What IS Kevin Pease? Ethnicity vs. Culture in the Fairbanks Four Case

KevinMompicSince the beginning of this case there has been a tremendous emphasis on race as it pertained to the crime itself and its potential impact on motive. We have caught plenty of heat for not shying away from discussing that, but is worth mentioning that we didn’t bring that emphasis here we simply exposed the opposing vantage point on it. The first articles in this case and nearly every one written since identifies the races of those accused very specifically.

Kevin is fair-haired and blue-eyed. His family has Crow in its ancestry, but it is not his dominant ethnicity, and at the end of the day Kevin would easily and always be identified by appearance and ethnicity as white. Reporters have expressed ongoing confusion as to Kevin’s ethnicity, and one reporter recently asked, “What is Kevin? Some articles call him white, some American Indian, but all of my interviews with the supporters would lead you to believe his is Athabascan.”

It is an interesting element of the case and one to which Eugene and some supporters have spoken directly. Ethnicity and culture impacted this case from many angles. Although this is not the most pressing or urgent issue in this case, it is thought-provoking and deserves to be addressed. This post contains their well articulated thoughts on the topic.

“I don’t like this idea that  outsiders get to define who we are for us. That’s up to us. It’s like Kevin isn’t Native enough for the newspapers, but he’s Native enough for the Natives, and he’s enough of an Indian to be stuck in here with us, right? Blood quantum and all, I think that’s just a way to control people. Tell them who they are. Our words in almost any tribe for ourselves in our languages mean, the people. It doesn’t mean, the people who BIA says are of the people. It means, the people who are of, basically, each other. Us. Kevin was raised with us, around us, he’s one of us, he just is. He’s as Athabascan as anyone can be right that word just means “us”, and I don’t like reading different in the paper. Like why do they want to always make that a big point. And I don’t care they call him white there’s nothing wrong with it not like its offensive  I just care they always want to make it like, he’s different. They don’t get it. But it’s always kinda like bugged me.” – Eugene

“The idea of adoption, in Athabascan culture, is an old concept. A lot of people were adopted in. The historical and cultural fact is that Athabascans never defined themselves in the way of birth order or pedigree. That is the white man’s way of thinking. It was never ours. Our generation isn’t seeing this some new way, we are seeing it the old way.” – Ricko DeWilde

“There is a critical and misunderstood difference between ethnicity and culture. Kevin’s ethnicity and his cultural identity may be different. His perception of his place in a community or culture versus the perception of the community’s view of him may differ as well. As in, Kevin may not see himself as culturally Athabascan while the Koyukon Athabascan community may see him as a member. To Kevin specifically he grew up with Athabascans through a series of events which he did not control as a young person which is not much different than a birthright. We are born into cultural identity in the sense that we are born into a specific culture. For many and most people this may align with their ethnic makeup and for some it does not. Through experience and sustained contact he was raised culturally Athabascan. Kevin does not look at a Native person and see a ‘Native.’ Kevin sees a person and often a person he knows through a relational concept of identity (again a concept which he was exposed to culturally). This is a tricky concept to articulate but I hope at least some blog readers can and will follow.

Fundamentally, Kevin is a cultural Alaska Native. At least, that is my perception of Kevin and I know it is widely shared in the Interior Native culture of Fairbanks in particular. Kevin for example is far more culturally Athabascan than an ethnic Athabascan who was raised by Swiss Italian American parents in New Jersey and never exposed to our way of life. That person is ethnically Alaska Native and culturally not. Those adopted in are more culturally a part of a society than those adopted out.

