So over the weekend there were numerous re-runs of the movie "A Time To Kill". For those unfamiliar with the movie the plot is basically a father enraged by the raping and attempted murder of his daughter kills the assailants on their way to an arraignment because he believes that justice will not be served. Why? He's black. His daughter is black. The perpetrators are white and this is set in Canton MS. A white, relatively liberal lawyer takes the case for beans and wins after appealing to the "common humanity" of the jury. There is much weeping, gnashing of teeth, klan rallies and Sandra Bullock flesh.
I really hadn't looked at this film in a critical manner before. On the surface it pulls all the right strings. What black person in their right mind would not sympathize with the father? He's guilty but we understand (*wink* *wink*). Well now being many years removed from the initial viewing, and a lot more mature, I think this movie really should be re-examined.
The one thing that anyone concerned with the equal application of justice should be concerned with in this movie. First and foremost was that Sam Jackson's character, Carl, was in fact guilty of pre-meditated murder. There was no defense to be made for him. The first problem with the flick is that Carl's supposed motive for killing the men is based on the fact that the result of some other case, not in that particular town, ended in an acquittal of the defendants to which everybody was "sure" that the accusers were guilty, though we are not told any of the specifics of that case. Of course this is important since the "devil" is in the details. For example the defense for the men who killed Emmett Till claimed that the body was not Emmett Till. Of course bodies can't talk and DNA evidence was nothing like it is today. Herein lies the important difference. This movie was not set in the past but rather in present day Canton MS. The legal shenanigans that occurred in Till's time don't happen now (unless of course you have a horrible lawyer). The movie has a scene where Sandra Bullock's character, Ellen, give Matthew McConaughey's character, Jake, a note on precedence on motions for change of venue. This is important because, it shows that the court was willing to follow "the law" in the face of proper arguments. This is important. Why didn't the movie wait until the end of the trial of the defendants to have Carl "flip out" ? Wouldn't it have been a stronger argument in favor of Carl's supposed insanity if he had to witness the defendants being acquitted or getting a very light sentence?
If the defendants were acquitted then the argument could be made that not only was Carl borderline insane when he found his daughter raped and left for dead, but the tipping point was when he had to watch the defendants go free (or get a light sentence).
After that huge whole I thought of the other not to subtle argument being offered: Carl, a stand in for black men, are unable to control their emotions and therefore should be excused for letting their base instincts take over. a Jury must be made to understand his rage. He's insane and we must understand that. Lest you think I'm being to hard on Carl we must take a wide look at the African world. All over Africa we have coups and rumors of coups. At it's core a coup is a decision by a group of people to operate outside of the rules and when a coup is successful it re-enforces the idea that one can get what one wants through force of arms. On the other side we have the abuse of power in Africa by many "leaders" the instigates coups.
Locally, how can we, on the one hand, be against gang violence and a culture of confrontation which is usually spawned by a warped sense of "justice" not much unlike that motivating Carl while on the other arguing that the ends justifies the means when the ends consist of that which "we", whoever we is, agree with? If we are to uphold the "proper" means of conflict resolution and issues of justice, then in A Time To Kill, we would have seen Carl receive a guilty verdict for committing murder AND perhaps a moral on the extended tragedy of violence.