In just over a week on November 19th, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It is one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, both for its depth and brevity. Delivered on the civil war's Gettysburg, Pa. battlefield, Lincoln as president of a divided nation, engaged in civil war, spoke to the desire and sacrifice made to protect a nation "conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." I believe that Lincoln was a Good Samaritan because he did give his "last full measure of devotion" to a nation divided.
In 1863, America was divided in every possible way. The nation was divided by race, class, economy and government. While America may not, today, be as divided; there are those trying their best to be as divided as possible. It is astounding to view the left/right divide in this nation. It is inevitable that these divides seep down into the body politic of the nation and the everyday lives of people. Whether it be race, class, gender, sexual orientation, a women's right to choose, an unfettered right to vote, or the equal protection of the law, we are experiencing a great divide in this nation. These divides can produce real casualties.
Many are discussing the shooting deaths of Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell. Ms. McBride was a 19 year old black teenager and Detroit high school graduate, who had just gotten a job with the Ford Motor Co. By all descriptions at her funeral last week she was an outgoing person, with a good demeanor and a promise in life. On Saturday, November 2nd in the early morning hours she was in a car accident and walked to a home in the Dearborn Heights section of Michigan and sought help. The homeowner fatally shot McBride in her face claiming that he thought she was a robber. The homeowner has not been charged in the shooting.
Jonathan Ferrell was a black 24 year old former Florida A&M football player who moved to Charlotte, NC to be with his fiancé and pursue his post collegian life. In mid-September he too had a car accident and walked to a nearby home for help. A woman, whose husband was not at home, saw Mr. Ferrell knocking loudly on her door and called 911 to report a black man attempting to enter and rob her home. The police arrived within minutes and shot and killed Ferrell as he ran towards them still seeking assistance. The police officer responsible for the shooting has been arrested and is being prosecuted. No charges have been filed against the women who set in motion the fatal sequence of events.
The demands for justice in both cases should be loud and continuous. Whether motivated by race or not, the mere knocking on one's door, should not be cause to actually shoot someone. It is however, worrisome to think that we live so divided that a person in need, regardless of class, color, gender, sexual orientation, or age, cannot benefit from a reasonable response to crisis. It says a lot about us as a nation.
I know from firsthand experience how desperate one can feel when, during the dead of night, you find yourself a victim of an accident and without any means to call for help. Years ago, I travelled to Minnesota to attend a wedding in the middle of winter. The temperature on the night of the wedding event had to be at least 20 below zero. On my way back to the home I was staying at, I skidded on ice and landed in a snow bank. I could not extract the car from the snow bank. It was about 3:30 a.m. in the morning in an isolated part of town. There were no cell phones then, no traffic traveling down the road I was on and no pay phones in sight. It was pitch black and at 20 below zero it would not be long before you began to freeze. I could see a home about 200 feet ahead of where I was stuck. I knew I could not just sit in the car and survive the night.
I began honking the horn. I did so for at least a good 5 minutes. I hopped that I would see lights go on in the house and someone may come out who could help. No one did. After a few more minutes sitting in the car, I realized that I had to go up to the house. I did. I knocked loudly and often on the door and still no response. Finally, I checked the front door which was open and decided to go in. Once I entered the home, I called out that I needed help. There was still no answer, so I sought out the bedrooms and as I approached what turned out to be the master bedroom; in the loudest voice I could muster, I yelled, I need help!
The homeowners were there and awoke, along with their son who was in an upper floor bedroom. They gave me a blanket, hot water, and other care. They dug out my car and called the home that I was staying at to let them know I would be there shortly. They were Good Samaritans and I was certainly blessed and lucky that night. I was not stuck, alone, on the side of the road to die.
The experience deepened my faith in the human spirit and the potential goodness of people. Lincoln gave everything so this nation had an opportunity to survive as one nation, under god, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all. We should never forget those lessons of a house divided and its ability to stand. We should never judge by the color of one's skin. We should always be mindful that a stranger in the night may just be someone in desperate need of help.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.