Man, Richard Jewell Hit Home!
I love just about all Clint Eastwood movies, but Richard Jewell is in a class by itself. This one was personal. This one Clint Eastwood made for me. Only a handful of people in America know what it’s like to be Richard Jewell and unfortunately, I’m one of them. Mr. Eastwood got it right. Two thumbs up!
I rarely ever go to the movies. Nearly seven years after my acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I still have to be very cautious about where I go. A few years ago, a man took a shot at me and missed my head by inches. He will be in prison for another dozen years or so, but every time I see my name trend on Twitter, I am reminded there are people out there who would like to pick up where the assassin left off.
My gut reaction in watching Richard Jewell was sadness. The film reminded me just how much heartache an accusation this heinous puts a parent through. For those who don’t know the story, Richard found a suspicious backpack in Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. He alerted authorities to the backpack and helped clear the area.
Two people were killed when the bomb inside the backpack went off, but many more would have been killed if Richard had not acted on his suspicions. For a brief period, people called him a hero, but then the media and the FBI turned on him and accused him without evidence of being an attention-seeking security guard. They call it “trial by media,” and it is beyond horrible.
This movie hit home. I absolutely identified. Richard and I were both cop wannabes — or so the media told us. We were both gullible. We both believed law enforcement had our best interests at heart. We both believed reporters wanted the truth. We both believed everyone was basically good and then we both realized what fools we had been to believe all that.
As I sat there in the dark, my stomach in knots, I found myself wishing Richard was still alive so I could reach out and hug him and tell him, “Yes, Richard, you are a hero.”
I know as only a few others do how gut wrenching it is to be at the center of the storm like this. You can only imagine what people think of you. You worry that everyone thinks you are the monster the media created.
Emotionally, I struggled. I imposed a kind of house arrest on myself. I did not want to see people or be seen. I questioned everyone’s intentions, even those close to me. Yes, I was acquitted, but after the trial, when the head prosecutor Angela Corey was asked to sum me up in a word, she said “murderer.” I was devastated. In watching the movie, I was reminded of how my mother must have felt to hear this.
After the trial it took me years to regain my balance. At the time I was thinking if people want to look at me as a villain, I will be that villain, the hell with them all. Without the unconditional love of my parents I never would have pulled out of that spiral.
This is something else Richard and I had in common — a fierce, loving mother. Kathy Bates, who played Richard’s mom, gave a heart stopping performance. She is nominated for an Academy Award. She deserves to win.
One advantage I had over Richard was a father who loved me just as much as my mother did. One advantage we both had was a gladiator of an attorney who always had our back. For me, that was Don West. I am thankful Mark O’Mara took my case, but it was West who won my confidence. When you go through an ordeal as intense as the one Richard and I did, it is essential to have someone who totally believes in you.
Richard died at 44 of natural causes. I have got to believe the stress of it all shortened his life. He did not get the chance to see himself vindicated on screen. Yes, he was cleared before he died, but that story was buried. So many people who just read the headlines still remembered him as a glory-seeking loser.
The people who just read the headlines still think I stalked and murdered a little boy because he was black. They have no idea that Trayvon was a skilled street fighter, a half a foot taller than me, who attacked me out of nowhere as I was walking to my car.
I am grateful for the vindication that Joel Gilbert’s brilliant new film, The Trayvon Hoax, provides me. Joel may not be Clint Eastwood, but he is a truth teller of the first order. I am thankful too to all those people who stood by me when the world told them not to.
At the end of the day, Richard Jewell and I had something else in common — we knew who our real friends were.