I want to find a way to make the frustration when it comes up over and over in newspapers that identify him as white or outside Indian understandable to any random reader. When, while that may be true from a genetic or ethnic perspective, it is dismissive to us as a culture to instruct who we can consider part of our people, and further dismissive of our individual value as just human beings. The emphasis on race in these publications does not have the goal of identification although that may be the stated goal or the only motivation consciously known to the author, the categorization on this level has to do with othering the subjects. The ‘othering’ of Kevin in the beginning of this case was important. The media and community were hung up on this notion of the players. They couldn’t make a sound case for the guilt of innocent men in a crime so they had to attack their essence as a way to attack their credibility based on the social psychological perception of the situation. They placed them into roles that met the social normative and were therefore more readily accepted. They made these human individuals into archetypes – Eugene the stupid savage, Marvin the savage nature, underscoring the notion that even cloaked in apparent assimilation (valedictorian, etc) there is a savage nature; a difference which is past skin deep, George as the wild savage, and Kevin was the disturbed race traitor who associated with them.  Then there did not have to be actual motivation the public would accept the motivation was simply their nature, so different from the reader. In reality these identities were a construct which had almost nothing in common with who these people were as individuals and was only an articulation of  racial archetypes.

An attack on the identity of a cultural group weakens the position of the group. It is psychological genocide, it’s a way of eliminating a culture to take away the group’s own right to define themselves. Kevin likely views himself from many angles and in many ways, and probably has a cultural identity that is dynamic and made up of all of these roles and experiences. But from my perspective, and I know from the perspective of many within the Athabascan culture, Kevin is a member of our community and culture. He understands the traditions, the nuances of the language, the social strata, the modern history, the interconnection, he just is one of us as a people, as a specific group of people in the world. And being allowed to define yourselves does not in any way take from a person or group’s right to discuss discrimination. Quite the opposite because in fact these parameters put on a group from without are their own form of discrimination, and a under-discussed racial microaggression.” – Misty Nickoli

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Race in the Case – The Hartman Murder was a Hate Crime

bookertwashingtonJohn Hartman was killed in the commission of a premeditated racial hate crime.

 “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.’” – F.B.I.

According to William Holmes who confessed in detail to his role in killing John Hartman, he and four friends went out onto the streets of Fairbanks the night they attacked Hartman to physically assault Native Alaskans.

Holmes and his fellow conspirators “decided to go downtown and have some fun.” Their idea of “fun”?

Harassing “drunk natives by throwing eggs at them, or 2 or 3 guys from the car would jump out with the driver still in the running car and punch them. We’d laugh at them falling or a cigarette flying from their mouth upon impact. The thrill came from running away, speeding off and messing with these drunks barely able to walk.”

holmesletterOn the night that they killed John Hartman, Holmes describes patrolling downtown looking for Native victims. The group found at least one victim, but their attack was thwarted when others appeared on the scene. When they were unable to find the victim they were looking for – a vulnerable Native person walking alone – they decided to end their “fun.” Sadly, as they were driving out of the downtown area they spotted “a white boy” walking alone and decided he would have to do. The group fell on the young boy with no warning, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him into a coma that would prove fatal.

John Hartman was kicked and stomped to death with violence so callous it defies explanation. He was killed because five young men carried with them a racial hate so strong and dehumanizing that group beatings of vulnerable Natives was a form of recreation. John Hartman was killed by hate directed toward a race of people he did not belong to in life. But in death, he joined a long list of the persecuted. He is not the first boy to die at the hands of race-based violence, but he may be the only white child to die in the cross-hairs of racism against Alaska’s first people.

In the days after Hartman was killed, when his face and the faces of the young men wrongfully accused of his murder appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, someone bought that paper and brought it back to Midtown Apartments, where a group of people acquainted with the four accused gathered around to read in disbelief. An elderly woman looking over our shoulders said, “I bet they were looking for a Native boy, I wish they had found one.”

For the majority of Fairbanks residents the idea that a young person could be attacked at random and assaulted simply for walking alone was unfathomable. Yet, for another sector of the community, it was routine. The other side of the story in a community where violent beatings are a form of recreation, and a person’s ethnicity is what makes them a target, and in turn makes them invisible to the rest of the community, was that there was a legion of kids who were familiar with the attacks. Scores of boys who were on guard, who slipped into the bushes when a car approached, who ran like hell when they heard the sound of tires slowing down behind them because those kids knew it was the cops or the people who jumped Natives, and that both were dangerous. Kids who curled into a ball and protected their heads if they didn’t run fast enough. If they had found the victim they meant to find, maybe no one would have died.

