Chokehold, Literally & Figuratively

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The Paul Butler who appears often on MSNBC as a legal expert has a very different voice from the Paul Butler who wrote Chokehold: Policing Black Men. Both voices are critical for our times.

All I knew about him was his role as a legal commentator on shows such Joy Reid or All In With Chris Hayes, where he has mainly been asked about the Trump-Russia investigation. In this book, he is a passionate revolutionary fighting for social change.

Mr. Butler is the Albert Brick Professor in Law at Georgetown University and was formerly a federal prosecutor. The awards he has received and the scholarly articles and other books he has authored lead me to the conclusion that this is a man I need to listen to. His latest book came out last July, but it took me a while to catch up with it.

He uses the term “chokehold” both literally, as in how Eric Garner was murdered, and figuratively, as in the chokehold that official (read white) society has over the lives of African Americans.

As someone who has been arrested for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Butler knows whereof he speaks. He also knows how fortunate he was to have had legal colleagues to help him get out of his dilemma. The vast majority of African-American men and women who are wrongfully arrested, if they are not outright killed by police first, do not have such resources.

And the point is not to make those resources help, though in the short term they are needed. Mr. Butler is looking at the long term and calls for a revolution that will completely reform the way policing is done in this country.

This is from Elizabeth Hinton’s review in The New York Times last July:

“ “Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do,” Butler writes. “The police, as policy, treat African-Americans with contempt.” “

We have seen that with our own eyes, but still police are rarely held accountable and Supreme Court decisions have given them the impunity to do what they do. When SCOTUS decisions support racial profiling, how do we think those in our society who are already racist will behave?

I can’t help but agree with his argument that a complete transformation, not incremental steps, is what is needed in this country. “The United States of America must be disrupted, and made anew,” he writes.

Not only do incremental steps not help in the long run, they are an obscene insult to people whose entire history is one of oppression and inequality at the hands of white society. I’ve heard the “Why can’t they be patient?” argument in every decade of my life. It was an appalling argument in the 1950s and it is an appalling argument now.

Systemic racism, which leads to chokeholds and police violence against African Americans, has been a cancer on this continent for almost 500 years. No matter whether there’s someone we love in the White House or someone we hate, American society has a rot within it that needs to be surgically removed.

I will let you read Mr. Butler’s vision of solutions for the problem for yourself. Some seem shocking at first, such as abolishing prisons. But when you look soberly at our history and where we are now in equal protection under the law, you might start thinking along those shocking lines yourself.

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How The Light Gets In

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In 1977, my friend Caroline and I made a pact. We were coming home from Pittsfield after having seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Driving down Route 183 by Gould Meadows overlooking Stockbridge Bowl, a full moon shone on the white and frigid earth. Everything was crystal clear. A perfect place to see a UFO!

We agreed then and there that if either of us ever told the other we had seen a UFO or met an alien, we would believe each other.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene, who seems to have understood Jesus’s message better than the male disciples, should have made a similar pact with them.

There are so many concepts to ponder in today’s Gospel, and for me, the least of them is Thomas.

Poor Thomas, whose name has come down through the centuries to be synonymous with “doubt.” Derivation of doubt? In fact, most of the disciples were doubters at that point.

A week before, with Thomas absent, they were living behind locked doors. Jesus appeared to them, they rejoiced, then said good-bye and re-locked the doors. Hmmmm.

There is also the question of why, when Mary saw him, Jesus told her not to touch him because he was in an in-between state of life and death. Yet when he appeared to those in the locked room, he invited them all to touch him.

Each of the Gospels has different versions of Jesus’s post-Resurrection, pre-Ascension appearances to the disciples, and you can find quite a lot written on whether these were dreams, or visions, or hallucinations.

Regardless, John’s is the Gospel in which everything is a metaphor for something else. So for me, the locked doors and the image of seeing Jesus’s wounds are what John wants us to focus on here, and they are closely related.

They are also crucial to our own responses both to Jesus and to the world we live in.

Have you ever seen a horror movie where the heroine couldn’t get out of the house because, in her panic, she couldn’t unlock the door. When you lock your door at night, it’s so that no one can enter. But what if the thing you fear is already in the house?

When we lock a door, we also lock ourselves in.

