Friday, September 21, 2007

The Jack Bull and the Imperative of Justice

I just watched The Jack Bull starring John Cusack. It's rated "R" but there are very few bad words, no sex, minimal violence and no gratuitous gore.

The HBO movie (inspired by true events) is built around a Wyoming rancher named Myrl Redding who has been treated unjustly by one of his very wealthy neighbors, Henry Ballard. The story takes place in the days leading up to Wyoming statehood (1890), a time and a place where law enforcement was sparse and sometimes men had to take matters into their own hands.

Myrl lives near a town called Rawlins, and Rawlins' judge is in cahoots with Ballard. When Myrl brings his petition for redress of grievance to Wilkins, his petition is ignored.

Myrl is a man who believes in justice. When those in charge of upholding the law fail him, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He forms a posse and goes after Ballard. His bold move creates havoc in Myrl's region of the soon-to-be-state, so much havoc that the U.S. Army is sent out after him. In his quest for justice, people die and property gets destroyed. The story ends with a courtroom trial, and a law-loving, ethical judge named Tolliver, played deftly by John Goodman.

A great line delivered by Tolliver highlights the importance of law and order:

"What's relevant here is the law, I judge cases on law. Law's the king with me, because if it wasn't, this territory, even if it becomes a state, wouldn't be fit for a prairie dog."

While the story on the surface is about one man's quest for justice, on a deeper level it is an exploration of the need for law and order in community. The only reason that Myrl became a vigilante is because the law failed to show up when it should have.

The film also explores the consequences of corruption in government. Most people have an inward sense of fairness. And most are patient and tolerant to a point. But when everyday people are consistently mistreated by those charged with enforcing the law, when their concerns are pushed aside and ignored, and their voice, their rights, no longer matter, eventually bad things begin to happen.

Myrl speaks his mind:

"I took the law into my own hands; I did it because there was none in Rawlins. I wrote my own law, but I didn't create it. In my mind, that law was there before we were born."

As I look out across my community, both witnessing and participating in a grass roots movement to persuade our local government leaders to enforce the law regarding illegal aliens, I see a very clear parallel to the The Jack Bull story unfolding right before us in plain view. Americans feel much like Myrl Redding. Our leaders have ignored and neglected us, the everyday Joe. Many of them have lined their pockets with filthy lucre from big business. Many of them can think only of their own political power,their desire to hold on to it, and the next election.

I think of the "Minutemen," everyday Americans who have taken up posts along the southern border of our nation, trying to do what our government has failed to do. And then our president calls them "vigilantes!" In his mind, perhaps, but in reality they are actually doing his job.

Although right now on the surface, things are relatively calm, it is what is boiling just beneath the surface that can lead to real trouble. Our situation with hundreds of thousands illegally crossing our border every year and our federal government doing little or nothing about it has the potential of exploding at any moment because justice has failed us.

Here in Prince William and Manassas, we are no longer rolling over and playing dead. We have begun to organize, to speak, and to fight back. Our local leaders, with a few exceptions, have responded well. It is my hope that our state and national leaders will also begin to get the message.

If they don't, and I am by no means advocating this or even predicting it, vigilante justice could potentially break out before true justice finally triumphs.

Myrl also said:

"The law will take care of Ballard. And if the law doesn't take care of him, I'm gonna take care of him. One way or the other, there's gonna be justice. I WILL have it."

Myrl Redding was wronged. We too have been wronged. Like Myrl, our cries for justice have been ignored. Let us pray that justice truly begins to get done by the people we have elected on a national level, before we are tempted to even think about moving toward a Myrl Redding type of solution.


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