Eugene. Eugene was walking alone that night. They wanted Eugene, but the timing was off.

George. George walked downtown the very same evening, and George was exactly who they were looking for.

Pick a name off the witness list. Pull a name from the wedding guest book. Nearly every person whose life would intersect with the wrongful arrest, trials, conviction, and decades long fight to overturn it was guilty of the crime of being Native that night, and it was hate directed at them that motivated the men who killed John Hartman. It was that same hate, woven into the fabric of the community and its institutions, which allowed for the immediate arrest and wrongful conviction of people who were guilty of nothing besides being Native.

This hate is alive and well, virtually unchanged since 1997. Ask any Native man if they have been physically attacked in the streets of Fairbanks at random, and you will hear the stories. Read the crime statistics, sexual assault statistics, human rights reports. Read. Open your eyes, look. Open any Alaskan Craigslist and word search the term “Natives,” and you will read the thoughts of the community members who carry this hate. The posts below are chosen at random, and simply some of the most recent posts on the topic in the local Craigslist. We include them simply as a reminder that this hate remains, and offer it as “proof” of racism to those readers who believe that racism does not exist, or that conversations about race undermine the credibility of our cause. We are not playing the race card. We are playing the had we were dealt.

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The newspapers continue to describe the assault as random, when in reality the assault that killed John Hartman was premeditated, and the motivation was racial hate. The fact that he was walking at that moment, at that intersection, that the men responsible had not been able to find their ideal victim, that the assault proved fatal – perhaps all of that can be considered the product of coincidence. But his murder was not random violence – it was very specific and intentional violence.

The two most common pieces of advice we receive in writing this blog are to avoid writing about race or John Hartman, because it makes people uncomfortable. But we are not here to make anyone comfortable, we are here to tell the truth. And the truth is, race was a huge factor in this case.CL6

Racial hate motivated the crime, it motivated the wrongful arrest and conviction of innocent young men, and it was the overtly stated factor used to dismiss the testimony of many witnesses.

John Hartman deserves justice. He was killed in hate and denied justice in hate, and that is not an acceptable legacy for a loved and innocent child. Nearly every person who speaks of this young man in life emphasizes his kindness and open-mindedness. He deserves better than this. His family deserves the truth. The community that rallied around his memory and his family to demand justice deserve the truth.

The answer to hate is not silence. The answer to hate is not fear. The answer to hate is not regret, grief, shame, and it certainly is not hate. The only counter to hate is love. So with love, we think it is time to start an honest conversation about race in this case, race in our community, and what we can do to change the future for the better.

Readers, we want to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment, tell your story, share your thoughts.

We heard the advice loud and clear to stay away from the topic of race so that people feel comfortable, and it reminded us how very important it is to make people uncomfortable. This post will mark the first in a series about race in this case, because if we can’t even say the words, we will never be able to change the story. We welcome contributors.

Rise From The Ashes – Audrey George – Albis and Witnesses XI

Audrey“Love one another and you will be happy.  It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”  ~Michael Leunig

Location became central to the investigation into the night of October 10, 1997. No location is mentioned more frequently in study of the case than the wedding reception that took place at the Eagle’s Hall that night.

A wedding is a time for celebration. The joining of hearts, of families, of paths. The beginning of children, futures, sorrows and happiness unknown – and a promise by two people to stick together through whatever may come. A wedding is a a time when people gather to witness love, to share in love, to be a part of that hopeful moment when two lives are woven into one.

We have spoken before about the pain and the shame that came with this case and how it touched so many in our community. When the Fairbanks Four were wrongfully accused, investigated, interrogated, and convicted of the murder of John Hartman, what should have been a night remembered as all brides remember their wedding was transformed into a criminal investigation. One wedding guest, while being interrogated for hours and hours, answered simply when he was being pressed about why he wanted to attend the reception, “Because Audrey is my family – because, I love her.” And it should have been love, after all, that was remembered of that night, without the shadow of pain and a complicated web of deception and hardship.

