Just Mercy – when truth is twisted by the rich and powerful

Last week, I watched a powerful and thought-provoking movie, Just Mercy, over Astro.

In these times, we who are not saddled with any legal problems may think the show was just entertaining. But it was based on a true story in Alabama in the 1990s, so it was not in the distant past.

Walter McMillian, an African American, could have been sent to the electric chair for the murder of a white woman, if not for the persistence and diligence of his lawyer, Bryan Stevenson.

The film depicted a young, idealistic Stevenson, who worked pro bono for McMillian, before he became a world-renowned civil rights defence lawyer.

In his closing argument for his motion to dismiss all charges against McMillian, Stevenson alluded to the dangers of truth being twisted by the rich and powerful.

Fortunately for Stevenson, prosecutor Tommy Chapman followed his conscience and the evidence before him to join in the motion.

Yet, what was horrifying was that the sheriff who oversaw the arrest and charging of McMillian won re-election eight times in that same county.

Truth being twisted by the rich and powerful? Is this not what we are seeing in Myanmar with the army crackdown on powerless demonstrators? Aung San Suu Kyi tried to placate the military initially, but when her party put the generals to shame in the recent election, the generals showed their true colours.

We are more fortunate in our country, but is it also not true that civil rights activists are careful to clothe their words in flowery language so as not to run foul of the so-called ‘fake laws’ ordinance? 

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Truth being twisted by the powerful? The recent deaths in police custody are one too many. Why are they still occurring with alarming frequency? The people will not know the truth, because only the truth by the powerful will be revealed. Often it seems as if the CCTVs are not working or recording at the time of death or at the cell involved.

The film Just Mercy informs us that one in nine deaths on death row in the US is a wrongful death, ie the deceased is not guilty of the crime. The death penalty has been a contentious issue in the US.  

I believe we do not have the right to end someone’s life. Our country makes it easy: the judge will pronounce the mandatory death sentence if required by law.

At the end of the show, we learn that McMillian’s former cellmate Anthony Ray Hinton remained on death row for 28 years until Stevenson was able to get all charges dropped. Hinton was eventually released in 2015. Is this not frightening – that the wrong person can be sent to the gallows?

I have no idea why, even in the US, the wheels of justice move so slowly. But is it not a tragedy that Hinton spent 28 years of his life behind bars?

‘Truth’ from the rich and powerful? Deputy Minister Edmund Santhara’s version of events is apparently now accepted. What can the people do when his boss keeps quiet, and the New Zealand prime minister keeps a noble silence?

Loyal Malaysian is the pseudonym of a regular follower of Aliran

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