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American Symbols of the Mockingbird

“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal . . . Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts, all men are created equal” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is the most critical social justice novel of our time. Set in the Deep South during the 1930s, it is a searing portrayal of race, bigotry, and prejudice in America.

Two characters symbolize the mockingbird – Tom Robinson, a Black man wrongfully accused of raping a white girl, and Boo Radley, a mentally disturbed recluse. Both are innocent men, judged “guilty” in a backdrop of bigotry, prejudice, and hearsay.

Boo Radley is representative of many people, misunderstood by society, and discriminated against because he is different from the norm. Tom Robinson is representative of injustice directly attributable to racism.

Atticus Finch, Robinson's attorney, presents a solid evidentiary case and still loses. Why? Because racial bias wins the day—the jury comprised of White men, like-minded bigots, turns a blind eye to compelling evidence of innocence and instead focuses on the color of Robinson’s skin.

As readers, are we surprised when Robinson is found guilty? We want to believe in the justice system, that people will do the right thing, and that protagonists can win. However, when he is found guilty, it is less of a shock and more of a disappointment.

By bringing such issues to light, Harper Lee played a significant role in shaping the 20th Century narrative of racism in America. While the country has made significant strides over the decades, long-term results have been underwhelming. Despite modest superficial gains, racism, bigotry, and other forms of discrimination still rear their ugly heads in the land of the free.

Yes, we now have codified civil rights protections, but how much has truly changed? We still face many of those same controversial issues—people judged by the color of their skin, religions they practice, sexual preferences, and/or political ideology. Too many are still victimized by hate crimes.

Young Black men are frequently robbed of their rights by people and systems duty-bound to protect them. I won’t name them here; we all know who they are –the list of unarmed African Americans shot to death by police officers is far too long. Most of their killers were acquitted, despite solid evidence of guilt, in stark contrast to Tom Robinson, a tragic hero, found guilty, despite substantial evidence of his innocence.

Other minorities also face discrimination and mistreatment. Immigrants seeking to escape tyranny, hunger, and violence are detained at the border. Young children are separated from their parents and locked in cages. Many who have lived and worked in this country for decades, law-abiding with no criminal record, still face deportation.

The LBTQ+ community is continuously confronted with discrimination and mistreatment— deprived of rights afforded to others. Like Boo Radley, they are discriminated against because they are different from the norm.

True justice is blind, not biased. So, why then is discrimination still prevalent today? Human beings are biased; our laws are sometimes imperfect. America has required 26 amendments to her Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s flexibility is one of our founder’s greatest achievements. Today’s challenge is to find legislators brave enough to support sensible change.

Harper Lee did not sugarcoat the trial results in Mockingbird; she addressed the problems head-on. So must we address our current injustice issues, no matter how difficult the task. Atticus Finch’s young daughter, Scout, recognized and questioned the scourge of hate and prejudice. Can America view today’s pressing societal issues through the eyes of a child?

We must.

Mark M. Bello, a trial lawyer, is the author of “Betrayal in Black" and other ‘ripped from the headlines’ Zachary Blake Social Justice Legal Thrillers available on and other online booksellers. For more information, please visit Mark also is co-host of the new podcast, Justice Counts, now streaming.

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