Adisa Johnson is living her dream of practicing law with a prestigious firm in downtown Atlanta. Then a split-second mistake changes the course of her career.
Left with no other options, Adisa returns to her hometown where a few days earlier a white police officer shot an unarmed black teen who is now lying comatose in the hospital.
Adisa is itching to jump into the fight as a special prosecutor but feels pulled to do what she considers unthinkable as a young black woman—defend the officer.
As the court case unfolds, everyone in the small community must confront their own prejudices. Caught in the middle, Adisa also tries to chart her way along a path complicated by her budding relationship with a charismatic young preacher who leads the local movement demanding the police officer answer for his crime.
In a small Georgia town where racial tensions run high and lives are at stake, can one lawyer stand up for justice against the tides of prejudice?
- A stand-alone legal drama
- Book length: approximately 120,000 words
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Stanley Jackson watched the six young men milling around in front of the drink coolers at the Westside Quik Mart. The convenience store clerk often worked the third shift alone. At six foot three and 245 pounds, he was only ten pounds heavier than when he'd wreaked havoc as a defensive lineman for the Campbellton High Colonels. Stan had received scholarship offers from a handful of small colleges, but he'd injured his right knee in a motorcycle wreck the summer after graduating from high school, and the opportunity to play football in return for a free education evaporated like the mist on a May morning in Georgia.
The store clerk glanced up at the surveillance camera that was aimed at the back of the store. The video feed linked directly to the security company headquarters in Atlanta. The unblinking eyes of the cameras recorded a twenty-four-hour-a-day reality show boring enough to cure insomnia. There were two cameras inside the store and one outside. The camera that was supposed to cover the cash register hadn't worked in over a month.
Stan recognized two of the teenagers: Deshaun Hamlin, a quick and agile point guard on the high school basketball team; and Greg Ott, a regular customer who often came into the store with his stepmother. The other young men were strangers. One of the strangers opened the door of the cooler and took out a thirty-ounce bottle of malt liquor.
"You have to be twenty-one to buy beer!" Stan called out. "And that means a valid ID!"
Deshaun left the group and placed a plastic bottle filled with orange sports drink on the counter in front of the cash register.
"What you up to, Deshaun?" Stan asked. "I haven't seen you down at the rec center recently."
"I'm trying out for a summer league AAU team next month if my left shoulder is healed up by then," he said.
"What happened to your shoulder?" Stan asked.
"Dislocated it going up for a rebound a couple of weeks ago. Worst injury I've had since I broke my arm when I was a kid."
"You're still a kid," Stan answered with a smile. "And I can dunk on you anytime I want to."
"Only if I didn't steal the ball first," Deshaun replied. "Wait a second. I need to pick up a snack for my grandmother."
Deshaun stepped over to the nut rack. The other four young men had scattered, making it impossible for Stan to keep an eye on what they were doing. The oldest of the strangers approached with the bottle of malt liquor. Tall and lanky with a small goatee, he appeared to be in his midtwenties. He placed the alcohol on the counter with a five-dollar bill beside it.
"Ring it up," he said in a slow, deep voice. "You can keep the change."
"That's not how it works," Stan replied. "You show me an ID, and you keep the change."
Stan glanced past the man as two of the other teenagers came together in front of the meat snacks. Petty shoplifting was a constant problem at the store, and the expensive meat products were a popular item to steal. The man at the cash register took a battered wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans and fumbled through it. Stan could see a thick stack of twenty-dollar bills.
"Dude, I must have left it at Greg's house," he said. "We walked over here together. That's where my car is parked."
Greg Ott came over to the counter. "He's cool, Stan," Greg said. "He works for a trucking company hauling freight to Birmingham. He's got his CDL license. You know I wouldn't lie to you."
"Maybe so," Stan replied. "But I still need to see his license if he wants to buy this bottle."
Deshaun returned to pay for his sports drink and a bag of pistachios.
"Let me know when the season starts," Stan said as Deshaun gave him a ten-dollar bill. "I'd like to come watch a game."
"We'll be playing our home games at the Franklin Gym."
"Cool. Did you walk over here?"
"You'd better get going. A storm is coming."
"Remember, I'm fast," Deshaun replied with a grin. "I can outrun lightning."
"Get outta here," Stan said.
When Deshaun moved out of Stan's line of sight, the clerk saw one of the unfamiliar teenagers slip a pack of premium beef jerky into a pocket of his baggy black pants.
"You have to pay for that!" Stan called out.
"Calm down," the man with the goatee said, raising his hand. "Bring that up here, son. I'll pay for it even if this clown isn't going to sell me anything to drink."
"Watch your mouth," Stan said.
"Listen, brother," the lanky man said with a smile. "Customer service is important."
The teenager placed the beef jerky on the counter and backed away. Deshaun moved toward the door.
"I'm taking off," Deshaun said to Greg. "Will I see you later at my grandma's house?"
"Swing by my place first," Greg replied. "There's something I want to show you."
Stan scanned the package of beef jerky. "That will be $8.29," he said.
"What a rip-off," the stranger replied as he reopened his wallet and placed a crumpled ten-dollar bill on the counter. He picked up the jerky and tossed it to the boy.
"Get, before I make jerky out of you!" he said to the teenager.
Greg and the other three young men left. Stan could see them standing in front of the store, where they huddled on the sidewalk before moving away. Stan touched the bottle of malt liquor.
"Put that back in the cooler where you found it," he said to the man with the goatee.
"That's your job, boss. And make sure you do it soon. It's no good if it isn't ice cold. I'll come back later to pick it up."
"With an ID. And leave your attitude in the parking lot," Stan responded, his temper rising.
