Should ex-convicts be city council members?
I suppose my gut reflex to that question would be no. Hell no, as a matter of fact.
If somebody served time behind bars, especially for a crime as serious as murder, then what kind of sense does it make allowing that person to represent our city? In a city like Detroit, where crime is once again beginning to careen out of control, where youngsters are once again solving disputes with firearms, and where Mayor Dave Bing even says the situation is so volatile that it is as potentially explosive as it was during the 1967 riots, then do we really need an ex-con telling us the best way to handle our business?
Well, maybe so.
Raphael Johnson is one of the 18 City Council candidates who made the cut on Aug. 4, winnowing down the field from more than 160. So somebody obviously feels the man deserves a chance. But it’s not the fact that he made it this far in such a crowded – and strong – field, that got my attention. What weighs on my mind is what this brother has done with his life since his release, which is twice as much as most of us who may never have gotten much more than a speeding ticket.
Whereas those of us who have managed to steer clear of a jail cell may feel satisfied in the knowledge that we have lived our lives as upstanding citizens (nothing at all wrong with that, but is it enough?) Raphael Johnson has dedicated his life to saving the lives of Detroit’s young people. Kids – and entire neighborhoods – that many of us would run from as fast as our little legs would take us are where Raphael spends the majority of his time.
Raphael knows about the crime problem – what causes it, who, and why – in more intimate detail than most of us ever will. And he’s on the front lines trying to solve it. What else is representing the people about other than putting your words and beliefs into action and going to war for the people? Sure, maybe Raphael doesn’t know as much about budgets as he needs to, and I’m sure there may be some other areas where he could use help. After all, working in government isn’t the same as working in the streets.
But what this city needs right now are people who care so passionately about Detroit that they are willing to give it their absolute total devotion. And here is someone who isn’t just promising that but who is doing that. Given the antics of the soon-to-be-thank-God-they’re-gone council members who are on their way out the door, I think it’s safe to say that the absence of a prison record is simply not qualification enough.
I know the risk of the image, and of the jokes come late-night comics may even make. Like we haven’t been there before. But we’re really no longer in a place where we can afford to worry about what ‘folks might say’. Because the folks who really care about this city ought to know that we have to do a few things differently this time around, and that means looking for assistance in some different kinds of places.
The crime that Raphael Johnson committed in 1992 was a terrible one, and nobody knows that more than Raphael Johnson. But nobody has worked harder at paying for that crime than Raphael Johnson. Because technically speaking, Raphael’s so-called debt to society was paid the minute he walked out of his prison cell where he spent 12 years for second degree murder. All he needed to do was get a job and keep his nose clean.
Except that in his soul Raphael knew that couldn’t possibly be enough for taking a man’s life. And so he has made his mission to help save the community that he harmed 17 years ago.
Blessings can come from some of the strangest places…
SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @ The “D” Spot Redeux