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Commentary: Taste of justice for ‘the Juice’

By Kenneth Hardin
For the Salisbury Post
“The Juice” finally got squeezed, and anyone with even the poorest visual acuity could see it coming.
It has been coming since that Tuesday morning back in October 1995 as the camera captured stunned faces in the California courtroom. It has been coming since O.J. abandoned his promise of devoting his life to searching for the killers ó wink, wink. It has been coming since O.J. has thumbed his nose over the years at the gift of his acquittal, arrogantly participating in less than respectful media interviews and appearances. He brought it all home when he offered a hypothetical account of the murders in his book, “If I Did It: Confessions of a Killer.” His actions in Las Vegas, which have now given him a new place to hang his hat and coat for a few years, were akin to lobbing softballs to Hank Aaron.
As I sat watching the judge impose her sentence, I said to my wife, “Well, they got O.J., now and I don’t feel sorry for him one bit.” As I read the blogs and watched the various post-sentencing interviews, those feelings intensified. The familiar refrain heard back in 1995 of the justice system purposely trying to tear down black heroes didn’t hold as much weight 13 years later. Blacks fight to not be viewed as a monochromatic culture of one-dimensional thought, but those same people are quickly angered when not everyone will take a monolithic approach to defending one of its troubled own. I have never been a fan of supporting or defending anyone because of something as incidental and irrelevant as skin color. Personal accountability and making proper life choices have greater value to me.
We have to stop elevating entertainers and athletes with warped moral compasses and misguided values to positions of admiration and emulation. Although he was verbally castigated for his stance, retired NBA pro Charles Barkley was correct when he said in a Nike commercial that just because he could dunk a basketball didn’t mean he should help raise your kids. Michael Vick is not Nelson Mandela. Michael Jackson comes nowhere close to Steven Biko in hue or humanitarianism. But you would think they all have a shared bond with the justice system. Comedian Chris Rock summed it up perfectly when he criticized young blacks for continually referring to the killings of Tupac and Biggie Smalls as assassinations, “Martin Luther King was assassinated, Malcolm X was assassinated, them two … just got shot.”
I find it confusing when I hear women say “all the good black men are locked up in prison.” It may be true that there are some good black men residing there, but why put stretch marks on a statement so ridiculous. I would be comfortable playing semantics and saying there are some good men who did some bad things and are paying for it; but there are some better men who continue to do even better things like getting a college education, finding a rewarding career, serving as a mentor to a young person and trying to navigate this confusing thing called life without engaging in anything illegal or immoral. So, from my vantage point, there are more good black men walking around outside of prison.
I don’t need to read statistics or hear the critics behind the prison walls say to me that I don’t understand their plight because, for seven years, I worked in the belly of the beast. I listened to the incarceration stories and watched the recidivism rates in action as the same faces returned year after year. During my time there, I encouraged inmates to chase their dreams and use their talents through poetry, drawing, singing and writing. I brought in books, motivational cassettes and supplied college applications to those nearing release. We can’t blame Vick or O.J. for a disturbing trend.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2005 more than 7 million people were under some form of correctional supervision, which includes prison, probation, jail and parole. An even closer look provided by the N.C. Department of Correction’s Web site revealed there are 40,142 persons serving time in N.C prisons. Of that total, 14,106 are white and 22,998 are black. Even more disappointing is the 6,535 who are age 25 and under. At this point, it would be easy to throw the “See, I told you so” and “I knew they were the problem” statements, which is why I don’t lean heavily in favor statistics alone.
To accept a statistic without understanding the underlying context in which it was conceived and grown is dangerous and divisive. I agree with a statement El-hajj Malik El Shabazz (aka Malcolm X) said, “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush a people, and then penalize them for being unable to stand under the weight.” I have never believed in excuses or assigning blame for our societal ills because what affects one group directly will ultimately impact all others eventually. Instead of looking at O.J., Timothy McVeigh, Vick and Eric Rudolph to define a culture, dig deeper and focus on the best each culture has to offer instead.
– – –
Kenneth Hardin lives in Salisbury.

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