When we lock our minds, we lock out knowledge that might be helpful. When we close our consciousness to realities we don’t want to deal with, when we are fearful and won’t let ourselves admit to that which scares us, we keep that fear locked inside. The realities are there no matter what.

The Good News is that Jesus can break through the locks and bolts and closed minds and let in the light of understanding, of comfort, of guidance, of reassurance. If we let Him.

The Rev. Michael March, an Episcopal priest from Texas, points out on his blog the irony that while Jesus’s tomb was empty, the disciples had created their own tomb in which they had interred themselves. But Jesus found a way in anyway; Mr. March called it “eastering in us” and every year we have this most wonderful reminder that Jesus can break through any barrier.

For the disciples, this took place just one week after the Resurrection. We are now just one week after Easter. Are we different from the disciples? Are our lives perceptibly changed? Or have our minds and hearts gone back on lockdown?

Here’s where Jesus’s wounds come in.

During Lent, those who participated in the gatherings at Crissy Farm watched a short video of a TED talk by Brene Brown, in which she suggested that faith depends upon vulnerability.

She didn’t say it, but the word “vulnerable” comes from Latin roots meaning the capacity to be wounded. In no other instance do we make ourselves more vulnerable than when we dare to show our wounds.

Jesus the Christ is the ultimate archetype of vulnerability. First, he became human. Second, he came as a homeless baby. Third, he spoke truth to power in a dangerous age. Fourth, he willingly accepted a painful, horrifying death. Fifth, He loved us all the while and loves us still.

Inviting someone to touch a wound is an extremely intimate and vulnerable act. Do we allow ourselves to be that vulnerable? Do we allow ourselves to be fully human? Do we allow our spiritual or emotional wounds to show, or do we put on a stoic face and act as if we have everything together?

If we saw someone walking around with a physical wound, wouldn’t we take that person to the ER or get gauze and bandages? What about all the people, including ourselves, walking around with psychic wounds; how do we help them?

Why should we show our wounds? What’s the point in that?

Well, John’s Gospel today answers that. Jesus showing His wounds is how the light got in to the disciples’ minds. Jesus is also showing us that showing our wounds is how we let Him in so that we can advance to full Easter life and bring His message out into a broken Good Friday world.

Leonard Cohen knew it. He said it in the refrain to his song “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

We have many examples of people who were given what I believe was divine strength to use the cracks in their own worlds to bring light to the world. From Mamie Till-Mobley insisting that her son Emmett’s casket be opened so that people could see what Jim Crow really meant to Twelve-Step groups where people share their “experience, strength and hope” right up to Margery Stoneman Douglas students using their grief to spark a worldwide movement  to call a halt to the proliferation of military-style weapons that can murder 17 people in a few minutes.

From #BlackLives Matter to #MeToo to #NeverAgain, young people are making themselves vulnerable in the public square, risking insults, slurs and even death threats to shine a spotlight on the injustices of our society.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it,” said the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston. She knew a lot about pain.

We’ll turn, though, to James’s letter for the last word. He says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

In that fellowship with God is the sanctification of our own wounds that gives us the strength to bring Jesus’s light to others. So “forget your perfect offering”  and “ring the bells that still can ring.” “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Amen.

The 21st Century Pieta

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On Good Friday, Christians around the world assume an attitude of mourning as they commemorate the steps to the cross that Jesus took.

When I say “assume,” I don’t mean they’re pretending. For millions of people, this day reminds them of the suffering of an innocent man who took on the world’s darkness and allowed himself to be sacrificed. The Roman-ruled world could not understand his message of a new compact between God and human beings.

As I follow the cross through my own little village in the rain later today, I shall be mourning other sacrifices as well: the sacrifices of the souls of Margery Stoneman Douglas High School, of Stephon Clark, of Danny Ray Thomas, of Anthony Stephan House, of Draylen Mason.

Sacrificial lambs of a country that refuses to deal with racism, the NRA, white supremacy, police who refuse to consider less than lethal force when dealing with black men.

Sacrificial lambs of a society that espouses “right to life” but doesn’t blink when children’s lives and black lives are taken.

stephon clarkStephon Clark was standing in his grandmother’s backyard holding a cell phone when he was shot 20 times. At a Sacramento Council meeting, a protestor said that a grandmother’s backyard was “a sacred space.”

