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In Plain Sight

What About Tom Robinson?

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Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO, Beyond Housing

“Justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”
Gordon Hewart

The recent passing of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee gave rise to many glowing reviews of her seminal novel. The great characters of Atticus and Scout were lauded for their many qualities and insights. Silent, amazingly so in my mind, during the many tributes was what about Tom Robinson? His life and trial were the focal point of the story. This fact and given the time and space we exist in with the names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and sadly so many more etched in our social conscience how can we not “see” Tom Robinson.

I understand his character was not explored with the depth of Atticus and Scout but he was the focal point of the apex of the work.  Tom Robinson made the mistake to have empathy for a young white woman and then helping her. Even worse, he said he felt sorry for her. More importantly, while many remember the movie death of Tom Robinson directly after his unjust guilty verdict by a single gunshot of a deputy off screen when he tried to escape, in the book he was in prison and was shot 17 times while trying to escape, 17 times! Similar to today the white town folk blamed Tom Robinson for running and asked few questions of the prison guards. In the novel the day after Tom is killed the newspaper said, “”Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.” Today we still have those secret courts of the heart that sadly prevent us from really seeing what is in plain sight. I know the subject of race is so complicated and emotional. I realize that a simple analysis of any of the situations I have alluded to would be a great disservice to each of them.

But . . .

Tom Robinson was found guilty due to the color of his skin and then killed without a moment of remorse in a harsh, violent manner and we look away. We see the video of Eric Garner being strangled by police for selling loose cigarettes and we look away.  We see Tamir Rice being shot instantaneously by a police officer and we look away. In plain sight. We laud Atticus Finch for his moral strength but do not castigate and bring justice to those his strength fights against.  We need to see justice be done. WE need to open the secret courts of our own hearts and do what we know is right regardless of our discomfort. We cannot keep ignoring things in plain site. What about Tom Robinson? What about Michael Brown? What about Eric Garner? What about Tamir Rice? What about Sandra Bland?

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About Chris

I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable. 

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