Reviewing Good Kids, Bad City

Kyle Swenson’s Good Kids, Bad City is one of those books I read knowing it will infuriate me. I read it because I can’t think about this kind of injustice and racism enough. As a lawyer, I want so badly to respect the law. As someone who has learned enough to realize people enforcing, prosecuting, and judging the law as well as the law itself are too often not worth respecting, I can’t stop being disappointed. Far too often the “justice system” is really the injustice system. Way more often than many white people want to admit the reason the “justice system” becomes the injustice system is the color of the defendant’s skin.

Good Kids, Bad City is about the wrongful murder convictions of Wiley and Ronny Bridgeman, and Rickey Jackson. Ronny Bridgeman spent 27 years in custody. Wiley Bridgeman and Rickey Jackson spent nearly 40 years in custody. None of them had anything to do with the murder they were convicted of committing.

Good Kids, Bad City walks us through the “evidence” that should have embarrassed everyone involved. The supposed eyewitness, who actually saw nothing, was a 12-year-old boy named Ed Vernon. There was no physical evidence. There was an actual eyewitness who testified the Bridgeman brothers and Rickey Jackson weren’t involved. Several leads were ignored.

Eventually, after spending decades drowning his shame in drugs, Vernon was convinced to tell the truth. When he was 12, the cops threatened to jail his parents if he didn’t agree with the statement they wrote.

Given the unrealistic, unjustifiable faith many Americans still have in our injustice system, it’s obvious too many people don’t know stories like Good Kids, Bad City. Perhaps worse is the reality that many who know stories like Good Kids, Bad City, desperately want to dismiss them as unique.

I read Good Kids, Bad City, because I don’t want to become complacent. I don’t want to stop considering how unjust our injustice system is to many–especially people of color.

If you read Good Kids, Bad City, remember it’s not as isolated an occurrence as so many want you to believe.

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