In the summer of 1968 when I was eight years old there was only one rule.
When the street lights came on you had to come home.
The day started just as the sun peeked over the edge of Northfield, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland. A working-class neighborhood with residents split between working in Cleveland making cars and steel and down south towards Akron making rubber.
As a child, the rules the adults laid down were all absolute. Some particular to my own family.
Wash your hands or you’ll get a spanking. Don’t make jokes at the dinner table or you’ll get a spanking. Pick the weeds out of the tomato patch or you’ll get a spanking. Don’t come home late or you’ll get a spanking.
Pay attention in church or I’ll take you outside and you’ll get a spanking.
The spanking opportunities abounded.
Rules were rules.
The authority must be obeyed.
A law, a rule was a legal binding contract for me as a child to adhere to.
Parents were absolute rulers.
Which included any other adult in the neighborhood who saw fit to beat my ass if I did something wrong in their sight.
However, even though our authoritarian masters, our parents, ruled us with an iron hand their doctrine didn’t extend to some in the adult world.
A labor leader Jimmy Hoffa was known to be a tough leader of the Teamsters Union. The adults around me admired Jimmy for his ability to crack heads and kick ass when he stood up to the government. Specifically the government under Robert Kennedy’s pursuit of organized crime and their ties to labor unions.
Jimmy stood for the people. His people.
That was a good thing.
It was okay that Jimmy bent the law because he was looking out after the little guy. The working class man.
Then there was the nigger as the parents would say.
Martin Luther King Jr. civil rights leader.
He stood up for his people too.
But the parents saw his actions as breaking the law.
Marching in the streets. Breaking the law. Holding up protest signs. Breaking the law. Blocking the sidewalks so good decent people can do their business. Breaking the law. Telling those people they are equal to a white man. Breaking Gods law.
“That boy needs to go to jail," was the exclamation of the parents.
A correlation exists between a strict interpretation of the law and bigotry.
I’ve seen them walk hand in hand with each other all my life.
Even now when it comes to who can enter this country as an immigrant and those who cannot.
It seems some people are welcome and others need to turn themselves around and go back from where they came from.
It boils down to the unholy allegiance contrived by the individual, who on purpose, ignores circumstance in favor of their own prejudice.
A strict interpretation of the law as it applies to an individual’s particular circumstance is the application of justice from the mind of a bigot.
Justice is about balance.
It is about degrees.
We are not children and as an adult, we should be able to discriminate the difference between a pat on the ass versus rape and not condemn the perpetrator to the same punishment.
History informs the present.
Though the long arc of the past we can read about how some people were lifted while others were put down by the society, the time in which they lived.
Here we are again on the wheel of time.
Here we are again in a place where we are asked to stop and consider our next move.
Turning our backs on those who want freedom using a strict interpretation of legality denies the inherent truth of why this nation was founded.
A country that exists for freedom for all.
My parents, your parents lived and grew up in a different place and time. Funny enough, we are all victims of the place we grew up in.
But victims do not have to be condemned to repeat history.
We are each given a mind that can think. That can contrast and compare. We can learn from each other and from our own mistakes.
The law once said absolutely that a mother owned her child.
Two women came to the King claiming ownership of a baby. The King declared he would cut the child in half so each may share the child equally.
The first mother was happy, yes cut the child in half for it is the law, no exceptions, do it legally.
The second mother said, “No, let the child live.” She gave the child to the other woman.
The King declared the child to belong to the woman who gave up the child.
For that was true love.
Do you understand?
Did you see what happened there?
The children of people who brought them here are no more guilty than that child who was not cut in half by the King.
They are innocent.
There is the law, yes. But the law is not the end. Justice has a scale of balance. Justice has a heart. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water after you bathe the infant do you?