This afternoon, I went to go see the new film starring Denzel Washington called “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Not to give too much away of the movie, the film’s story is about a lawyer who, having spent 30 years in the background doing most of the research for his partner’s appearances as a public defender, is one day thrust into his partner’s role when his partner is knocked down by illness. Israel is a brilliant logician and legal mind, but he is uncomfortable in front of people. In a short time, his partner is incapacitated, their firm is discovered to be bankrupt and headed for dissolution, and Israel is cash poor as it is. He is a principled lawyer, still celebrated presently for his unyielding integrity as a social and political activist half a lifetime ago, but he realizes he faces life without employment or income, and he is placed in a position to make a choice which, if taken, undermines all he has said he stands for.
Good men, bad men. It’s easy for one to become the other, but difficult for the latter to become the former.
I saw a moving segment on ESPN this weekend about Michael Bennett, a pro-bowl defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL’s Defensive MVP last season, who spends some of his spare time when he’s in Seattle as a mentor at King County Juvenile Detention. Bennett not only gives time to hanging and talking with kids in the center, but he spearheaded a project in which the kids in the center planted, nurtured, and raised a range of fruits and vegetables in garden boxes at the facility- produce which the kids would then use in the facility’s kitchen. It’s a moving story about Bennett volunteering time and attention to help kids who made some bad choices make better ones so that they can have positive and productive futures. I loved it.
On August 26th, Bennett was one of a number of people detained following the Mayweather-McGregor fight in Las Vegas when gunfire was reported in a casino, and he went on social media to describe his experience. A “black man at the wrong place at the wrong time”, Bennett decried the Las Vegas police for use of excessive force on him, a singled-out black man, and a recipient of racial profiling. Bennett did nothing wrong in this situation, for sure, but his response to his experience with the police framed it as a racially-charged incident of police brutatlity. Ample police video footage of Bennett’s detainment showed that his treatment in the 10 minute moment was actually an impartial adherence to police department custody policies. Bennett viewed his brief detention as a racially-driven policing problem.
There are good folks in the world. But goodness seems to always be on trial. People who appear to be prudent and honest and and kind and dependable wow us with their displays of character and charity and service, but the susceptibility is always there for greed or grandiosity to steal our best efforts to be good people, exchanging corruption for our hard-built character in an instantaneous exchange.
Good is hard to find, I guess, and when we find it, it is hard to find in an absolutely pure state. It spoils easily.