For Audrey McCotter and the late Vernon Jones, whose wedding became central to the Hartman investigation, there would always be something in the background of those happy wedding photos. No one knew, as they danced and laughed, smiled and cut cake, reunited with friends and family gathered there to celebrate – no one knew that this night would change lives. That a series of events was about to be set into motion that would change the Native community of Fairbanks and force the examination of society, of the concept of justice, and ignite a struggle to assert a place in it. That night, it was just a wedding between two people who loved each other dearly. Yet by morning, things had changed. In the police theory the Fairbanks Four were accused of having met up at the wedding reception, left briefly to commit a murder, and return to dance as if nothing had happened. On the day that her wedding announcement should have appeared in the local paper, Audrey’s wedding reception was referenced over and over in articles about a brutal killing.

Audrey speaks out below for the first time publicly about how her life intertwined with this case, about her wedding night, her personal struggle with the events that unfolded, and the heartbreaking loss of her late husband Vernon Jones.

We applaud Audrey for her courage. She is taking a brave step onto a new path. Knowing her personally I can assure all of our readers that Audrey’s hardships have made her a person of incredible strength and compassion. The gifts she has given to those around her after rising from the ashes of her own pain are incredible. We are grateful for her support, and humbled by the strength it took to share this deeply personal part of her life with the world. Here is her story, in her words:

My marriage began and ended in blood. Our wedding was in Fairbanks but we lived in Unalakleet so it was hard to plan long distance but we did it. A lot of special family members were there that are passed on now such as Teddy Luke, Morris and Thelma Thompson, and James Grant, Sr. My whole family and my husband’s whole family from the Koyukuk River area were there. We planned it during dividends so our family could afford to fly into Fairbanks to celebrate our happy day. It was precious to us, but that day has been remembered for something entirely different. It was October 10, 1997 the day John Hartman was murdered and subsequently when the Fairbanks Four were found guilty of murder.

One year and eleven months later my husband committed suicide. Life is not fair. I started a battle the day he died. I battled depression, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide. I’ve been sober eleven years now, I’m remarried, my two children are happy and healthy. I consider my life to be blessed and I’ve not only survived trauma but I’ve excelled.
I want the Fairbanks Four to rise from the ashes of loss and destruction and be blessed and excel as well, but they are still in the battle. I am no legal eagle, so my support of the Free the Fairbanks Four Movement will have to be my weapon.

Public humiliation and shame will now be turned around back on the courts. We did nothing wrong. I got married and my guests were happy young people celebrating with us. An important and less known fact is that Marvin Roberts, one of my guests at the reception, had a reputation as a responsible young man who was sober that night and he wasn’t known to get into trouble the way kids occasionally do.  We will continue to celebrate when they all walk again as free men. I’m tired of death and injustice when it’s within our power to stop it. Treat others as you wish to be treated and we have not treated these four men well.
~Audrey (McCotter/Jones) George

We know this much is true: the story of the Fairbanks Four will ultimately be remembered as a story of the power of love and truth. Someday, a story of the enormity and power of love will be the one in the background of those wedding photographs, as it should be. It is love we fight for and with. Thank you Audrey for being part of the fight.

No Excuse – A Letter from Senator Mark Begich

 

363Following in the footsteps of many ordinary citizens, local leaders, and more recently Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Mark Begich released a letter to Alaska Governor Parnell asking for swift justice in the case of the Fairbanks Four.

We applaud Senator Begich for advocating for justice. Leaders take a stand when the good of their people is at stake, regardless of the political cost or benefit. Both Begich and Murkowski have taken a risk and demonstrated that they have what it takes to lead.

We hope the Governor is getting the message from above and below: this case is a test of the transparency, ethic, functionality, and intent of the justice system under Parnell. So far, Parnell’s administration and the Attorney General are failing this test.

When state prosecutor Adrienne Bachman announced that the state had just begun its investigation 37 days into their allotted 45 days, the prosecutor’s dismissive remarks were followed in short order by this letter from Senator Murkowski.

Following the state’s request for an extension until May 15, 2014, the letter below from Senator Begich was released. It speaks for itself.

