Anyone who has seen the 2004 film Man on Fire will remember the phrase, “I will give you her life. For your life.” Bodyguard Creasy (Denzel Washington) is negotiating with kidnapper Daniel (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) for the return of his young charge Lupita (Dakota Fanning). By sacrificing himself, Creasy redeems the little girl and saves her life.
Creasy was dying anyway, but in turning himself over to Daniel’s criminal gang and winning Lupita’s freedom, his death assumes new meaning, whereas it would otherwise have been only a statistic.
Last night I was thinking of the fate that likely awaits Darren Wilson, the police officer who executed Michael Brown on August 9 and set off a series of racial riots in Ferguson MO, which continue to this date. Despite the fact that Brown had reportedly stolen some cigarillos prior to his shooting, he was unarmed and said by witnesses to be surrendering to police. Wilson shot him six times, twice in the head. The case has become so high-profile and outraged so many people from so many places and from all segments of the political spectrum, regardless of the outcome, it is likely that Wilson’s eventual fate will satisfy no one.
He has come to symbolize the use of excessive force and the dangers of placing military equipment in the hands of local police. These are big issues that will likely not be satisfactorily addressed in Ferguson or any other local community.
As in this instance, there is plenty of wrongdoing on everybody’s part. Brown was wrong… he has been depicted as a thief, after all. Wilson was wrong… he has been depicted as a murderer and a racist. And the system is unlikely to sort it out and apportion guilt in a way that will do anything but make the situation worse.
Unless someone does something creative, that is. I say that there should be consequences for a policeman’s abuse of power. I say there should be consequences for a young man’s transgressions against the shopkeeper, though not as extreme as the taking of a life for a theft of under ten bucks. Someone should do something that will defuse the rioting and restore balance to the situation. I say something must be done to get people thinking about what has happened and make forgiveness possible on all sides.
I say that if a cop murders an unarmed person who the cop should have been protecting, the system must give up someone whose life has been lost to an overly-harsh, unfair punishment. Maybe the two cases are unrelated, maybe the jurisdictions are totally different, maybe the two cases don’t neatly restore balance. But the system isn’t fair, anyway.
One of our kids is serving a 99-year sentence in Texas for the murder of his father, which is arguably justifiable. Maybe Brown’s senseless death could buy back the kid’s life. But yes, I know the world doesn’t work that way. It seems to heap one injustice atop another. Yet maybe things could be put right in Missouri. If a search were done in that jurisdiction, I’m sure a young person who has been deprived of a future by our unjust system could be identified there. Quid pro quo. It’s only fair.
A life for a life.
Groove of the Day