I was thinking about my grandfather today. He was 98 years old and lived in Detroit, Michigan for nearly 90 years. My grandfather was one of the most fascinating people that I have ever known. Anyone who has ever spent any time with him has received some life and history lessons of some sort.
You see, he had an incredible memory. And even though his physical abilities slowed a bit, his mind remained razor sharp. He could as easily discuss the politics and platforms of Barack Obama, as he could with those of Harry S. Truman. He was a walking encyclopedia.
While reflecting on him and his greatness, I found myself contemplating a court scene, in the Federal Building in Detroit, during a time of his youth. You know, about 80 years ago. Dig my scene!
An African-American condemned man was being brought to trial, and a fury of publicity followed his every move. The entire community believed he was guilty, but he absolutely wasn’t. There were some in the community who knew the truth, but they were deathly afraid to speak up. Fear and Ignorance paralyzed the acts of moral courage within the city.
The press surrounding this man, and his trial was unprecedented. They were printing articles daily about his guilt. They called him a criminal, thief, and even a murderer. There was not a day that went by, for at least 6 months prior to the trial, where these words were not being espoused in the newspapers and over radio broadcasts to define this condemned man.
In addition to that, for more than a year prior to him being brought to trial, there wasn’t a week, where he wasn’t discussed in the same manner, within the same media. The city and entire state decided that he was Public Enemy #1.
Prior to the beginning of his trial, the condemned man received some information that his own attorney was not being truthful with him. He already felt completely alone in this fight, and there was a growing sentiment that it would be impossible for him to win.
The deadly guns of the entire community, their politicians, business people, media, the justice system and now it seemed his own lawyer were turned against him. It was only a matter of time before the shooting began.
He thought seriously about giving up and even giving in to whatever the mob wanted. He was beginning to be emotionally pummeled by the constant rage and rabid hatred of the city. But there was something else stirring within his spirit that would not allow him to quit. His soul was crying for justice.
He was not guilty of any of the charges against him, and he believed within his heart, that he could receive a fair trial even with all the noise. There was something in his DNA that believed in the concept of America.
The condemned man’s family moved to Detroit from South Carolina. Generations of his family worked on plantations as slaves. When the Civil War began, his grandfather escaped the south and fought on the union side for his own freedom, that of his family, and ultimately all of America.
His grandfather would often gather the family and tell stories about the war. The condemned man could remember being a child, listening to the deep voice of his grandfather, performing these great stories of bloodshed, sweat, tears and the rigorous fight for freedom.
But what he remembered most was his grandfather’s most powerful declaration and charge to his family. He would admonish them to “Never accept second-class citizenship in this country. The blood of your ancestors provided the payment for your full participation in America. Continue to fight for your rights!”
This statement affixed itself to the spirit of the condemned man and provided a source of strength, focus and tenacity for him throughout his life. No matter how great the challenges or difficulties, the voice of his grandfather pushed him forward, with confidence and self-determination.
The information that the condemned man found about his attorney was overwhelming him with feelings of betrayal. He was absolutely sure that he didn’t know the whole bad story, but he did have enough information to approach his attorney about the matter. He went to his attorney’s office to speak to him.
The most serious of these issues is that his attorney had clearly lied to him about his relationship with a witness who was to testify against him at trial. This witness was being used by the government to say whatever they wanted to trap the condemned man. The attorney spoke to the condemned man with the same egotism and arrogance that he typically displayed.
He dismissed the information as nonsense and then walked away from the condemned man. This further damaged an already terrible relationship between the two of them. You see, the condemned man was already growing concerned with this attorney’s representation.
He was woefully unprepared to begin the trial, completely unfamiliar with the evidence, and making no efforts to discuss the trial with his client, the condemned man. After this discovery, and the attorney’s attitude, he was left with no choice. He had to approach the court himself. He walked over to the Federal Building, with all of his newly discovered information in tow, and asked to see the Judge.
The Judge would not see him, but immediately called the condemned man’s attorney, as well as the prosecutors and told them to meet him in his chambers right away. Appointed by a conservative President, known for his mastery of the law, and his experience for presiding over big trials, the Judge was an interesting. However, he did have one weakness.
He was tenacious about keeping his schedule. He would not allow anything to impede upon his written and therefore decided the schedule for his court. Not weather, an act of God, or even the Constitution of the United States of America, could stop the court’s schedule from being protected.
It was actually a fatal flaw. But, mostly proving fatal for the accused in his courtroom, typically after the schedule was protected, at the expense of their constitutional rights.
When all the parties gathered in the judge’s chambers, the condemned man was asked to speak on his own behalf. He swallowed nervously, knowing that he had no friends, supporters or even well-wishers in this room, and then mustered the resolve and moral courage to speak.
He told the judge about the issues of trust that he had with his attorney, as well as new information that was even more troubling. He showed a clear conflict of his representation and humbly requested that the court allow him to have new counsel.
He stated he neither trusted his attorney any longer nor any advice that he would provide him. Also, that the Attorney/Client communication had been destroyed. He declared that this attorney is no longer working in his interest. He made a very thorough and passionate plea for help from the court.