 

Danny Ray Thomas was for unknown reasons walking with his pants down and his hands in view when he was murdered by police. Two years ago, while he was in jail on a drug charge, his girlfriend drowned their two young children. His was already a life of unendurable pain.

anthony houseAnthony Stephan House was getting ready to go to work when he picked up a package on his porch that exploded and killed him. His young daughter was in the house.

 

draylen masonDraylen Mason was a high school senior and classical musician who had not yet heard that he was to receive a scholarship to Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio to continue his studies when he too picked up a package on his porch.

The 17 children and staff of MSD were just going about their daily routine at school.

I was only 8 years old when I saw Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Pieta” at the World’s Fair. It made me cry.

From now on when I think “Pieta,” I will see the mothers of all the children killed in massacres and the black men, women, and children killed by police who act as judge, jury, and executioner.

How long will we let our society continue to condemn them to death?

Ruby Bridges Through Her Eyes

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Having grown up in the area where Norman Rockwell painted some of his most famous works, I remember not only the actual photographs of the little girl, but also the iconic painting of the girl in the white dress flanked by four federal marshals.

The white dress, white socks and shoes emphasize the darkness of her skin. On the wall behind her is a racial epithet. Smashed tomatoes lie at the foot of the wall. You don’t see the marshals’ heads, but their fists are clenched as if ready for battle.

Friday I had the privilege of hearing the woman who grew out of that little girl speak. Ruby Bridges’ name is writ large in the history of civil rights. As she came onto the stage at Smith College, the crowd jumped to its feet with thunderous applause.

ruby nowMs. Bridges is a reluctant speaker. She never meant to spend the last 20 years of her life giving public addresses, she said. But this is what she has felt called to do. She uses no notes, just says what she believes God wants her to say. Her soft voice is mesmerizing as she speaks, reaches back into the memories of her six-year-old self in 1960, as she tells us what it was like through her eyes (the title of her memoir) in segregated New Orleans.

Though Brown vs. the Board of Education mandated the integration of public schools in 1954, it took years for segregated school systems to comply. When the NAACP knocked on doors in the New Orleans projects seeking children who were in the first grade, Ruby’s mother was enthusiastic about letting her daughter be used to integrate the schools. Mrs. Bridges had grown up in a sharecropping family in Louisiana and going to school was a rare occurrence; she regretted not having a chance to be educated.

Ruby’s father had a different point of view. He had served in the segregated Army of the Korean War. He might be on the front lines with white soldiers at one moment, but when they returned to base, he had to go to the “colored” barracks and the white soldiers to the white barracks. He did not want his daughter to experience the shame he had known.

Ruby’s mother overrode his wishes. Ruby was taken for all-day testing and passed. Since she hadn’t been told anything about what was happening, she got it into her head that she was going to skip from first grade directly to college.

Then came the first day of her new school. Creating a new ritual, neighbors came to her house to help get her dressed in her beautiful new clothes (though she hated the coat her mother made her wear). Four white men came to the door, put her and her mother into a car, and her journey began.

Seeing all the people lining the route to the school, hearing them shout, seeing them throwing things, seeing police on horses and motorcycles, Ruby thought she was in a Mardi Gras parade, even though it was November. The white men told her mother that when they got out of the car, the men would surround her and Ruby and they should not look around them. They entered the school and went to the principal’s office. And there they sat all day long as white parents entered the school, angrily pointed at Ruby, and then took their children home.

“College is easy!” Ms. Bridges said she thought when she went home that day. She ended up having school alone with a teacher, Mrs. Henry, all day every day for the rest of that school year. She loved Mrs. Henry and she learned a lot, but she was so lonely for the company of other children. She slowly came to understand what was happening and that she was alone in her class because of the color of her skin. She could hear the voices of other children when she hung up her coat in the cloakroom. She could smell food from the cafeteria but had to bring her own lunch because of threats made to poison her food.

Eventually, because she kept asking about the children’s voices, Mrs. Henry took her to the cloakroom, moved a cabinet that revealed a door, and took her to a room where white children were playing. She sat down next to a little boy who told her, “My mother said I can’t play with you because you’re a nigger.”

