A long way to go

While I have never claimed to be a student of history, I do often enjoy looking back on things that happened 10, 25, or 100 years ago. The type of stories you hear on the radio or see on your newsfeed on social media informing you that 100 years ago today the first automatic potato peeler or something like it was developed.

September has always been my favorite month of the year. September 1st always marks the first day of dove season. Football season starts giving new hope to fans of professional, college, high school, and even peewee teams. The weather usually begins to cool off from another hot Texas summer, meaning fall is right around the corner. Last but not least (to me anyway), it is my birthday month. As exciting as all that may be, I am not sure anyone would care for me to spend a whole column on any of the above.

The other thing that always comes to mind this time of year is 9/11. I decided to look back and see what the president’s column was following the horrific event some 17 years ago. As I expected, the column was an impressive message from then-president Betty Blackwell. It began: “We are at war. That is what we face today. That is what we face tomorrow. Collapsed buildings, hijacked planes—there is nothing we can do to stop it. It has happened. We know that the effects on our lives, on our children’s lives, on our grandchildren’s lives, will be significant and fundamental.” The words proved to ring true.

Not long after 9/11, I was trying a case, and a crucial witness to our defense was a young man of Muslim faith whose parents legally came to the United States. I voir-dired the venire panel as to the trustworthiness of a young Muslim of Middle Eastern descent, and as expected many opined—to their credit for being honest—that they automatically would not trust him due to his race and religion. This young man was only a witness. It is truly frightening to wonder what would have happened had he been the Defendant.

Another item that caught my mind was a news article I read regarding the introduction of the character Franklin into the “Peanuts” comic strip 50 years ago on July 31, 1968. Franklin was the first African-American character introduced in the comic strip. Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” received some criticism as he feared for including an African-American character in the comic. I guess I am just naïve, but it amazes me that this was ever an issue.

Fifty years is essentially the amount of time I have been alive. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act are eligible for AARP membership. A person would hope that given 50 years’ time we would not still be talking about race in this country. One would hope that as Dr. King dreamed, people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

While the problem may not be as bad as it was 50 years ago, we still see protests of police brutality towards African Americans. We witness white supremacists staging rallies throughout the country. We witness immigrants separated from their children and deported without being afforded the due process guaranteed in the Constitution we took an oath to defend. We live in a state where African Americans are incarcerated at a rate nearly four times that of whites. In short, we still have a long way to go.

I leave you with the words Betty Blackwell signed off with right after 9/11 that ring as true now as they did then. “These are dark times, and there may be darker times ahead, but we must not lose sight of our goal—freedom. For everyone. Freedom for all of us and freedom for all of those unlike us. It is the way that we treat the least among us that will define our legacy as a people. We will punish the guilty, but in our quest, we must not trample the innocent. We will not give comfort to our enemies but must not allow our government to strip us of our rights in the name of war. God have mercy on our souls if we do.”