The other day I was prompted with the question which ought to be valued more, justice or mercy. As two theories, I really have no idea how I would answer, but in the case of James Malecek, without hesitation I choose mercy.
On July 4th, Independence Day, near an idyllic lakeside community in Indiana, 19-year-old and 16-year-old Korean adoptees James Malecek and his little sister were attending a teenage beach party. Individuals at the party were harassing the sister, telling her she should not be wearing the red, white, and blue patriotic bandanna she had on because she wasn’t “American” enough.
Her brother James rushed to her defense and a fight broke out. 17-year-old Kevin Kennelly, Jr. stepped in attempting to break up the fight and got caught in the crossfire. One of Malecek’s punches landed squarely on Kennelly’s head. Kennelly suffered blunt force trauma and died 2 days later.
That’s one version of the story. Other versions leave out the hate speech altogether, though I am inclined to believe it happened and is the motive behind Malecek’s violence. Still other sources say it was a fight that broke out directly between Malecek and Kennelly. This seems unlikely since all character references of the two young men reflect polite, religious, even-tempered gentlemen who aren’t the types to brawl. What really happened is still uncertain. What is certain is that James Malecek turned himself in after the incident and is now being charged with manslaughter.
Mainstream media, unsurprisingly, is focusing on the “teenage drunken brawl” aspect of the story. I, on the other hand, totally zeroed in on the racism that incited Malecek. Someone said to his sister what?! She’s not American enough to be wearing red, white, and blue on July 4th because she’s a Korean adoptee?! Which young man would you admire more– the brother who acquiesces, joins the laughter, then walks away, or the brother who punches the lights out of the racist who is harassing his sister with hate speech?
Will our justice system, the one written and enforced by white men, give any weight to what really caused this tragedy? Will Malecek’s sucker punch be seen as a justified defense had it landed on the person who uttered the hate speech? Can the argument that his reaction was not reckless or negligent absolve him, that hate speech constitutes use of unlawful force wielded against the Maleceks and therefore a form of self-defense such as a sucker punch would be justified? Or are we going with the colorblind attitude and sticking to the teenage drunken brawl motif, in which case Malecek surely will be shit out of his luck and get convicted because that is the artificial justice we live under?
It seems the only chance at reprieve James Malecek will have here is not from justice, but from mercy. So I hope and I pray for a merciful jury.