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“There comes a time when you have to let go in order to move on. The only thing I wasn’t going to let go was this fight.”
Many of us can identify with that sentiment as we trudge wearily toward January, 2021. Our “discretionary income” has been donated away. We’ve called and written and signed petitions and urged friends until we hate to read the legitimate news for fear of being doused with more discouraging turns of events. We yearn for the days when we could worry about minor issues instead of devastating concerns such as death by horrific disease, or rather than an expansion, the systematic destruction of the essence of our democracy. We want nothing more than to let go and get on with life. Yet we can’t quit this fight because the stakes are too high.
Likewise, the statement repeated above came from Brian Banks, a man whose youth was stolen by a sloppy justice system that wrongfully convicted him of rape when he was only 16. He barely survived nearly six years in prison and faced the curse of being branded a sex offender for life. Doors slammed shut around him. His accuser reaped 1.5 million dollars in a lawsuit against the school district in which she said the rape occurred. She later admitted she was lying. The only reason her ruse stood up was the investigation of the case was woefully inadequate. For example, DNA evidence wasn’t even considered. If the wannabe NFL linebacker Brian Banks hadn’t been championed by the California Innocence Project—spearheaded at the start by staff attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel and Justin Brooks—he would never have been allowed near (within 2000 feet of) any kind of a park or school again for the rest of his life. He couldn’t let go of his case and neither could Bjerkhoel, Brooks, or the team at CIP. (The film BRIAN BANKS dramatizes the story Brian Banks tells with the aid of Mark Dagostino in the book WHAT SET ME FREE.)
Some fights are worth the effort. We don’t want to preserve or exacerbate the resentment and loss of respect we have felt. Revenge dissolves the humanity of the person harboring it. Brian Banks understands that as he travels the country speaking to young people. He knows he is certainly not the only person who has been wrongfully incarcerated, nor are all the victims Black or male or from other minority populations. The California Innocence Project has a list of imprisoned people who did nothing wrong, but the neglected evidence on their side isn’t startling enough to earn them freedom. Banks was unusual in that he was still young enough to be able to pursue dreams when he was exonerated—partially by the confession of his accuser. Many of the others who are released have only the endings of their lives left in which to enjoy freedom. The question is when is it time to let go and give up?
A fight worth perpetual effort is a clean fight. No dirty tricks. No lies. To win an honorable, unbiased fight is to win honor, to score points for your “immortal soul,” to create a fresh path forward. There should be a line of distinction between right and wrong, even when the gains appear good either way. Underneath, how you win is important. What you win separates good from evil.