Here in America times change, people change, customs change and issues change.
In the beginning of the 1960s when I began as a police reporter for the Alabama Journal in Montgomery, changes in just about every thing were coming fast and furious.
Because of the divisive issues within the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the increase in crime via illegal drugs, the authorities on all levels were initially overwhelmed.
Sometimes incapable of dealing with the sheer number of traditional crooks and murderers, the streets were now enforced by the younger and emotional law-breakers hell bent on stopping the killing of young Americans in ‘Nam.
And there were just as many young Americans caught up in the struggle to bring justice to minorities being denied their constitutional rights.
It was easy during that time to assume that America was going to “hell in a hand-basket.”
By 1965, I had moved to Birmingham to work as a court reporter for The Birmingham News, and there was this one morning when the lawyers at the federal court building were taking their coffee break when one lawyer said, “And did you hear that Lyndon Baines Johnson (he did not use the President’s name) is going to require that felony arrests be defended by a lawyer … every step of the way.”
“Good God Almighty,” said one middle-aged attorney, “there’s not enough of us to handle that many felony cases.”
And there was a great concern reflected in the conversation until an elderly attorney said, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! THEY’RE GOING TO PAY US.”
This did make a difference.
And soon after this change news came that during each arrest the suspect must be informed that he has the right to remain silent and that he has the right to have an attorney.
The police had no choice.
Suspects had to be informed, and if they were not informed there was a good chance the case would be thrown out.
“God almighty,” some one said, “we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket.”
Initially, the requirements were met with resistance, but the required procedures were established.
Police adjusted to what had to be done.
In the long run of things, changes in the justice system had to be made.
Times change, people change, customs change, laws change and issues change.
Even words change. At one point, the word issues changed to become a synonym for problems.
When you consider the crimes involved in the war against terrorism today — inside our borders — some serious changes might have to be made to preserve our system of justice.
And one change might have to do with how we define a religion.
Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org