In the movie, A Time to Kill, two white men go into a predominantly black neighborhood, throwing bottles at children playing ball outside, harassing people in the grocery store, and driving around, recklessly drinking and smoking dope. youtube.com/watch
This movie is about a very racially tense trial. Not the trial of the two bastards that nearly killed Tanya, after using her for target practice with beer bottles and cans, after beating her, raping her, over and over, and then unsuccessfully hanging her to die in a tree. No, the trial was that of this little girl’s father, Carl Lee Haley. Carl Lee took justice into his own hands. Maybe he did this because his anger for the actions committed against his daughter was too much for him. Or maybe he decided to kill them because he knew, in his heart, that those white men would not receive the justice they deserved, if left up to the court and jury of their peers.
Carl Lee hired his friend, Jake Brigance, to defend him in his first-degree murder trial. For a total of $900, Jake took the task of keeping Carl Lee from dying in the gas chamber.
The movie goes on to show the process of picking the jury and determining strategies. The jury of Carl Lee’s peers consisted of both men and women – all were white! The judge was also white, as were the attorneys from both sides.
During the movie, we see Jake struggling with his desire to help Carl Lee and his lack of confidence that he would be able to successfully defend this man that killed two whites in the courthouse, in front of dozens of witnesses. After all, he had a little girl, too!
After much courtroom drama, tactics, cross-burnings, and riots, we get to part of the movie where the lawyers must present their closing statements.
Jake Brigance and Carl Lee Haley had chosen to plea “not guilty, by reason of insanity.” They had agreed that it was their best shot at setting Carl Lee free. But at this point, Jake realizes the harsh truth: Carl Lee is NOT going to be set free because he IS guilty and Jake doesn’t think he can get the jury to let him go free. Carl Lee tells Jake to stop looking at things in a normal way. Things are not normal. They’re not normal at all because Carl Lee is a black man on trial for the pre-meditated murders of two white men, in the South. Carl Lee tells Jake that he can’t expect the jury to see him the way Jake sees him because most people don’t look past color. They look at color first. He tells Jake that the only way to win is for Jake to find a way to make them see him the way that he sees him. As Carl Lee says in the movie: “That’s how you save my ass.”
Jake Brigance gave a brilliant closing. Not only did he tell the story of Tanya so vividly and painfully, he was able to make the jury, for just a moment, forget that Tanya was black.
This movie reminds me so much of the themes I have read from Audre Lorde this semester. She puts a great deal of emphasis on how race is instilled in people, sometimes they don’t even know it. But in this case, not only are the two white men racist and unapologetic, they are purposefully seeking to abuse someone who they don’t consider to be human. In the poem, “Power,” she talks about the despair and helplessness of the mother of a young black boy that is killed by a police officer. All she can do is kiss her son and grab on to parts of him because the whole of him is dead. In the movie, Carl Lee did not allow himself to to feel hopeless or helpless. He found justice lacking so he took it into his own hands. But he was trapped in a judicial system that was greatly swayed by racism. Everything was about black and white, poor and privileged, instead of right and wrong.
Another connection I saw between “Power” and A Time to Kill is that when Lorde then goes on to talk about the lone black female juror, we learn that this woman gives up her power to the eleven white men on the jury. They were able to convince her to see the white police officer as innocent. In A Time to Kill, the lawyer, Jake, was able to convince twelve white jurors to see little Tanya as a white girl. And that is what set Carl Lee free.
I chose this movie because is calls everyone to reflect on their own convictions, and then ask ourselves, “Can I see her?”
Carl Lee Haley Quote: “And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be evenhanded. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices.”
Grisham, John. A time to kill. New York: Random House Large Print, 2013. Print.
Lorde, Audre. The collected poems of Audre Lorde. New York, NY: W. W. Norton Company, 1997. Print.
“Time To Kill.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.