His words gave birth to what she now emphasizes when she speaks in public. “Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.” It is adults who have failed, she said, and brought us to where we are now, by “robbing children of their innocence.” Children aren’t born racists; they are taught to be racists. We must raise them a different way, encourage their dreams, and truly follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dictum to judge others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

There really is an “us” and a “them,” she said. “We all have a common enemy and it is evil.” Sometimes the evil looks just like us and is hard to recognize, she said as she talked about the murder of her oldest son, who was killed for trying to find out who had shot into his younger brother’s car.

Ms. Bridges noted at the beginning of her talk that she gets many letters from children telling her how brave she was when she took those historic steps into a white school. “I have to set the record straight,” she laughed, “I wasn’t brave at all because I didn’t really know what was going on.”

But it is bravery, and it is courage, to follow her faith and tell her story over and over again all these years later. Her insistence on inclusion at all points is sometimes not popular – as when a student seemed to seek her approve for the effort to get all-black housing at Smith and Ms. Bridges said she did not approve of black separatism – and her refusal to hate the little boy who said he couldn’t play with her show courage indeed.

I have cried over the picture of the beautiful smiling little girl who was in effect offered up to be the face of integration. Having seen her in person, and heard her words, I will just smile and celebrate her from now on.

 

Sermon on Mark 1:14-20

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The Gospeler Mark would have been great on Twitter.

In just six short verses, each one just one sentence, he pretty much tells us everything about Jesus’s incarnation.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need to study Scripture anymore. It does tell us, though, all about God’s vast love for humankind, a love so vast that he set aside his crown and came down to show us the face of that love and how to show it to others. That was important then; it is vitally important now, on January 21, 2018.

Aside from later flashbacks, Mark dispenses with the story of John the Baptizer and then barrels straight into the main event. John is the opening act, but Jesus is the superstar everyone was waiting for. Drum roll, fireworks, hoopla . . .

“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God,” we’re told. In fact, Jesus WAS the Good News of God, God incarnated, God we can see and hear and touch. Ain’t a that a good news?

The time is fulfilled, Jesus says. He’s not talking about chronological time; he’s talking about God’s time, metaphysical time, the RIGHT time, the time is ripe for the unfolding of God’s dream for mankind, to redeem his beloved children and bring them back unto himself.

What a time it was! For the Jews, it was yet another time of upheaval, of being ruled by a foreign power. Zealots planned insurrections; the Jews longed for Messiah to come and speak truth to power, to break the chains of Rome and set them free.

They got instead a simple man, this humble Jesus, clearly not a warrior, not wielding a sword or a knife, but saying words that did speak truth to power if only they could understand what true power is. Nonetheless, many would hear the ring of truth in them and follow him.

No, the Jews who were expecting a warrior Messiah didn’t get the fireworks, the drum roll, the hoopla. Because that’s not how God works and it wasn’t how Jesus worked then or today, is it?

“The Kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus says, because he represents the Kingdom of God and he has come down to model for us the way back to God and the way to make God’s will come on earth as it is in Heaven.

“Repent, and believe in the good news.” Repent, literally change your mind, open your inner vision, think outside the box and understand what good news really means in God’s world.

Jesus came quietly, at first, walking on a beach, seeing fishermen who were probably dirty and smelly and he said to them, “Come, follow me.”

And they did. They immediately left what they were doing and followed him. The time was right, and somehow they knew it.

Some would scorn Jesus, the temporally powerful, the influential, the priests and scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, the ruling class. Someone would say, upon learning where Jesus grew up, “What good can come out of Nazareth?”

Does that sound familiar? Does that statement resonate with anything said, oh, the week before last? What good can come out of Haiti, of Africa, of El Salvador?

Those Jesus asked to come and follow him were, for the most part, humble, disenfranchised people. Some were outcasts. Some were simple laborers, concerned with subsistence living and maybe even selling enough fish to save some money up. The wealthy young man Jesus asked to follow couldn’t do it; the poor could because they had nothing to lose, and that is often the point where true power in God’s world begins.

As Jesus modeled for them the will of God to bring heaven on earth, he brought healing to other outcasts, crazy people, lame people, lepers, blind beggars, all were what might have been considered the lowest of the low. Yet these were the ones to whom he gave not only physical healing, but spiritual healing, the kind of healing that only comes from an encounter with the divine, the healing that comes with being made to know unconditional love.

Jesus chose people who, in theologian Howard Thurman’s words, had their backs against the wall. They were free of the entrapments of the world, and he knew they would get things done after he had given his very life for them.

