Marcia’s law – There’s a Danger Here
“…there’s a danger here. These people are dangerous…”
~12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose
by: Marcia Prichason
High School freshmen are a querulous bunch; they are definite and confused, mature and childish, headstrong and gentle. And all the years I taught freshman English, I found that they were endowed with an innate sense of justice. They didn’t always behave that way, and frequently they treated each other with utter contempt and disdain. But, when asked to think critically in the classroom, they could discern what was morally right…even if they couldn’t define it.
That is why I enjoyed teaching 12 Angry Men. It was written in 1957 and presented before a television audience. In many ways, it was a story of its time, complete with an all-white male jury, a black and white screen, and men in suits. But, the story of a juvenile delinquent from a poor neighborhood accused of killing his own father never loses its appeal.
Most of the jurors have already decided the boy’s fate before even discussing it. They vote immediately upon entering the jury room, and eleven jurors find him guilty. Only one man refuses to go along with everybody else; not because he necessarily believes the kid is innocent; but rather he says, “It’s not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first” (12 Angry Men).
The entire play consists of that man, known only as Juror #8, talking, asking questions, and probing the others for factual evidence that will either convict the boy beyond a reasonable doubt or set him free. He seeks the truth. And with truth, there is justice.
The life of a 15 year old is at stake in this play, and students identify with him. They realize that people have different opinions and perspectives. And, they also understand that intolerance must never govern our actions. High School freshmen understand the dire consequences of living in a society in which some are treated less equal, and they express their anger openly at the characters in the play that perpetuate this philosophy.
When the boy is found “Not Guilty,” my students were always satisfied. They recognized that our legal system, with all its flaws, rests largely in the hands of the people who make those life and death decisions. They understood too that one person can make a difference. Juror #8 got to the truth, and justice was served.
As a society, we have moved forward a great deal since 1957. But, there still exists a great deal of prejudice in this country. And, while the face of bigotry may have changed, the ideology has not. The same prejudicial beliefs many of the jurors held are alive and well today. The people who believe LGBTQ individuals should not have equal rights are the modern-day version of the 11 jurors of 12 Angry Men. As in the play, they reveal themselves to be narrow-minded bigots.
And they are angry…these people who cling to their prejudices and try to inflict their bigotry on the rest of society. They feel that THEY are the victims. They demean the movement toward equality for LGBTQ individuals; they call it the “Gay Agenda.” Much like Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men who says, “You lousy bunch of bleeding hearts. You’re not going to intimidate me – I’m entitled to my opinion,” they express their contempt for those who seek open dialogue, honesty, and impartiality.
In the fiction of 12 Angry Men, only one man stands between a boy either losing his life or gaining his freedom. But in real life, we who care about truth, justice, and equality are the only barrier between either the expansion of our civil liberties, and their total annihilation.
It is up to each of us to ensure that, in this country, equality is the law. Even if we stand alone, even if we face the anger and contempt of others, even more so if we are bullied and battered, we must demand equality for all. If we do not, “there IS a danger here.” Our very democracy is at risk. And that, indeed, is very dangerous!
Don’t let their anger rule this country. Vote November 6th
…And I’m just a mom who loves her son…