West of Memphis

West of Memphis

***

In my 20s, I went out late almost every Friday night. Consequently, I have been stopped at countless DUI checkpoints.

And, I’m pleased to report, I was never once asked to get out of my car or take a breathalyzer. Is that because I had never had a beer while I was out? No comment.

I’m pretty sure that the real reason I was never hassled by the law is that I planned ahead. I understood that the police are looking for people who may be menaces to society. So I tried to be as unmenacing as possible.

I wore respectable clothing. I always had short hair and I shaved before I went out. I kept my car clean and smoke free. When cops asked me questions, I spoke to them respectfully.

Did I think that it is right or fair or just that I had to alter my behavior and appearance to impress the cops? It doesn’t matter what I think. That’s the way it is. Those who ignore this basic truth about society are putting themselves at risk of getting in trouble with the law.

The West Memphis 3 learned this lesson the hard way. They were a trio of long-haired, metal-head teenagers with a history of trouble-making who were wrongly accused of murdering three 8 year old boys in 1993.

For lack of a real motive, the State concocted a lurid and ludicrous tale of satanism and ritual sacrifice and convinced the jury to convict the teens.

It is perfectly clear that the West Memphis 3 were innocent.

It was also clear that the police never would have accused the young men of the crime if they had gone to church, played on the football team, listened to Garth Brooks, and had crew cuts.

Conveniently, though, it was their rebel outsider status that gained them international attention. Before long, celebrities like Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maine had given their support to the West Memphis 3.

I sincerely applaud the celebrities who selflessly donated their time and money to free the West Memphis 3.

However, I have to shake my head a little bit at the foolishness of the celebrities – and the documentarians – for saying that they were fighting for “Justice.”

Justice?! It seems to me that Justice is the reason the West Memphis 3 wound up in this mess to begin with.

It was the community’s hunger for Justice that led the police to hurry the investigation and find scapegoats as quickly as possible.

It was in the name of Justice that the DA and the judge railroaded the hapless teens straight into the State Penitentiary. To them, Justice was nothing more than an excuse to abuse their power in order to get publicity and further their political aspirations.

And, make no mistake, Eddie Vedder: it wasn’t Justice that ultimately led to the freeing of the West Memphis 3. It was the fact that the huge influx of Hollywood money had changed the balance of power. The young men were always innocent. It wasn’t until they could afford top-notch lawyers and forensics experts that they were finally freed in 2011.

I certainly didn’t agree with every point that director Amy Berg had to say in “West of Memphis” and I didn’t appreciate that she took 2 1/2 hours to say it. However, we certainly agree on two key points: the West Memphis 3 are innocent. And our criminal justice system is far from perfect.

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