In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman seeks to answer a question that had bothered him for many years, a question put to him by a Hindu college president while he was on a fellowship mission with the YMCA in India.

The question was, how can you, a black man whose grandmother was enslaved, preach the gospel of the white man, a gospel forced on your people as a way to sedate them and keep them from thinking of freedom. It took Thurman many years to come up with his answer.

“The solution which Jesus found for himself and for Israel, as they faced the hostility of the Greco-Roman world, becomes the word and the work of redemption for all the cast-down people in every generation and in every age. I mean this quite literally. I do not ignore the theological and metaphysical interpretation of the Christian doctrine of salvation. But the underprivileged everywhere have long since abandoned any hope that this type of salvation deals with the crucial issues by which their days are turned into despair without consolation. The basic fact is that Christianity as it appears in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, MUST NOT [my emphasis] tempt us into believing that was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men.’ Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.”

If I believe in anything, I believe that if Jesus came to earth today, he would seek first the Haitian, the Salvadoran, the Mexican, the African, the African-American, the Dreamers, all those whose backs have been shoved against the wall.

Does that mean he wouldn’t seek us? Are our backs against the wall? Are we victims of fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell as Thurman describes them?

Well, we are if we let the status quo reign supreme. We are if we pass up a chance to speak out. We are if we don’t recognize that as followers of Jesus, everyone who suffers in the temporal world is our sister and brother in God, for whom we have a responsibility to them and to God to lift up.

For Jesus does call us too! Every morning when we awake, we are called anew to follow Jesus, to help bring the good news of God’s love and redemption into the world, to help bring the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and to let the Holy Spirit work through us to say no to the powers that create the disinherited, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, to stand up for God’s justice, and God’s equality.

Because if we don’t share that love and that redemption with those whose backs are against the wall, we don’t deserve them. They don’t exist in a vacuum. If anyone is made to feel unworthy, then we are all unworthy.

Don’t forget that Jesus also modeled anger for us well as love. He let his anger loose when he saw the perversion of God’s will in the usurers in the temple marketplace and those who insisted that if you didn’t sacrifice an animal or birds, you couldn’t get close to God, in the priests who hid behind the temple veil as if only they could decide what God wanted of God’s people.

The time is fulfilled! Prepare yourselves! Humble yourselves! And when you hear the tender voice in your inmost heart saying, “Come, follow me,” you’ll know what to do.

 

 

 

Don’t Add to Puerto Rico’s Problems

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I’m getting wind of rumors about Puerto Rico that seem to be part of a propaganda campaign to explain away why the territory is not getting the help it needs from the US government to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Another possible intent of the propaganda is to enact even more restrictive voter ID laws; even as the “president” dissolved the voter fraud commission, he started tweeting about voter IDs.

His Twitter fans are very enthusiastic, one person calling for both an ID and a birth certificate to be shown when voting. The thing is that it’s very unlikely that white people will be asked to show both of these, while people of color will.

INVENTED RUMOR: Puerto Ricans who have left the island since Hurricane Maria, not just for fun but for survival, will allow “illegal Mexicans” to reproduce their IDs so the “illegals” can vote too.

UNTRUE RUMOR: Puerto Ricans don’t pay into Social Security or Medicare, but they can get Social Security and Medicare. The implication is that we mainland taxpayers are funding the shiftless Puerto Ricans. In fact, Puerto Ricans do pay into Social Security and Medicare.

MISLEADING RUMOR: Puerto Ricans don’t pay taxes to the US so don’t deserve aid. While it’s true that Puerto Ricans don’t pay a personal income tax, they do pay taxes in Puerto Rico that are shared out to the federal government. According to VOX, Puerto Rico paid $3.6 billion in taxes in 2016.

What I thought was the most vicious rumor turns out to be true; well, the facts are true, but the way it was sad to me was vicious. There is a very high incidence of squatting on abandoned or government land. Lorraine Woellert of Politico tells the story at https://www.politico.com/staff/lorraine-woellert

Puerto Rico propaganda artLet’s get this straight: The US “won” Puerto Rico under the Treaty of Paris of 1898 along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam, after the Spanish-American War. Spain had owned the island since good old Christopher Columbus “discovered” it in 1493. The French, Dutch, and English all tried to take it away. US Forces invaded during the Spanish-American War and managed to wrest it away from Spain.

