When I was a freshman in small Michigan liberal arts college I asked a man where he was from. He said from outside of Benton Harbor. Where was that, I asked? He described the town in most negative terms and said, “if a bird flew from here directly west to Lake Michigan, and dropped a bomb just before the lake, that’s Benton Harbor.” Over the years I learned more about Benton Harbor and its affluent sister city across the bridge, St. Joseph.
I was moved to read Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship by Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins with Mark Tabb because it was about Benton Harbor and a Michigan story.
Benton Harbor was once was a booming port town until the 1960s when manufacturing jobs disappeared and the white population moved across the river to St. Joseph. It has suffered forty years of racial tension, high unemployment, and the decay of city services and infrastructure. The murder rate per capita is one of the highest in the United States and drugs are rampant.
As in African American communities across the nation, the push to be tough on crime resulted in aggressive police tactics. Officer Andrew Collins yearned for recognition and success and became legendary for his narcotics related arrest rates and convictions. When he took short cuts and illegally manipulated evidence he justified it as part of putting away the bad guys. When he skimmed money off confiscated drug money, it was his just due for working for so little money.
Jameel McGee tried to keep away from drugs and criminal activities but was convicted for a crime he did not commit as a teenager. And then one day he asked a stranger to give him a ride to the store and his life changed forever. The police found drugs in the car and the stranger set Jameel up for the crime. The policeman who arrested him was Andrew, who manipulated evidence to ensure a conviction.
Convicted is the story of how these two men came to this fatal meeting, how it changed their lives, and how they each turned to faith and God. It is a story of how forgiveness is the first step in reconciliation and new life.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The book is presented with first-hand stories by both Andrew and Jameel, which gives an immediacy and authenticity to the story. Jameel insists on his innocence, and Andrew professes that his using ‘short cuts’ was part of his wanting to do good by ensuring bad people were off the street. They both had to come to terms with their personal responsibility for their fate and to stop blaming others.
Jameel turns to God to help him let go of his murderous anger. Andrew turns to faith to find forgiveness.
Ten years after Andrew arrested Jameel they meet again. They must decide between vengeance and hate, or forgiveness and healing.
Convicted is an inspirational biography about Christian redemption. But the basic lessons shared are important and universal, applicable even for those outside of a faith community. Don’t travel the easy path, Don't justify your errors and choices. Anger corrupts. Admit your failings and ask for forgiveness from those you have harmed. Put aside hate and vengeance in order to grow into health.
He has told you, O man, what is good;And what does the Lord require of youBut to do justice, to love kindness,And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
America has created a police culture that corrupted Andrew, as I read about in I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and the poverty that causes crime as I read about in Michelle Kuo’s Reading with Patrick. For people of faith, it is clear that we are called to do justice and to forgive and to be kind.
There are many ways of telling the stories that we need to hear. Perhaps Convicted will reach people who would not otherwise read about the issues of institutional racism, the failure of the police and justice system, and the poverty that fuels crime.
I received a free book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship
Jameel Zookie McGee & Andrew Collins & Mark Tabb
Publication Date: Sep 19, 2017