Texas Senator Rodney Ellis has been fighting the good fight for years on ensuring that the innocent are not convicted and sent to prison. And when the system fails and the innocent are convicted, Ellis fights to ensure that the errors are corrected, and that lessons are learned.
Earlier this week on the floor of the Senate, Ellis introduced several men, later found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, who had spent more than a collective 200 years in prison.
It escaped no one’s attention that all but one of the men is African-American. It was a moment which made all but the most hard-assed in the Senate stop and think.
But not everybody. Related legislation currently pending in the Senate on this subject is meeting with resistance. Why, I can’t imagine, but the shortcomings in our society, as reflected in our justice system, are obvious, highlighted here as only The Onion can.
As ridiculous as the parody is, it’s one of those “laugh to keep from crying” situations, which through humor shines a light on a very real and serious problem. That day in the Senate, Ellis talked about one man who was innocently convicted who was not present. The man couldn’t make it - his death while in prison made that impossible.
We all know that if you’re a conservative Republican legislator, you’re supposed to be tough on crime, even if it’s not a personal priority for you. We get it. Your failure to do so would result in a backlash against you from your Republican primary voters.
So fine, be tough on crime - but also realize that in the case of those sent to prison for crimes they did not commit, the real crime was committed by the State of Texas, and the real victims are sitting in jail.
And that combined 200 years those innocent men spent in prison? That’s longer than the combined service in the Texas Senate of Senators Wentworth, Shapleigh, West, Gallegos, Carona, Duncan, Fraser, Shapiro, Ogden, Jackson, Van de Putte, Estes, Averitt, Hinojosa, Deuell, Williams, Eltife, Seliger, Uresti, Hegar, Nichols, Patrick, Watson, Huffman, and Davis.
Those Senators worked hard to get where they are. Those innocent men worked harder, and longer, to get out of where we put them.