“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke
by Carl Josehart
The court was hushed as he walked in. It was a silence that came from a respect for the place in which the people sat. A court of law equipped with all of the symbols that had given the defendant a feeling of security, patriotism and pride in his country as he was growing up. He looked at the flag and thought of the years in school when he had pledged his allegiance to his flag and his country never once thinking to ask for the country’s pledge in return – thinking that the pledge was implicitly there.
Looking at the deeply lined face and graying hair of the judge in his black robe he saw the face of a solemn and serious man but grown hard from years of seeing and hearing what a judge sees and hears from the bench. The cold indifference belied that he had long since relinquished seeing the defendants who came before him as individuals. He had surrendered his struggle with the law, its intent, and his youthful yearning to play a role in creating a fair and just society. Now he presided over his court with a comfort that came with years of practice and an efficiency born of a verbatim knowledge of enough precedents to mete out sentences that always held to the letter of the law but rarely its spirit.
The prosecuting attorney by contrast looked nervous. Repeatedly wiping sweat off his young brow with a handkerchief in a courtroom that was not hot. The defendant thought to himself that this must be his first witch-hunt almost felt sorry for him. Then, remembering the seriousness of the consequences if he were found guilty, decided he had no reason to feel sorry for him. Still, there was something about the way he kept looking at the defendant. Something about the way he carried himself that almost suggested…no, it couldn’t be, surely a witch, even in disguise, would never be a part of a with-hunt.
Time seemed almost frozen in the courtroom as men in crisply pressed three piece suits, starched shirts and expensive silk ties argued with each other in a language and style that was unusual and almost incomprehensible to the defendant. One thing was clear, his life, career, and happiness somehow hung in the balance to be decided by this ritualistic ceremony.
When it was his turn to be questioned, he took the stand, placed his shaking hand on a well-worn bible and swore by a god that he did not believe in that he would tell the truth and was seated. The nervous prosecuting attorney approached him in an almost apologetic manner and began to ask questions. The prosecuting attorney had the practiced style and incisive mind of one who had gone to the finest schools and had had all the right jobs and certainly had made law review. The defendant answered the questions quickly and honestly. Because he did not believe that his “crime” was a crime, he could not conceive of a defense. As the prosecuting attorney piled evidence upon evidence, substantiated fact upon substantiated fact he simultaneously became more and more nervous needing to wipe sweat off his brow at an ever-increasing rate. Coughing and clearing his throat, his gaze returned again and again to the defendant’s eyes burning with a rage that seemed to cry out to him, “Don’t make this so easy…fight me…fight for yourself, why won’t you defend yourself?”
It was then that the defendant realized that he had been right; the prosecuting attorney was a witch in disguise – hiding in plane sight. His brother was burning him at the stake to buy a false sense of security that comes from “passing” – a ransom paid to live another day.
When the jury shuffled back into the court with their verdict it was no surprise that they found the defendant guilty. The prosecuting attorney had done a thorough job and with an insider’s knowledge had known all the right questions to ask. When the prisoner was escorted out of the courtroom there was no family or friends to weep for him; they had long since abandoned him in shame. Out of the corner of his eye though he saw the prosecuting attorney, his face pale, and with the expression of one that is seeing a ghost, look over to him with eyes that pleaded to know why he had not fought.
As the guards led the prisoner away he jerked himself to a halt in front of the prosecuting attorney, locked eyes and calmly addressed the unspoken question, “The question you should be asking yourself is not why I did not fight, but rather why you did not fight.”
With that, the guards hurried the prisoner away and the prosecuting attorney ran to the restroom to become violently ill. Retching over the toilet, the cold porcelain toilet bowl did nothing to stop the throbbing in his head as the prisoner’s words echoed over and over on an infinite loop.