Jean Valjeans of America

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is a fictional character and the protagonist of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Miserables. Hugo depicts the character's 19-year-long struggle to lead a normal life after serving a prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his sister's children during a time of economic depression and various attempts to escape from prison. | Photo: Archives | Hugh Jackman, Jean Valjean, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo,

We are better than this

If we begin to look at all life as a gift, all life that is special, all life that has a right to be free, then perhaps we can begin a dialogue of how we in America can be better. How can Americans be better to their fellow Americans? How can we be respectful towards each other? How can we accept that we may have our differences, but we all share the common thread of the right to live our best lives, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven children and went to prison for nineteen years. The hero of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is played out every evening on Broadway at The Imperial Theatre and theaters and films around the world. Every person who reads the book, or sees the play or a film version is moved and appalled by the injustice. Yet, every day, across America men and women are living the injustice Jean Valjean lived in a novel first published in 1862. For many, they are paying a price even Victor Hugo did not pen, for he gave Jean Valjean a life after prison. Some are paying the ultimate price, loss of life.

In a country that was founded on the spirit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what America woke up to on the morning of Wednesday April 6 was a clear message that there are parts of this country that are clearly falling short and we have proven so many times that we can do and be so much better.

On April 6, America learned about the heinous video of Walter Scott being shot in the back by a police officer. While many speculated about why Walter Scott was running away, one suggestion was that he did not have the money to pay child support for his four children and he was afraid he would have to go to jail. On July 17, Eric Garner was killed because he was selling cigarettes illegally on the street to make a living to put food on the table for his children.

The discussion that this is a part of the continuing narrative of race in America has escalated and the video of Walter Scott's death has united all of us. This latest video visually recorded what most people could not wrap their brains around, a police officer's cold blooded killing of an unarmed man. The man the police officer is hired to defend and protect, to make feel safe in his own community, even when that citizen, himself may fall short. The police officer is trained to be at a higher standard and Officer Michael Slager betrayed that standard.

We are united that this is a heinous act. We are united that the man who shot an unarmed man did not honor the uniform he was trusted to wear. We are united that he deserves to be arrested and face a jury of his peers.

The conversation of the racial problems between African Americans and European American Police Officers or some would argue all Police Officers, must be discussed and solved, but this conversation must also include that everybody's life matters. Everybody deserves to have the best America has to offer, everybody deserves the right to be treated with respect.

Walter Scott and Eric Garner have paid the ultimate price for committing a petty crime, and sadly, there are men and women, across racial lines, across America, who are being victimized by the Michael T. Slagers of the world. He is an example of the many people who are betraying the standards this country holds dear.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono

A poster for "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is a song written and composed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which was released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. It was the seventh single release by Lennon outside of his work with The Beatles. | Photo: 1969 Getty |
For many the government of "We The People" has become the government of "Control and Exploit." They all have one thing in common, they are financially vulnerable.

On March 22, John Oliver featured a very poignant, and in John Oliver's genius style, witty segment about the government using a petty crime to destroy a life. He featured men and women of all ages, all skin tones and all cultures committing a minor violation like a traffic ticket and spending the rest of their lives, and in some cases going to jail, to pay the fine.

Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven children and went to prison for nineteen years. He was fiction. Walter Scott shot and killed, tail light broken, Eric Garner killed by a choke hold, selling loose cigarettes on the street, Harriet Cleveland a grandmother, sent to jail because her minimum wage income could not keep up with the fines associated with her traffic ticket, Tom Barrett, a veteran who stole a $2 can of beer, has been put in jail three times over a $2 can of beer, because he could not pay the fine.

We The People of the United States of America live under a Constitution whose Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights prohibits government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this includes both the state and federal governments. We can do better.

How can we give to each other and help each other when there is not a crisis staring us in the face? How can we seek out leaders who will no longer divide, but unite us? Can you for a moment say to yourself what John Lennon wrote about in his beautiful song Imagine?

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Then take a moment and dream, you just may surprise yourself, and then please share your ideas and suggestions here and with the world.

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Updated May 22, 2018 6:38 PM UTC | More details


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