Equal Justice for All?

I'm sure a number of WCN's followers have seen our recent posts related to the protests and wondered why WCN would be commenting at all on a topic other than wrongful conviction. It's a good question, and it deserves an honest answer. However, like wrongful convictions themselves, there are several factors and no single, easy answer.

by Michael Knight, JD., WCN Columnist 

First, and foremost, WCN is a Christian-based initiative. Whatever issues we end up discussing, we approach them from a Christian perspective. Does that mean that other perspectives are not welcome? Certainly not. It is only through an honest and open discussion that we can grow. Even true ideas must be tested. We always try to address the issues from a point of dignity, respect, and grace. And we sincerely appreciate everyone's contributions in these discussions. So why discuss the riots, the protests, and their meaning? We wouldn't be very good Christians if we didn't practice what we preach. Nor would we deserve the title of Christian if we didn't voice support for those who are struggling, for those who feel oppressed, and for those yearning for justice. If we support those struggling, we have a duty to speak up.

Second, these are historic times. We are living through events that are going to shape policy and will likely have a profound effect on state and federal governance. In this sense, some degree of attention is not only permitted, but necessary. We don't get to choose the reality in which we live. But we certainly do get to choose how we will respond.

Third, the current protests and riots are largely related to the underlying issue of racial disparities and discrimination within our criminal justice system (and society as a whole.) Of course, before going any further, I think it goes without saying that not all protesters, not all those rioting, not all those destroying are acting for the same reasons. There are probably as many reasons as there are individuals. Undoubtedly, many are opportunists who seek nothing more than to destroy or lash out. Likewise, there are many that are protesting discrimination and excessive force at the hands of the police. We cannot put every single person into the same ideological camp. Nor can we ignore valid concerns simply because some have resorted to violence. If 99 people are opportunists and just 1 has a sincere grievance, shall we not listen? I'm sure there are more that are deserving to be heard, but the point is that if we want the violence to end, we must understand its source. It should not be forgotten that the event that sparked this civil unrest was the police killing of George Floyd. Regardless of what happens next, it is in the aftermath of that terrible crime.

Now, what does all this have to do with wrongful convictions? Well, a couple of things. First, if there are disparities that carry through at each stage of the criminal justice processing, then one might expect to see a similar effect upon those wrongfully convicted. Second, we know that there is a disproportionate number of black Americans that have been exonerated. Of the 2,622 exonerations since 1989, 1,294 were black, 962 were white, and 305 were hispanic.** And while exonerations are always a good thing, these numbers demonstrate that in the majority of the proven cases where the defendant has been wrongfully convicted, that defendant was black.

In speaking out on the current events, WCN is not trying to change our perspective or our mission. Wrongful convictions are still our chief concern. We are simply trying to speak truth to justice and to let members of these communities know that we hear their plight and we support the pursuit of a more honest and fair application of the law. The phrase "Equal Justice Under Law" is engraved upon our Supreme Court. These words should be more than aspirational. They must be more than a far off ideal. We have a duty to seek equal justice for all. I pray that someday we will have it. Until then, we will keep up the good fight.

*https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Black-Lives-Matter.pdf

**https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/ExonerationsRaceByCrime.aspx

Copyright © 2020 Wrongful Convictions News.