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Daily Journal
     September 17, 2021      #95-260 KDJ
 

The undoing of a life-long trust in the justice

By Ron Jackson

Imagine, if you will, a preteen kid growing up in the United States during the 1960s. A gullible, receptive, easily influenced, believe everything on television is true and that everything about America was good, naïve kid. It was as if the government had mandated that every preteen kid wear rose-colored glasses.

It was a wonderful era to be a kid. The ’60s decade was a tumultuous time to grow up. Television was king. There was an unpopular war, a threat of nuclear war, a space war, civil unrest, political and racial division, political crime and political assassinations.

We eventually lost the actual war. There are several reasons why. We prevented the nuclear war. We won the space war. And we lost three of the decade’s biggest influencers to gun violence.

Out of all the events that television brought into our homes every day and night during the decade, it was the assassinations of a president, a justice advocate and a presidential candidate that were most impressionable. Men are supposed to die at war on foreign soil. And the casualty report on the nightly news made that more than clear. To a preteen, the death count became as mundane as the weather report. But, when American dignitaries are killed at home and by our own, it caught the attention of young and old.

In 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was killed, it was eye-opening. Especially to a 6-year-old. It bothered me because it made my mom cry and every other adult I knew. This was not normal. Grown folks were not supposed to cry and certainly not in front of children. However, justice came quickly as the man alleged to have killed the president was killed by an alleged patriot. At least that was how it was presented to the public. And we believed it. American justice had made an impact.

Less than five years later, two more political assassinations would occur at the hands of lone gunmen. In 1968, civil rights activist and nonviolence proponent, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. In just over 30 days after King’s death, presidential candidate and brother of the assassinated president, Robert F. Kennedy was killed while on the campaign trail. Again, this was not normal. This was not how we handle disagreement in America. Fortunately, both gunmen were subjected to our unique and envied form of justice. James Earl Ray escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison for pleading guilty to murdering Dr. King.

The assassin of Sen. Kennedy, Sirhan B. Sirhan, was sentenced to death but that was commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two murderers who would never be given the opportunity to kill again were given what was considered justice.

I wondered out loud why murderers were not automatically murdered. Only to be told that as a civilized society, the “eye-for-an-eye” principle of retaliation did not necessarily fit our system of justice. When you’re a preteen, you accept what you’re given as truth, even if you disagree with it.

Sirhan’s case struck a chord because a man with the same first and last name, well, is kind of memorable. And I did recall his name and crime as the decades came and went even as I lost some of my naivete. James Earl Ray died in prison. Sirhan B. Sirhan would eventually suffer the same fate. So, I thought.

The faith in the justice system once held by an 11-year-old lasted less than a lifetime. Life in prison without the possibility of parole apparently does not mean life in prison without parole.

After serving only 53 years, the now 77-year-old Sirhan B. Sirhan has been granted parole. He won’t die in prison as promised. He will have a chance to kill again. Just as some other released murderers have killed again.

Although, no longer a preteen, this pretty much kills my faith in the justice system.

Ron Jackson can be contacted through the Daily Journal at​ editors@daily-journal.com.

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