A Time to Kill

The 1996 film A Time to Kill is about Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), a heartbroken black man whose ten-year-old daughter was brutally beaten and raped by two white supremacists.

As the two men arrive at court for their trial, Hailey takes the law into his own hands and shoots and kills them.

He hires Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a white rookie lawyer to defend him, but getting him acquitted in the small segregated town of Canton, Mississippi seems unlikely.

The chain of events following the death of the two rapists and the subsequent trial of Hailey is fraught with racial tension and revenge by the Ku Klux Klan.

I will never forget Brigance’s closing argument because it profoundly affected me in a way I did not expect.

And it forever changed the way I thought about a lot of things.

You might be asking, how is that possible?

Here is what he said:

Now I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask y’all to close your eyes while I tell you this story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves.

This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl.

Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field, and they tie her up, and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on her, first one then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure — vicious thrusts — in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to bear children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. So, they start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones — and they urinate on her.

Now comes the hanging. They have a rope; they tie a noose. Imagine the noose pulling tight around her neck and a sudden blinding jerk. She’s pulled into the air, and her feet and legs go kicking, and they don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps, and she falls back to the earth. So, they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck, and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge and pitch her over the edge. And she drops some 30 feet down to the creek bottom below.

Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body, soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood — left to die.

Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl.

Now imagine she’s white.

The defense rests your honor.

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