The judge frowned and gave the condemned man a very angry and piercing look. He then turned toward the prosecutor and asked if there was anything that he would like to say.
The Prosecutor, in his haste to dismiss the condemned man’s issues, mistakenly confirmed, not only the issues brought to the forefront about the condemned man’s attorney, but also added additional problems that this attorney had, by exposing another issue.
The Judge abruptly stopped him from talking, but not before the condemned man was able to say to the judge, that the prosecutor had “confirmed his worst fear.” His attorney had indeed been lying to him the entire time.
There was also something else going on in that room what was very eerie. Everyone in the room seemed to be friends. The judge, the prosecutors, the judge’s staff, the defense attorneys, everyone.
They all knew each other socially and obviously had interaction and relationship outside of Federal Building. It was a weird moment for the condemned man. They even sent greeting cards to each other.
The condemned man’s lawyer thanked the judge for sending him a congratulatory card for his recent wedding ceremony. The condemned man certainly didn’t get an invitation. This was very strange!
It dawned on him that he was the only one that was not “in the loop.” But unfortunately, it also dawned on him that he was the only one in the noose. His stomach started to feel the nerves that come with condemnation, as he sat there quietly suffering, as they laughed, smiled and wonderfully conversed with one another, while his life hung in the balance.
He began to understand why his lawyer never had time to discuss his case with him, why he couldn’t answer simple questions about the evidence in his case, and also why he could never be honest with him about his legal dealings. He was not on the condemned man’s “team” at all.
He is on the court’s team. In that dreadful moment, the condemned man realized that he was absolutely alone in the fight of his life. There would be No Zealous Defense, No Support, and No Conflict Free Counsel.
The Judge looked over to the condemned man and said, “Boy, your lawyer has one of the best reputations of any lawyer in this building. You are lucky to have him. And, remember Boy, you chose him at the beginning of this case.”
The Prosecutor quickly added his support of the judge’s comments by saying, “You are right Your Honor. This boy’s lawyer is very good. Although we are on different sides in the courtroom from time to time (the condemned man was sure that this was not one of those times), I have tremendous respect for him.” The condemned man’s lawyer remained silent, and sat with a snide little smirk across his face.
The judge picked up again saying, “Boy, we are not delaying this trial. The city needs closure. You will keep your lawyer. That is all.”
The condemned man summoned the courage to say one more thing. He proclaimed, “But Your Honor, please, my lawyer is violating the rules of professional conduct, and much more, he is violating my 6th Amendment right to a defense!”
The judge looked down the long table at the condemned man, with a hard, vengeful gaze, and said, “I have ruled. There is no violation. Goodbye.”
Later the next day, another more serious violation was uncovered relating to the condemned man’s attorney. Other lawyers in his law firm were suing the condemned man. The subject of the lawsuit was the same of the criminal trial.
So, the same law firm that was supposed to be fighting for the condemned man’s innocence in one courtroom was simultaneously fighting against him in another courtroom, within the same building. The lawsuit would provide millions of dollars to the law firm.
The firm wanted the condemned man convicted. It was the only way to help them achieve millions. This information was immediately given to the Judge. He didn’t budge, and did no investigation of the matter. He simply said, “I have ruled.”
Because of the Judge and Prosecutor’s strong support of the condemned man’s attorney, as well as the inability for him to be moved off the case, the attorney became even more coarse and disrespectful with the condemned man.
One day, while attempting to discuss the case with his lawyer, the conversation reached a pinnacle of disrespect that so offended the condemned man, that he reached his boiling point.
He stood up, began to walk around the long conference table, heading straight towards his fearful lawyer. The lawyer stood, backed up and yelled, “If you touch me, I’ll have your ass locked up for the entire trial, maybe even longer. Go ahead!”
Damn! So that’s the Plan?!
The condemned man stopped in his tracks, smiled, then casually left the office. The smile was not one of humor, defeat or discomfort. It was a smile that conveyed a deep emotional feeling of inner peace. He believed, in that moment, that the law would work for future generations – one day, all men would be created equal, and receive their just rights as Americans.
One day, being condemned in the public, won’t mean that you are condemned in the courtroom, because your constitutional guarantee of the right to a fair trial will be tenaciously protected. One day, when white men fear black men, they will sit down and talk, without threats of imprisonment, public humiliation and brutality. It was a smile of hope.
As my thoughts drifted back to my current surroundings, I was forced to recognize the hard confines of a prison cell. The steel toilet and sink, cement block walls and endless noise. I thought about the condemned man of 80 years ago.
I thought about his hopeful smile. I thought about the powerful words of his grandfather. I was looking for hope, a reason to smile like the condemn man, or even find the inspiration behind his smile. I was searching for some profound revelatory lesson.
But all that I could think of was one thing… They don’t change…Sometimes! You see, they don’t have to call you a boy anymore, for you to be treated like one.
“Never accept 2nd-Class citizenship in this country!” FIGHT!