they thought had been killed by “the outlaws” was still alive, which meant that they had killed 3 innocent men. Back at the saloon, Gil Carter read the letter that Martin had written to his wife to the rest of the posse:

Henry Fonda speaks

The remorse that the men of the posse felt is clearly evident on their faces, and Martin’s words are particularly striking.

At this point in time, it’s difficult to imagine that George Zimmerman feels any remorse at all about killing an innocent teenager, but over time, those feelings will come. When that happens, it will be too late to save Trayvon Martin, but it may still happen in time to provide redemption for George Zimmerman.

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