As the killer was led from the courtroom last week, there was no epic roar of outrage from the gallery. As he shuffled down the hallway, only a few reporters made halfhearted attempts to glean some insight. As he stumbled (hindered by the back brace he wears), there were shrieks of neither comfort nor condemnation. There were no media outside on the courthouse steps to cover the massive crowds which had gathered to shout their disapproval at this terrible miscarriage of justice; truth be told, there was no massive crowd. The corporate media at the national level barely noticed the story, and mentions were passing at best.
So the killer goes to prison; and we all go on with the rest of our lives.
It has been two years since Jerome Ersland killed Antwun “Speedy” Parker. Now Ersland, having been found guilty of the charge of murder in the first degree, will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Suppress your urge to celebrate. Ersland isn’t some predatory monster, trolling the vast fields of innocent victims for a blood fix. He isn’t cracked-out vermin, blazing into some convenience store and leaving a pile of bodies in return for $50 and a six-pack. Ersland is a disabled war veteran who worked at the Reliable Pharmacy in Oklahoma City, Okla. A somewhat pudgy 59-year-old who would elicit nary a second glance from most of us, Ersland is hardly the stuff of crime stories, special reports and courtroom dramas.
On May 19, 2009, Ersland went from unassuming pharmacist to killer. Just before 6 p.m., 16-year-old Antwun and a 14-year-old accomplice rolled into the Reliable Pharmacy, waving guns and demanding cash and drugs. Ersland’s co-workers escaped through a back entrance. Ersland, unable to flee due to crippling disability, fought back. Ersland shot Antwun first, and then chased Antwun’s accomplice for a short time before returning to find Antwun was still alive. A terrified Ersland retrieved a second weapon and emptied it into Antwun, killing him.
Just less than a minute had passed since Antwun and his accomplice entered the store. The would-be robber Antwun was dead, and his accomplice was in the wind. A few days later, a crowd of Antwun’s acquaintances created a near-riot at the Reliable Pharmacy, hurling racist insults at Ersland while he worked behind the same counter at which he was standing when Antwun had pointed a gun at him. Then, the local District Attorney decided to charge Ersland with murder in the first degree, based on the video footage of Ersland dispatching Antwun with the second volley.
Ersland, who put his life on the line for a nation that rarely offers its veterans the gratitude they deserve, was facing not only the incomprehensible wrath of the very community which unleashed filth like Antwun upon him, but also the full weight of the justice system.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People didn’t race to Oklahoma City to stand behind Ersland in his time of need. Ben and Jerry’s™ didn’t donate a portion of its socially conscious ice cream sales to his defense fund. ESPN didn’t show up with a camera crew to produce a tenderhearted documentary short on Ersland’s battle for justice. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project and Amnesty International were all conspicuously absent. There was no benefit rock concert, no exhortation from a cultural icon, no full-page ad in The New York Times signed by all the proper Hollywood stars.
There are no tales of Ersland harboring a deep-seated animus toward black people and no accounts of his membership in a hate group. Ersland is merely a man who left behind the life in which death shadows each step, only to discover death had followed him home. Pressed against the thin pane which separates the here-and-now from the hereafter, Ersland chose to live — even if that meant taking the life of the person who threatened his. For the crimes of refusing to be another victim, refusing to be the lead story on the evening news and refusing to give up his life to one of the ticks who feed ravenously on the blood of society, Ersland has been cast out forever.
So the victim goes to jail, and we all go on with the rest of our lives.