“And Justice for Some” Parallels Today’s Racial Environment

The Coterie production of “And Justice for Some: The Freedom Trial of Anthony Burns” starkly reminded me that history, if ignored, repeats itself.

 
The play, written by Wendy Lement and Bethany Dukanin, accounts the 1858 trial of escaped slave Anthony Burns. The trial helped set the political atmosphere that would abolish the Fugitive Slave Act and lead to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

 

Courtesy of http://thecoterie.org/

Courtesy of http://thecoterie.org/

 
After escaping his former master’s plantation, Anthony Burns (Edwin Brown III) has created a new life for himself in Boston, Massachusetts. However, his new paradise isn’t long lived. A year after his escape, he is captured under the Fugitive Slave Act, a mandate that escaped slaves must be returned to their owners.

 
Col. Charles Suttle claims that Burns escaped from his service and must be returned immediately. Thus, the black man who has made a life for himself away from slavery is held in jail, awaiting a trial that will determine his freedom. The judge over the case was Judge Loring (Maya Jackson). Considering the facts of the case, especially since Burns had earlier referred to Suttle as “Master” Loring ruled that Burns was the escaped slave and would be returned to Virginia.

 

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Courtesy of http://thecoterie.org/

 
Near the close of the play, right before he is to leave for Virginia, Anthony stands before the audience.
“Why did you not exact God’s law on the man who stole me from my mother’s arms?” he asked us. “Why did you not execute god’s law in favor of the innocent?” Although we were merely the audience, it reminded me that, as citizens, we have a responsibility to stand for what is right and denounce what is wrong. Judge Loring, who was later removed from his position because of his decision in the trial, claims that he was simply following the law, absolving himself from personal judgement.

 

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Today, police brutality against black people is justified. The prison system, in which 60 percent of the population is black, is one of America’s largest exports. Similar to America before emancipation, the reality of systematic racism today is largely ignored. This play serves to remind everyone that we are the law. Our attitudes decide what is right and what is wrong. We ultimately decide which lives deserve justice, and which ones do not.

 
“And Justice for Some: The Freedom Trial of Anthony Burns” will show at the Coterie though Feb. 21. Visit http://thecoterie.org/ for more information.

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