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21 March 2020 THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson, Random House, July 2020, 416 p., 978-0-593-11876-4


“You might be the wrong color

You might be too poor

Justice isn’t something just anyone can afford

You might not pull the trigger

You might be out in the car

And you might get a lethal injection

‘Cause we take a metaphor that far”

-- Ani Difranco, “Crime for Crime” (1995)


“In 2018, together we’ve exonerated nine innocent people, the most ever in the Innocence Project’s 26-year history, and helped pass 17 wrongful conviction reforms in 14 states. After spending more than 215 years in prison combined, our clients are where they belong: home with their loved ones.”

-- The Innocence Project, “2018: A Record Year in Exonerations” 


We occasionally hear in the news about someone--usually a black man--who has spent decades in prison but is released because of newly revealed evidence. These incidents point to the problem with executions: If the State successfully prosecutes and then executes an innocent person, nothing can subsequently be done to remedy the fatal failure of the system.


“When I talk to Daddy about his case and get too hopeful, he makes me promise not to get upset because getting an appeal grows more unlikely with each day But Daddy’s also not the type to give up. He could’ve accepted a plea deal, but he said he wouldn’t admit to something he didn’t do. God would be watching over him and set him free. He believed there’d already been tragedy enough with the Davidson couple being murdered, and him and his best friend, Jackson Ridges, being blamed. Mr. Ridges was killed by the police as they tried to take him from his home. Daddy thought God wouldn’t let more pain come from that tragedy. So he pled innocent, and life without parole was off the table. It would be a death sentence if found guilty.

I used to believe that what Daddy said about no more pain was true. Like the Messiah Himself would walk right through the courtroom and carry my daddy out. Now I know it’s up to us.”


Tracy Beaumont’s father and Mr. Ridges, who are/were black, were entering into a business deal with Mr. Davidson, who is white, when the murders took place. The police never found the gun that killed the Davidson couple and Tracy’s father never owned a gun. Nevertheless, James Beaumont was convicted of shooting the Davidsons and has languished on death row for seven years. His time until the execution is nearly up. It’s up to seventeen year-old Tracy to figure out how to prevent her father from being put to death. 


If that’s not enough, Tracy’s brother Jamal is now also accused of murder. Tracy stumbled across Jamal fooling around with Angela, a white schoolmate whose official boyfriend is the redneck sheriff’s hotheaded son. Soon thereafter, Angela turns up dead and Jamal is suspected because before she died, Angela called 911 and the operator heard Angela cry out Jamal’s name.


Set in coastal Texas, THIS IS MY AMERICA is a superb white-knuckle, double-murder mystery for ages 12 and up. It’s a tale of black and white in a world of white separatist hate and violence.


After writing to the Innocence X project weekly for seven years, Tracy has finally persuaded the legal organization to examine her father’s case. The tension ratchets up a couple more notches when young attorney Steve Jones arrives in town and seeks to prove that James Beaumont was wrongfully convicted.


Tracy has one more important interaction with issues of color: She’s long been best friends with Dean, a white boy who now longs to be more than friends. Meanwhile, there’s Quincy Ridges, son of the late Mr. Ridges. Before Quincy’s father was killed by the police, Tracy and Quincy had been inseparable childhood friends. Since the police shooting, Quincy’s relationship with Tracy has never been the same, but they retain a special connection. Tracy needs to navigate her feelings for the two boys. 


Can the Innocence X’s young, crackerjack lawyer Steve Jones pull off a miracle? Can Tracy’s father and brother survive their ordeals? Who really killed the Davidsons and Angela, and why?


I oppose capital punishment. Even in the extreme cases of Mark David Chapman, who stole John Lennon from an entire generation, and James Earl Ray, who deprived the world of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have never wished to have the government kill murderers as a punishment for what they did. Taking a murderer’s life doesn’t bring back the murder victim. It just takes away someone else. t urge readers to consider the statistics that Kim Johnson includes in her Author’s Note:


“Lynchings and capital punishment draw many comparisons as inhumane and unequal treatment largely applied on the basis of race. As of April 1, 2019, there were 2,637 inmates in prison who had been sentenced to death, across thirty-two states. African Americans make up about 13 percent of the US population, but are 42 percent of the people on death row. It’s important to acknowledge that, nationally, 95 percent of prosecutors are white…”


The nightmare news stories that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement come alive in this fictional but heartbreakingly, all-too-real tale of life in Black America. As with lynching, capital punishment should have ended a long time ago. It kills me that there still aren’t enough Americans of conscience raising their voices against it.


THIS IS MY AMERICA is a story that illustrates what can happen when people group themselves by skin color, look out only for their own, and shrug their shoulders at injustice. It also shows how a young person, one with sufficient persistence and tenacity, can save a life.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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