Confession time: I really really did not want to read this book. Not because I didn’t think it would be good…but because I was afraid of what I would see in myself if I did.
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Convicted is the story of a crooked cop with a God complex and an innocent black man who ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Officer Andrew Collins had wanted to be a police officer since the day that his stepdad beat up his mom, and the responding officer let him ride in the patrol car and work the siren. When he joined the Benton Harbor, MI police force in 2003, it was with the goal of being the “best cop” that the town had ever seen. In just under two years, he established himself as one of the most aggressive narcotics officers on the force, bragging that he “could tell if someone had drugs on them just by looking at them.” Given that Benton Harbor had a 25% unemployment rate at the time and some of the highest drug activity in the state, Collins claims weren’t nearly as impressive as they sounded. In his words, “On some of the streets I patrolled, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a drug house or someone with drugs in their pockets.”
On February 8, 2006, Jameel McGee was looking forward to opening his own car wash and owning his own business. He was spending the day at his grandmother’s house playing video games with a bunch of people when his ex-girlfriend called and said she was bringing his baby son over to meet him. Jameel was excited–he had never seen the baby and was looking forward to being a dad. He asked if anyone could run him to the store to get milk and diapers for the baby, and a friend of his cousin named “Will” volunteered.
When they got to the store, Jameel went inside to get what he needed, while Will stayed in the truck. A few minutes later, Jameel came out of the store to find the truck surrounded by cops. They had been tipped off that “Ox”–a well-known dealer–was going to be there, and Officer Collins took one look at Jameel and assumed that he had found his man. Although it soon became clear that they had the wrong guy, Collins had become “the best” by falsifying records to make things go his way…and before Jameel McGee knew what was happening, he was facing 10 years in federal prison.
This book made me angry. Really angry at Officer Collins for being a crooked cop. Police are sworn to “serve and protect.” Their job is to uphold the law and to act fairly and justly in all situations. This man was tarnishing the name of police officers everywhere in his quest to be the “biggest and best.” One of our dearest friends is a police officer. He is one of the most honest, upright men I know. He was my daughters first crush–both of them–and he is my little guy’s hero. When I was growing up, policemen were there to help–it was understood that if you were lost or needed help, you could find a policeman and everything would be OK.
But…you see…I’m white. I’m a part of the “majority race.” Never, in my wildest dreams, did I realize that not all parents could tell their children to find a policeman when they were in trouble. I didn’t know that there was another side to the story.
Our family is unique, in that we are a multi-racial, multi-cultural family. My youngest son is Latino–adopted from Ecuador. He is a beautiful boy–all coffee-colored and smiles. His jet black hair and eyes are amazing. He is sweet and kind and caring, and because of the color of his skin…
He has a different story than the one I grew up with.
My nieces and nephews are bi-racial. They are beautiful people. Their dad is African American. He and his family live life loud. They are exuberant, joyful…if they are “in the house” you can be sure there’s a party happening! Their mom is my husband’s sister. We dropped the “in-law” and now we are just sisters. She’s beautiful and smart and kind and caring and she loves her babies and her grandbabies fiercely.
They have a different story than the one I grew up with.
My anger with Officer Collins took on a whole new dimension when I put my boys into the picture. Imagining my sweet son arrested for the crime just because he “looked the part.” Seeing my “smart, successful, college-educated-good-son-good-husband-good-father” nephew being arrested and framed for something he didn’t do just because of the color of his skin. Picturing my sweet great-nephew…my cuddly, joyful, snuggly baby boy…being under suspicion every day of his life, just because his heritage is more colorful than mine.
Officer Collins eventually ends up getting caught and spending almost two years in federal prison. Jameel was released once it came to light that his entire conviction was based upon lies. His record was expunged, which theoretically meant that “what happened never happened.” This sounds good on paper, but when you start applying for jobs and there is a four-year gap in your employment, your potential employers want to know where you were. And “prison” is never the right answer, even if you really were innocent.
In a story that only the Lord could orchestrate, Andrew Collins ends up working for a job-placement ministry in Benton Harbor…and Jameel McGee ends up working for him. Two men whose stories intersected in the most awful of ways now have to learn to work together. And in an ending only God could write…they ask for and offer forgiveness…and become friends. Good friends.
Confession time…I’m really really glad I read this book. But I definitely didn’t like what it taught me about myself. I have so much to learn.
Convicted will be released tomorrow. You can get a copy here. Please. Please read this book. Please read it through the lens of “that’s not my story.” And then start listening. Because if, like me, your lineage includes a “whole bunch of white people”…you have much to be proud of…and much more to learn.