When I was growing up in the 50s, and television was in its infancy, many critics of the new fangled contraption derisively referred to it as the “idiot box” because time spent being entertained by it deprived boys and girls from time that could be much better spent reading and doing homework. As a result, today I spend very little time watching free TV. I definitely do not subscribe to cable or satellite because that would only encourage me to watch more television just in order to get my money’s worth… like gorging oneself at a buffet, such as Golden Corral. The only shows I currently watch are “The Bold and the Beautiful” (a soap opera that is mercifully only 30 minute long), the local and national news, occasional re-runs of “The Patty Duke Show,” “Jeopardy,” and a few minutes of sports, usually ones showing highlights. I almost never watch a sporting event from beginning to end.
From my relatively brief viewing, I have become aware of a show advertised on CBS or ABC titled “What would you do?” It is a take off on the old “Candid Camera” hidden camera show that featured Allen Funt, except, from what I gather, a bit more sinister. Whereas “Candid Camera” was played strictly for laughs, “What would you do” stages hidden camera incidents to unsuspecting civilians that are much more stress producing, and afterwards conducts an interview with them. Depending on the video victim’s reaction, they are berated or lauded for their behavior. One example of an actual episode filmed in a public bar, exposed the unsuspecting video victim to a staged scenario in which a man laced his female companion’s drink with a substance that could have been a date-rape drug while she was away. The video victim is then faced with the dilemma of what to do… mind his/her own business and say nothing, or butt in and attempt to prevent an assault. Not an easy choice, especially when not all the facts are at hand. So that is the basic gist of the program, as I am able to deduct from the advertisements on TV.
Now, I would like to invite the reader to play the game based on a real-life situation. Let’s see what your response will be.
Unlike the television version, this game requires a little role-playing. First, let’s assume that you’re an average Joe in America (either living in poverty, or on the verge of poverty). Also, let’s assume that you are an alcoholic and have a bit of a drug habit… mainly marijuana and cocaine. Finally, let’s assume that you’re white. Now, let’s set the stage. You’re out late at night getting high with an African American friend, and your vehicle gets stuck in mud and you’re forced to walk home. On the way, you come across the body of a partially clad black woman in a cul-de-sac, but do not come in close physical contact with her. The following morning when you go to retrieve your vehicle, police are at the scene as you walk to your SUV located nearby. You are arrested for the crime of murdering the victim whose body you came across the night before, but knowing your total innocence, feel the misunderstanding will be cleared up shortly and that you’ll be only a few minutes late for work. Then you meet with the prosecutor and you declare your innocence. The prosecutor dismisses it and gives you a choice. Implicate your black drug-using friend (who you know to be innocent) as the perpetrator of the murder in return for a light charge and sentence, or be charged with the murder and face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Hold on… we’re not through yet. You end up being convicted of the murder with which you had nothing to do, and you’re sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now the prosecutor returns and makes you another offer. Implicate the black man you did drugs with as the murderer, and get your sentenced substantially reduced, possibly with time served and probation. Your choice is to lie and put a black man who is innocent of the murder in jail for life in exchange for your release from jail and a short period of probation, or to defy the prosecutor and turn down his offer and remain in jail for the rest of your life. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
This is the exact true-life “What would you do?” situation that faced Gregory Flint Taylor. Prosecutor Tom Ford counted on getting perjured testimony from Taylor in order to convict Taylor’s black friend Johnny Beck. He did not believe it would be a difficult task because Taylor was an alcoholic and drug user, and in order to save himself, surely he would have no problem in getting Taylor to go along with his plan to put an innocent black man in jail. If Taylor was faced with life in prison, surely he would go along with the program in order to taste freedom. After all, Tom Ford had no trouble getting two other people to falsely implicate Taylor for the murder in return for promises of leniency related to their criminal cases. The truth of the matter is that Tom Ford specialized in getting perjured testimony in exchange for plea deals… that’s how he won his cases. This was especially true in cases where the victim is poor, disenfranchised, and of color, and closing the case is more of a concern with Ford than solving it. So what if an innocent person lands in jail… who cares?
But Ford misjudged Gregory Taylor. Taylor was, and is, a man of great inner strength, high ethical standards, and a determination to do the right thing. He refused the multiple plea deals of Prosecutor Ford, and as a result, remained in jail for seventeen years before finally being freed… and there was no guarantee that he would ever be free.
I have tried to put myself in Greg Taylor’s shoes, and have always come to the same conclusion… I would not implicate an innocent man in exchange for my freedom. But hypothetical and real life are entirely different. In real life… I just don’t know what I would do. There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of people, if not all, if faced with this choice would have caved in and worked with Prosecutor Ford to put an innocent black man in jail. That is what makes Greg Taylor’s case all the more remarkable and worthy of being told. That is the movie that HBO should be making, instead of the propaganda fictional movie about the Duke Lacrosse case.
Only by putting yourself in his moccasins can you begin to appreciate what Greg Taylor did. In a similar situation, what would you do?
LINK to HBO struggling with its Duke LAXer movie:
LINK to preview trailer of Episode V of “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper: