This is an opinion column.
There are too many Marshae Joneses out there.
Too many Ebony Jemisons, too.
Too many young people embroiled in circumstances and conditions that do not absolve, but contribute to their poor decisions, fateful decisions.
Sometimes deadly decisions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jones and Jemison, 26, most of us know now, became embroiled in fisticuffs one afternoon last December in a senseless dispute over a man. A man who was a co-worker of the two women at a charcoal plant in west Jefferson County.
A man who was the father of the 5-month-old unborn child in Jones’ womb.
Now, that child’s ashes sit inside an urn on a shelf at the great-grandmother’s home. Her name is Marlaysia. She died after her mother was shot by Jemison in the midst of the dispute.
An Alabama law, one similarly on the books in many other states, allows for charges to be filed against anyone if a death occurs while they are committing a crime.
In April, a Jefferson County Bessemer Cuttoff grand jury decided that Jones, who has a six-year-old daughter, should be charged with the manslaughter of her unborn child. She was indicted and arrested last month. If convicted, Jones could have faced 20 years in prison. (Jemison was deemed by that same grand jury to do be defending herself…)
Thankfully, common sense prevailed in a system where it is too often nowhere to be found, particularly when it comes to the treatment of African Americans—a justice system too often rife with injustice.
Compassion and empathy prevailed where there is usually little to none.
Faith stood tall where it is typically extinguished.
It stood, visibly but silently, behind Jefferson County Bessemer County District Attorney Lynniece Washington, the first elected African-American DA in our state, on Wednesday afternoon as she announced her decision to dismiss the charge against Jones.
It stood in six men of faith, all respected pillars of a community whose faith is tested each day They were: Pastor Dr. George Matthews of New Life Interfaith Ministries, Inc.: Pastor Dr. Victor Harkins of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist: Pastor Dr. Reginald Calvert of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist: Pastor Dr. William H. Walker, New Bethlehem Baptist; and Pastor Alfonso January of Old St. Paul Missionary Baptist.
On Sunday, Washington stood before a predominantly black audience at the Boutwell Auditorium. She had been out of the country when we first learned of Jones indictment, returning to an epic firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at her office. Much of it directed at her.
She was emphatic and unapologetic.
“I am a black woman in black skin,” she declared, “So, don’t tell me how I don’t appreciate the sensitivity of a woman and the rights of women.”
Three days later, amid the bowels of Tenth Judicial Circuit-Bessemer Justice Center where her office is located, standing before a wall emblazoned with her name, Washington was subtle, but equally emphatic and still unapologetic.
She introduced the six men behind her but did not say why they were there.
She did not need to.
They were there to gird her, to show without shame the role faith plays in her life, in her decisions.
In this decision.
Here is our full coverage of Marshae Jones
Washington did not stray from the law in a brief statement.
“The issue before us…
”.. the facts of this case and the applicable law…”
Prosecution, she ultimately said, “is not in the best interest of justice.”
And the men did not utter a word.
They did not need to.
They were there, too, because they know there are too many Marshae Joneses out here, too many Ebony Jemisons.
Too many others in their communities making poor, fateful and, too often, deadly decisions.
They were there because they know it has to stop.
A voice for what’s right and wrong in Birmingham, Alabama (and beyond), Roy’s column appears in The Birmingham News and AL.com, as well as in the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/roysj