Balance of Justice

Scottsboro pardons a reminder of injustice at home

Obtaining justice can be a pernicious ordeal.

Eighty-two years after the first trials of the nine Scottsboro Boys, my home state of Alabama has finally righted the scales of justice. On Nov. 21, the state parole board approved posthumous pardons for the three men who were never pardoned.

The cruel fact is that, but for the racism, prejudice and segregation present in Alabama, the pardons were unnecessary. The many books written about the trials and a reading of the trial transcripts all lead to the same conclusion: the nine young African Americans did not rape the two young white girls. One of the girls repudiated her earlier testimony and stated on the witness stand in the fifth trial that the boys had not raped them. The all-white jury still found the defendants guilty.

What are we to learn from all of this?

It’s easy to point fingers at po’ ol’ Alabama, the state that never seems to get it right or, like many things Southern, takes its own good time to do so. It’s also easy to point at Alabama, Texas and most Southern states, which refuse to accept Medicaid coverage for their working poor as part of the Affordable Care Act.

But pause and look around you. California, along with many other states, incarcerates young African American males at alarming rates. California struggles to meet court-imposed requirements to improve prison conditions and reduce populations.

Sonoma County just experienced a tragic killing of a 13-year-old Latino boy, Andy Lopez, whom a deputy sheriff shot when he mistook a toy gun the kid was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle. Just recently, there have been two other incidents where Sonoma County deputy sheriffs have shot and killed an individual. Arguably, these are difficult situations, but there seems to be a propensity to rush to shoot rather that to seek a safe intervention.

You can explain it as you wish. But it’s hard to deny that people of color and those on the lower economic rung continue to bear the brunt of our latent prejudices: racism and overzealous police actions.

Waights Taylor Jr. is a Santa Rosa writer and the author of ‘Our Southern Home: Scottsboro to Montgomery to Birmingham—
The Transformation of the South in the Twentieth Century.’

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

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