In honor of today’s holiday, I read some of Dr. King’s speeches and am humbly inspired to say a few words.
In the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, I felt an affinity by the following words:
I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
A time comes when silence is betrayal. A true call to action is in those words. Silence is betrayal when that silence results in harm to any other person or people. That was the accord Dr. King must have felt. Those words ought to convict every person’s soul when they are read. Are we not all guilty of letting our silence betray another person?
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us
POWERFUL WORDS! While the conflict mentioned is Vietnam and it is a horrific and confusing conflict at that, inwardly, we are all heart broken with the conflict around us.
Those that know me know that I have been re-investigating the Billings Case because something never seemed right to me about how that was said to have happened. I also knew Patrick Poff or as most know him Leonard “Patrick” Gonzalez Jr. I have made no secret of the fact, I had nothing but contempt for this man, but my conscience told me there was something wrong here. Then came the inevitable question, is Patrick worth saving? Many said, NO and justified it by saying “if he didn’t do this, he probably would have done something this bad in the future” or “if he didn’t do this, what hasn’t he been caught for that he IS guilty of?”.
Both of these justifications are flawed. Our justice system runs on the premise that the guilty should pay for the crimes they have been charged with. The crimes for which no one was “caught” are moot as are the crimes not committed yet. And in looking at this case, Pat was not the only one who was wronged, many of the others were too. I have no way of knowing for absolute sure if Pat is guilty, but I tell you that the one thing he didn’t get was a fair trial. Based on the evidence used to convict him, we should all be afraid for our own safety, because he is on Death Row and there is NO physical evidence, no legitimate eye witness; he didn’t own the gun used nor the vehicle seen in the famous video the ECSO destroyed.
None of these things happened to people who could defend themselves. All the people jailed had history of crimes, drug issues, were minorities, or were brain damaged, and all were indigent with the exception of Donnie Stallworth’s first 2 trials. But in the final trial, after being driven into indigency, he was convicted. That alone should be noted. Wayne Coldiron, a serial criminal and Pam Long are the only ones not in the racial minority. This case is a cookie cutter example of what is wrong with the justice system. Rush to judgment followed by stereotypical victimization of people who cannot defend themselves.
It is the biggest anathema among us—taking advantage of those who are marginalized (minorities, lower class, victims, people weakened by life for one reason or another). Wrongful conviction is ultimately the most consummate act because it takes the only thing broken people have left—freedom. In all exonerations, there are people who were aware of the misinformation that led to such convictions. Silence, indeed, betrayed the exonerees. Isn’t it likely that Dr. King would be advocating for those who have been convicted due their socio-economic status or race, rather than actual guilt?