 

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BE encouraged by these letters. This fight has been long and in some ways has only just begun. There remain forces of darkness inside the justice system, but the truth will soon prevail and clear a path so that others will not experience the same injustice. The light is coming.

The Light Is Coming

BillFilingWhen the Reverend Scott Fisher prayed with the crowd gathered in front of the Fairbanks Courthouse on the day the Alaska Innocence Project filed their court motion claiming the innocence of the Fairbanks Four, the hundreds gathered under a cold and gray sky fell silent and listened. It was that strange kind of silence – the absence of noise where sound should be. It was as if we all just knew that this prayer should be alone in the air, its path upward completely clear, the words free to travel unaccompanied into the heavens.

Just a few hours ago, it was night. Yet, the sun rose. Morning came. The light made its way over the horizon, and now we stand in the light. For sixteen years we have waited. For sixteen long years these young men in prison have waited, in darkness, with only faith that light would come. We call upon the soul of this young man John Hartman, who was taken by darkness, and promise him, morning is on its way. We remember that with only faith in the darkness we stood, we prayed, we waited for the light.

The preacher’s voice was soft. This was a lamentation, a laying down of grief. This was the painful recollection of so many prayers said and left unanswered. Yet in the long pause that followed these heavy words, hundreds of heads remained bowed. Everyone knew this prayer was not over. When he resumed it was in a voice of power, a proclamation.

But now, there is light on the horizon. We can see it, we feel it, and we know the light is coming. To those of you who have waited, with only your faith, who have feared and gone forward, who have fought for justice in a dark, dark world, let me assure you: THE LIGHT IS COMING. To those young men in their prison cells, fear not: THE LIGHT IS COMING. To those of you who have hidden in the darkness, kept yourself and your secrets there: THE LIGHT IS COMING. And it is time. Step into the light. Seek the light. Because it is seeking you, and soon there will be no dark place left to hide. We have walked through darkness these many miles and we have many miles left to travel, but there on the horizon we can see a glimpse of morning and we know THE LIGHT IS COMING.

courthousecrowdIt is hard to say when the clouds parted and the sun shone down on those people holding hands, heads bowed. But when we looked up, it was a blue-sky day. The summer found its way into the autumn, the sun touched everything, and the looming gray marble of the courthouse faded into the background, insignificant amongst the brilliant red and gold leaves on the trees and the blinding white sun shining off of the river. The clock tower and church bells rang out at once in a strange and serendipitous orchestra, and people broke out into song.

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Nuchalawoyya

The song was Nuchalawoyya, a song many hundreds and maybe thousands of years old, from the people and the place on the river that these wrongfully imprisoned men dream of returning to. A word that means in literal translation, where two rivers meet. But, as many words, loses meaning in a simple translation. The word is a place where rivers meet, a place where people from many places met. A place where, long ago, people discussed things like treaties and territories. A place of common ground, a destination, and now, a celebration. A song.

The song began with a small circle of four men. The men who were singing were boys once. Just kids in 1997. Theirs were the first voices to ring out that day, a powerful song from this small circle of four men. All of them were interrogated in this case. Each of these men, in their mid-thirties now, have carried with them these many years a burden we rarely discuss – the shame that came with this case. The shame of feeling and believing that if they had been stronger and louder; that if their voices had somehow been heard that their friends would not have been taken. They have walked with the guilt of survivors, never knowing why it was they were not taken. They have understood the grief of Eugene and George, who buckled under pressure and have had to live with the shame and the belief that if they had been stronger perhaps they would be free, their friends would be free, they would be there as men should be, at home to care for their families, and now, that perhaps the next victims of the men who killed Hartman would be alive and home as well. These men have carried with them a thousand shades of shame, the pain unique to those who spoke the truth and were not heard.

The list of names of the men who were given this shame as boys and who have carried the weight of it through the years grows shorter with the passage of time. Beside them in that circle was the space where others should have been. People who are gone now. Many of the young people who were interrogated, questioned, who testified in those dark years, who lived through a time when they spoke as strongly as they knew how and were not heard, have been buried. Some have died at their own hand. Yet, as these remaining men broke into song you could see some of the burden – a burden which will never leave completely – lighten.

