When was the last time you thought about those two people?
I have been spending some time reviewing the trial of Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
Yes, I am familiar with the case. I’m familiar with what the case represents. And I have seen many (but not all) of the representations of the Sacco & Vanzetti case in Art & Literature.
But it was time for a refresher.
Sacco & Vanzetti were innocent. Yet the State executed them. It was a tragedy of American jurisprudence of the grandest proportion.
The man who actually committed the murders, an ex-con named Celestino Madeiros, not only confessed to the payroll robbery & murders of which Sacco & Vanzetti were falsely accused: but in his testimony Madeiros also corroborated evidence which had been kept secret during the trial. Moreover, recent more modern forensic techniques have further exonerated both Sacco & Vanzetti of any guilt for the crimes of which they were falsely accused.
Two innocent men were wrongly murdered, electrocuted by the State of Massachusetts.
But the case is not only important as an example of judicial travesty, the case exemplifies a bias within our judicial system which still shows itself: Namely that all people are NOT treated equally before an American court. We have that ideal. But equity is not, in fact, shown evenly in practice.
That is to say — even today: Our justice system is not “blind”, as it should be. Money matters. A rich person receives a different (better) quality of hearing at a trial than a poor person receives. Race matters. If you are white (caucasian), you are likely to receive a more fair trial than if you are dark-skinned. Point-of-origin matters. Immigrants (like Sacco & Vanzetti) are disregarded much more often than native born citizens.
More hidden to our view: Ideology matters. What you THINK affects the type of trial you are likely to receive in an American court. Certain sanctioned ideologies systematically receive better and more fair treatment than those persons with, say, “alternative” ideologies who find themselves inside the court system.
This is what both Sacco and Vanzetti faced. The judge in the case, Webster Thayer — the same judge that later ruled on the appeals to his own trial, btw — not only expressed racist bias against the immigrants BEFORE the trial started — but he avowed an intense hatred of the defendants’ political views.
And this kind of stuff still happens. In fact, it happens all the time in America. I can think of several cases or judicial statements of recent memory where this has been the case.
So the misapplication of justice in the executions of Sacco & Vanzetti STILL has bearing on our contemporary world. The case still has a LOT to teach us.