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A Time To Kill

September 27, 2015

ATTKThe story of a black man’s struggle for justice for himself and his family in America today. After Carl Lee’s 10-year-old daughter, Tonya is brutally raped he recalls the case of “four white boys who raped a black girl over in Delta last year.” He asks attorney Jake Brigance, “They got off, didn’t they?” Jake nods his head. Determined to see that the two rapists get what’s coming to them, Carl Lee takes the law into his own hands and guns them down in cold blood inside the courthouse on the day of their arraignments. Young Jake, struggling to keep his law practice afloat, suddenly finds himself defending Carl Lee against murder charges a not-so-popular position with some of the locals in Clanton, Mississippi. Ellen Roark, a stellar law student from Ole Miss, offers her services to Jake just for the opportunity to help with the case and eventually convinces him to take her on. In the meantime, the K.K.K. (at the prompting of a brother of one of the rapists) plants burning crosses on Jake’s lawn, attempts to bomb his house, and takes a shot at him. To ensure their safety, Jake sends his wife and little daughter to Gulfport to stay with his in-laws. As tension in Canton reaches fever pitch and the N.A.A.C.P. and K.K.K. riot on the courthouse lawn, a different kind of tension rises between Jake and Ellen

Justice and vengeance – there is a fine line between the two.

Punishment to fit the crime – Carl Lee Hailey believes that the attackers of his young daughter deserve the maximum penalty sanctioned by the state judicial system but that there is no likelihood of this being invoked for a crime by white men against a black girl. So he administers his own justice. Taking the law into your own hands – Carl Lee sees no alternative to his actions if justice is to be served.

The dependence of justice upon a reliable legal system – Jake doubts that Carl Lee will receive a fair trial in a state with a sorry history of racist miscarriages of justice.

A measure of true justice is at one level to be found in how we exercise our responsibilities towards the marginalised and the powerless. The people of God

are called to be a voice against the oppression of human dignity, with a willingness to stand against all that is dehumanising. Jesus himself offers a stark reminder of the need to take up the cause of the poor of the earth and to challenge the roots of their suffering: “I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me . . . I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me” (Matthew 25.42–45). At another level, justice in human society means that there must be consequences for acts which break the laws which enable people to live together. But true justice is tempered with mercy and it is this vital ingredient which avoids the danger of seeking only vengeance for wrongs committed.

To challenge the oppressive roots of injustice is very often a costly task. This is clear when considering, for example, the root causes of the suffering portrayed in the film.

Like John Grisham’s novel, the movie was very controversial, and was widely accused of condoning murder.

Ellen Roark: What I suggest is you go to an execution, and see a man be killed. You watch him die, and you watch him beg!
Jake Tyler Brigance: I am a liberal Row-Ark. What I am not is a card-carrying ACLU radical.
Lucien Wilbanks: It ain’t easy saving the world, even one case at a time.
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Do you think men who kidnap a child should be free in 10 years?
Carl Lee Hailey: No sir.
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Do you think two men who rape a child should be free in 10 years?
Carl Lee Hailey: No, sir.
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Do you think two men who hang a child should be free in 10 years?
Carl Lee Hailey: No.
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Well what do you think should happen? What would be a fair sentence?
Jake Tyler Brigance: Objection!
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Do you think they should deserve to die?
Jake Tyler Brigance: Don’t answer that Carl Lee!
D.A. Rufus Buckley: Do you think they should deserve to die?
Carl Lee Hailey: Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!
 

Jake Tyler Brigance: And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices.
Carl Lee: America is a wall, and you’re on the other side.
Jake Tyler Brigance: We’re going to lose this case, Carl lee. There are no more points of law to argue here. I want to cope a plea, maybe Buckley will cop us a second degree murder and we can get you just life in prison.
Carl Lee Hailey: Jake, I can’t do no life in prison. You got to get me off. Now if it was you on trial…
Jake Tyler Brigance: It’s not me, we’re not the same, Carl Lee. The jury has to identify with the defendant. They see you, they see a yardworker; they see me, they see an attorney. I live in town, you live in the hill.
Carl Lee Hailey: Well, you are white and I’m black. See Jake, you think just like them, that’s why I picked you; you are one of them , don’t you see?. Oh, you think you ain’t because you eat in Claude’s and you are out there trying to get me off on TV talking about black and white, but the fact is you are just like all the rest of them. When you look at me, you don’t see a man, you see a black man.
Jake Tyler Brigance: Carl Lee, I’m your friend.
Carl Lee Hailey: We ain’t no friends, Jake. We are on different sides of the line, I ain’t never seen you in my part of town. I bet you don’t even know where I live. Our daughters, Jake; they ain’t never gonna play together.
Jake Tyler Brigance: What are you talking about?
Carl Lee Hailey: America is a war and you are on the other side. How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?. My life in white hands? You Jake, that’s how. You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys. You don’t mean to be but you are. It’s how you was raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-american, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them. Now throw out your points of law Jake. If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free? That’s how you save my ass. That’s how you save us both.
Jake Tyler Brigance: I can’t be you, Lucian.
Lucien Wilbanks: Don’t be me, Jake. Be better than me.
Lucien Wilbanks: I can not promise you riches. What I can offer you the chance to save the world one case at a time.
 

[On Ellen Roark] Harry Rex Vonner: Got to love the Lord for making things like that.
Ellen Roark: Did I mention that my father’s filthy rich and I’ll be working for free?
Lucien Wilbanks: If you win this case, justice will prevail, and if you lose, justice will also prevail. Now that is a strange case.
 

 

D.A. Rufus Buckley: Our society cannot condone men who take the law into their own hands.
Jake Tyler Brigance: [in his summation, talking about Tonya Hailey] I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.
 

 

Freddie Lee Cobb: You can’t blame a nigger for being a nigger, no more than you can blame a dog for being a dog. But a whore like you, co-mingling with mongrels, betraying your own. That makes you worse than a nigger. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll leave you tied up here naked. First, it’ll just be bugs eating at ya. One day, maybe two. That sun’s gonna be cooking you. And animals… they’re gonna pick on your stink. They’ll come looking for something to eat.
Ellen Roark: Carl Lee Hailey should’ve shot you too. [Freddie knocks her out]
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