This time they were heard, and their voices were joined by many others.

For far too long a time this case has been about darkness. This injustice has thrived in shadows and fed itself on secrets. Injustice draws strength from the evils of humanity – shame, fear, trickery, corruption, pride, denial.

That time is over.

For those of you who have information in this case, step into the light. The sun is on the horizon, morning is on its way, and if you don’t seek the light, it will find you. The light is coming.

For those who have walked with a heavy heart, who still carry the shame and grief and fear and pain, set it down. Let that darkness go. The light is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

*photo of Nuchalawoyya above is by “FairbanksMike” whose lovely pictures can be seen on Flickr

True Murderer Comes Forward – A Letter from William Holmes

story1We have a long tradition of letting people tell their own story.

Today, the Innocence Project walked into the courthouse and filed a motion for Post Conviction Release on behalf of George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease. These men have maintained their innocence for almost sixteen years, and today definitive evidence of their innocence has been made public.

This court motion contained a lot of information – testimony by experts that George’s boot did NOT match the wounds on the victim, proof that Arlo Olson lied, proof that it would be scientifically impossible for someone to have seen what he claimed. But, the most important thing it contained, in our view, is a story. A handwritten confession, by a man named William Z. Holmes who confesses in detail the murder of John Hartman.

We have said many times that we believe people can feel the truth, see it, sense it, recognize it. And that is why we believe so strongly in the power of truth told by those who hold it. We believe the best we can do to help any injustice is to make a space where people can tell their truth. There will be plenty of articles, news, updates, and headlines about this case today, we will let them fill their purpose, and fill ours.

With that in mind, below is the handwritten confession of William Z. Homes. We will let that stand alone for today. You can judge for yourselves if it is the truth. We believe it is.

We believe in redemption. That anyone can do all they are able to change themselves during their time upon this Earth and that no matter how dark or low a place life takes us to that we can still seek light. So, we publish this with a great sadness for the heartbreaking manner in which John Hartman died, but also a hope for the individuals who did kill him, and every single one of those who helped to hide the truth and further lies, that they may use this time to come forward and begin what must be a very long journey toward redemption.

This day could have never come without the faith, hope, and hard work of many, and we thank you all. Our journey to justice is far from over, but today we begin a walk down a new road.

This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

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The Most Famous Man In The World

hipo2One of the hardest things about attracting support for wrongful conviction is that it makes people uncomfortable. Stories of wrongful conviction are unsettling and full of things that human beings like to turn a blind eye to. Murder. Evil. Corruption. No one wants to think about innocent people persecuted and guilty men free. It makes us fear our neighbors and shakes our view of justice. No one finds comfort in considering that the world may be very different than it appears to be – that perhaps the people and institutions we have been led to believe are good and trustworthy are sometimes dark and corrupt. In general, people turn away from the troubles of others when they are afraid to turn toward them.

Wrongful conviction is also not familiar. It is easy to raise money for hungry children. Everyone can relate to the plight of a hungry child. It is fun to raise money for education. Nothing unsettles us about a bake sale for a field trip, or a car wash for new cheer leading uniforms. Wrongful conviction is a very important social issue, but one most people turn from in discomfort. You don’t see many wrongful conviction bakes sales and car washes. We would like to change that.

Through months and months of raising awareness about the case of the Fairbanks Four we have often wished for a way to make wrongful conviction familiar so that the general population could understand how terribly important it is and could relate. We even wished for a famous example of wrongful conviction or imprisonment…..more famous than Gandhi, more understood than even Martin Luther King. It just seemed like if there was a wrongfully convicted person whose story was well-known – whom billions believed absolutely was innocent, whose story was woven into the fabric of society – that perhaps people be more willing to take a stand on wrongful conviction. And then, we remembered someone. Guess who?

