Very few movies stand out in my mind. They include the classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Grease. One of the more controversial movies that made it on my list of favourites would have to be A Time to Kill. Now, this movie may not be a classic as such, but the message in this film is very important, at least to me.
The film revolves around two white racists, who come across a 10-year-old black girl walking home one day from her local grocery store. They violently rape and beat her and dump her in a nearby river after a failed attempt to hang her. She survives, and this resulted in the men’s arrest.
The girl’s father then seeks out an easy-going white lawyer, but he lawyer informs him that the men more likely will be acquitted due to deep-seated racism in the town they live in, and the outcome of a similar case in which four white teenagers were acquitted of the rape of a black girl.
With the possibility of the rapists walking free, along with the anguish and anger the father was enduring, he waits for the rapists to walk out of the courthouse and opens fire. This results in their deaths. The girl’s father is arrested for their murders and the white lawyer agrees to provide him defence.
The trial begins amid much attention from the media and public, largely due to the fact of “the white lawyer” representing “the black man”, and because one of the murdered rapists brother, who is involved in the The Ku Klux Klan. The story then goes on to show many meaningless attacks from The Ku Klux Klan, targeting the white lawyer and his colleagues and family.
Out of options, the lawyer goes to see the accused in his jail cell and advises him to accept a lesser guilty plea. He refuses and rejects the lawyer’s notions of race and justice. The accused then tells him that he chose him to be his attorney because he is in fact his “enemy”, as the lawyer is white and was thus raised amid the same racial prejudices harboured by the jury members. The accused tells him to sway the jury by presenting to them whatever argument it would take to get the lawyer himself to vote for acquittal, were the lawyer a member of that jury.
The lawyers closing argument commences by telling the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes, in slow and painful detail, the rape of a young 10-year-old girl, mirroring the story of her rape. He then asks the jury, in his final comment, to “Now imagine she’s white.” This final burst of imagery challenges the very nature of the trial itself, raising the very real spectre – within the racist culture of the community in which the crime took place – which the actions of the girl’s father would not have been called to question before the court of law had the victim been white. Had it been so, it implies that the father’s motive in murdering the rapists would have appeared by the public as justified, and there would not have been any prosecution.
The argument the lawyer then makes is that if the jury can – at any time – be compelled to spare the life of a white man for a vengeful murder, and then they must be able to do the same for a black man.
My question is, in Australia are we guilty of Judicial Racism? Myself, I have never broken the law and had to deal with the court system in such a way, but if I had, will my punishment be the same as the next black or yellow person? Alternatively, would I be dealt with a touch of leniency because I am white?
My research shows there is clearly a widespread and long-running view that our judicial system is a problem. There is a renewed urgency to question every aspect of the operations of the criminal justice system given the majority of non-Australians in our prisons. It is little wonder that there remains concern about the issue of racism among judicial officers. It seems that the racist bug has infested even educated and respected people. Is there anything we can do about it? Maybe, the first step is to be aware…
Written by Nancy Riniti
Nancy is an avid blogger, Freelance Writer, Editor, Proofreader and Literary Agent. A crazy, busy work at home mum, juggling her career whilst raising two girls. Lover of books and writing and has a meticulous eye for detail. Backer of the National Anti-Racism Strategy and the Human Rights Commission. Educate our children of today, for better adults of tomorrow.