At no time did the indigenous Taino and Carib Indian population have a say in any of this, much less the offspring of Africans who were enslaved and brought to Puerto Rico by Spain.

Puerto Rico became a US Commonwealth in 1952. Puerto Ricans are US citizens but have no voting rights in Congress and can only vote in Presidential primaries but not Presidential elections as they don’t qualify for Electoral College votes.

Yet over the years American companies have enriched themselves by locating in Puerto Rico and paying low wages and enjoying tax laws that benefit them. A venture called “Operation Bootstrap,” patronizingly designed (or said to) help pull Puerto Ricans out of poverty in fact caused more poverty and dislocation.

The harm that these rumors and half-truths will do if left unchecked will cause incalculable harm. Puerto Rico has been at a disadvantage for hundreds of years. As the modern-day commonwealth tries to recover from a storm as destructive as Maria need all the help they can get, from the US government and from fellow US citizens.

Please, if anyone brings these subjects up in front of you, shut them down.

 

 

 

Ghost of The Innocent Man

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Had I known how emotional I would get at the end of listening to Ghost of an Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin, I probably would have waited until I was at home to play it.

Instead, I was zooming along a major highway through Pennsylvania at 70-plus miles per hour with tears streaming down my face.

Tears of relief, happiness, sadness, and release of tension.

I knew from the beginning how the true story of Willie Grimes and the 25 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit would end, but Mr. Rachlin’s book, which came out late this year, still kept me in suspense for many an evening while eating dinner. I can’t number the heavy sighs that came out of me at each twist of the botched investigation, the refusal of the Catawba County officials to do more, and the heartbreaking years during which Mr. Grimes was shuttled from prison to prison, all the while protesting his innocence and searching for someone who would listen to him.

It wasn’t until the creation of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, spearheaded by young lawyer Christine Mumma, that someone did.

Carrie Elliott, a woman in her late 60s, was raped in 1987 In her own home. One evening a knock came at her door, and she opened it to find an African-American man who forced his way in and proceeded to rape her repeatedly.

Willie Grimes was miles away with his girlfriend, Brenda, doing a personal errand and then attending a party. Mr. Grimes slept that night on a sofa at a friend’s house. A couple of days later, he was told that the police were looking for him, so he went to the police station to find out why. He was not free again until 2007.

Mrs. Elliott was shown two different sets of pictures of possible assailants. In one was the picture of the man who had raped her, Albert Turner. In the second, Mr. Turner’s picture was not included but Willie Grimes’s was. Influenced by a neighbor, who said that the assailant sounded like Mr. Grimes and gave her a description of Mr. Grimes, Mrs. Elliott then picked Willie’s picture.

The neighbor also went directly to the police and received a $1,000 reward for naming Mr. Grimes.

The two men looked nothing alike. And though Mrs. Elliott had not mentioned a man with a mole on his cheek or scars on his chest (Willie) right after the rape, the police thought they had an open and shut conviction. That, along with a pseudo-science report that a hair found in Mrs. Elliott’s house was identical to Mr. Grimes’s hair, the police in fact did have an open and shut case.

The police also ignored a banana that the rapist had eaten part of and tossed aside, which would prove to have fingerprints that would have identified Mr. Turner, the actual rapist.

And Willie Grimes, in his early 40s, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

His girlfriend died while he was in prison. Carrie Elliott died while he was in prison. Three brothers died while he was in prison. He was repeatedly denied privileges because of his refusal to “accept responsibility for his crime.”

I came to love Willie Grimes during the course of the book, for his perseverance, for his anger, for his joy when freed, for everything he endured.

We know that he is just one of many, many people wrongfully imprisoned whose fate is in the hands of organizations such as the Innocence Project, Equal Justice Initiative, and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

Knowing just one person’s story leads to an understanding of others’ stories and the hopes and prayers that they too will find the exoneration they seek and deserve. We can help by supporting such organizations as well as calling for reform in the American justice system. Just one day in prison for an innocent person is one day too much.

You can hear an NPR interview with Mr. Rachlin and Mr. Grimes here: https://www.npr.org/2017/08/27/546497386/-ghost-of-the-innocent-man-a-story-of-24-years-of-wrongful-imprisonment