Here are a few hints:

  • 24.9 million people search his name on Google in an average month.
  • About 40% of the books printed in the history of the world are about him.
  • There are 7 billion people on the planet. It is estimated that greater than 6 billion of these people know his life story. 2.3 billion of them worship him.
  • 76% of Americans participate in a religions whose primary objective is to learn from this man’s life and lessons.
  • He was wrongfully convicted of a crime by a corrupt court.
  • He was found guilty, in part, with the false testimony of an associate of his who had some small thing to gain with the lie.
  • One of his closest friends denied knowing him to avoid being associated with the situation.
  • He was beaten, tortured, and executed.
  • He was then exonerated. He rose back up from his execution. All of this, according to the Bible, to teach the people on Earth. Lessons on judgement, kindness, compassion, and justice. Ultimately, to teach them that it is important not to turn away from suffering and injustice but to live a life that opposes it.

jesusThe most famous man to ever walk the Earth is Jesus Christ. He was also a wrongfully convicted man. His wrongful conviction is not an aside or interesting plot twist – it is the central event in the story. If a story that 76% of America studies and believes is literally a story of wrongful conviction, it is a fascinating hypocrisy that most of his modern-day followers turn in disgust when the same story plays out.

So, am I comparing the Fairbanks Four to Jesus? Yep. Isn’t that the point? That Jesus was only a human being, sent here to suffer through the worst trials and pains a human being can encounter? And wasn’t all of this suffering deliberate and intended to make the world and its people better able to live just and kind lives through the understanding of his life?

In his time, Jesus was simply a wrongfully convicted man. Most who witnessed his unfair trial stayed quiet or looked the other way. Much of the crowd cheered at his crucifixion.

Today, many of his jesustrialfollowers say things underneath articles about the Fairbanks Four case in the local Fairbanks Daily Newsminer like, “they had a trial, let them rot.” Or, “bypass Fairbanks if you are ever release,” or, “These men should be hung…scratch that, the electricity it would take to put them in a chair would be less expensive. They aren’t worth the rope it would take to hang them,” or, “I’m going to start my own website, ‘Fry the Fairbanks Four.” A recent one read, “I pray these men never see the light of day and suffer ten times more than the victim, in Jesus’ name.” Wow, I bet Jesus really dug that.

The examples are endless.

These people are statistically very likely to be self-identified Christians. As a matter of fact, 80% of Alaskans identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ.

The great tragedy of organized religion is its complete departure from the tenants on which it was founded. The great tragedy of humanity is that we almost always choose inaction when we encounter the kind of suffering that makes us uncomfortable.

Nearly every person in Fairbanks, Alaska who has taken the time to wish the Fairbanks Four dead, send death threats to their supporters, refuse to look at the facts, and insist that wrongful convictions are not real, also profess to believe that the most important story ever told was that of a wrongfully convicted man and that understanding it the key to heaven. How ironic. How typical. How sickening.

If the Fairbanks Four had been drug through the streets of Fairbanks, tortured, beaten, and crucified in 1997, much of the crowd would have been cheering. Most of the crowd would have been self-proclaimed followers of Jesus Christ literally cheering at a crucifixion.

jesusdeadThis post is not in any way meant to be an attack on religion. Many of our supporters are Christian people who DO see the importance of taking a stand against injustice. This post is, however, intended to call out the members of our community who show sickening racism, hate, ignorance, or an unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of wrongful conviction while worshiping a wrongfully convicted man. We hope you will take some time to think about that. We hope the church leaders who offer support in private but are afraid of offending their congregations by talking about wrongful conviction from the pulpit will consider that every single one of those people is coming to church to hear a story of wrongful conviction.

Maybe it’s time to tell a new one.

Maybe it’s time to talk to your church leaders, or seek church leaders who walk the walk and talk the talk.

We hope that this post reaches the 80% of the Fairbanks population who, apparently, should be very familiar and comfortable with the injustice of wrongful conviction. And the next time any of you want to condemn these men, or take no action, think for a moment how familiar your role in the story is. Anyone who professes faith in Jesus should be ready to acknowledge the existence, importance, and injustice of wrongful conviction.