Whether he is taking up the cause of unions, minorities, immigrants or the poor, Jesse Jackson is always on the lookout for dramatic points of conflict that can attract public attention the way that marches and sit-ins did during the civil rights movement. Jackson knows that by organizing people against a particular act of injustice he can mobilize communities for long-term action and put pressure on authorities to respond. And such demonstrations can serve as powerful symbolic events in the struggle for justice.
But activists who use such a strategy have to pick their battles carefully. They need to attack a dramatic case of wrongdoing that is clearly emblematic of a larger pattern of injustice. That wasn't the case in Decatur, Illinois, where Jackson rallied support for six black youths who were expelled from school for their part in a brawl that broke out in the stands at a high school football game and that put scores of people in significant danger.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).