Stan opened the cash register so he could count out the change from the purchase of the beef jerky. He picked up a quarter and reached for the smaller coins he needed.
"Don't stop," the man said. "I want it all."
Stan glanced up as the stranger shattered the malt liquor bottle. Amber-colored liquid spewed all over the counter. The man leaned over the counter and slashed the right side of Stan's neck with the jagged remains of the bottle. Blood spurted from the wound.
His eyes wide, Stan reached forward to grab the robber with his left arm, but the man slammed the remains of the bottle into the top of the clerk's hand. Stan cried out in pain and staggered backward. The stranger leaned over the counter and snatched all the twenties, tens, and fives from the drawer. Stan pressed his bleeding hand against the wound on his neck. The room began to spin, and he passed out. As he fell, Stan knocked over a rack of cigarettes behind the counter.
Officer Luke Nelson slowed to a stop as the traffic light turned red. He glanced down at the picture of Jane that he kept on the console when he patrolled alone. The photograph had been taken on a breezy evening at Hilton Head during their honeymoon. Wearing a peach-colored sundress, Jane stood barefoot in the sand. Her blond hair swirled away from her face, and her blue eyes shone with new love and the promise of future joy. When Luke glanced at the picture it also reminded him that Jane would be praying for him.
Luke moved the seat of the new police cruiser so that his feet comfortably rested on the gas and brake pedals. The vehicle still had a new-car smell, and Luke took in a deep breath. He was surprised when the chief offered to let him use the car for the night. As the city of Campbellton's newest officer, Luke usually drove a car whose next destination was the auto auction barn on Highway 29 south of town.
The state-of-the-art vehicle was equipped with an onboard computer and a dash camera, but Luke hadn't received the password for the computer, which controlled the camera. When he radioed the third-shift dispatcher for the code, she curtly informed him that she didn't know it, and he'd have to call the chief at home. Disturbing Chief Lockhart on a Saturday night wasn't on Luke's agenda for the evening.
Five feet ten inches tall and in good physical condition, Luke adjusted the rearview mirror slightly to the right. As he did, he saw the reflection of his closely cut brown hair, brown eyes, and square jaw softened by a dimple to the left side of his mouth. After high school, Luke had attended a community college where he majored in criminal justice. He paid the rent and bought groceries by driving a forklift on third shift at a warehouse. Upon graduation, he worked three years as a private security guard at a shopping mall before landing a job with the Atlanta Police Department. Initially thrilled with a real job in law enforcement, Luke was thrown into a high-stress environment that quickly became an emotionally draining grind. He began looking for a job in a suburban area. Campbellton was a small town, not suburbia, but when a position opened up, Jane encouraged him to accept it. The salary was much less than what Luke had earned in downtown Atlanta, but with their first child on the way, Luke gave in to his pregnant wife's wishes. Now, after a year and a half on the job, he was glad he'd listened to her.
Settling in with the Campbellton Police Department, Luke began to thrive. He loved his job. Over the past eighteen months, he'd written more traffic tickets than any other officer on the force. He was never late for work, and before baby Ashley's arrival, he was always the first man to volunteer for extra duty. His long-term goal was to become a sergeant, and Chief Lockhart had recently authorized Luke's attendance at a three-week law enforcement management program in Orlando. The voice of the third-shift dispatcher came over the radio, interrupting Luke's thoughts.
"All units respond to a possible 211 at the Westside Quik Mart. Fire and medic are in transit."
A 211 meant an armed robbery. Armed robberies were an every-week occurrence in Atlanta, but this was the first 211 call Luke had received since moving to Campbellton. His mind flashed back to tense situations he'd experienced in the inner city, and he transitioned into high-alert mode. His heart started beating faster.
There were three patrol cars on duty. Luke was the farthest away from the convenience store. He turned on his siren and blue lights and pressed down on the accelerator. At this time of night, the few cars in his path pulled over as he sped past. The female dispatcher's voice again came over the radio.
"Be advised, primary suspects in the 211 are two young black males, Gregory Ott and Deshaun Hamlin; both live on East Nixon Street."
In addition to the city police, two Nash County Sheriff's Department vehicles were en route to the convenience store location. Luke entered the east part of town. The wind was blowing hard, causing the overhead traffic lights to sway from side to side.
"This is city police car 304," Luke said. "Unless needed at the scene of the 211, I'm requesting permission to go to East Nixon Street."
The dispatcher was silent for a moment. Luke slowed to normal speed as he approached the best place to turn off the highway if given permission to do so.
"10-4, car 304," the dispatcher said. "Proceed to East Nixon Street. Suspects potentially armed and dangerous. Hamlin, age sixteen, is six feet tall and weighs one hundred and sixty-five pounds. No physical description for Ott."
"10-4," Luke replied as his heart rate kicked up even more.
He hoped both the suspects were teenagers. Luke could wrestle to the ground men who outweighed him by seventy-five to a hundred pounds. With youngsters, words often did the job.
He turned onto a side street and debated whether to turn off his flashing blue lights to avoid letting Hamlin or Ott know that an officer was in the area. He chose to keep them on. Reaching the intersection for East Nixon Street, he made a right-hand turn. As he did, Luke flipped off the siren but kept the blue lights flashing. He drove slowly for two blocks. Then, just beyond the glow of a distant streetlight, he saw a figure run across the street. Luke pressed down hard on the accelerator, and the car shot forward another three hundred feet. He slammed on the brakes and pulled close to the curb.
"Dispatch, this is car 304," he said, keeping his voice calm and professional. "I'm in the 400 block of East Nixon Street with a possible sighting of one of the suspects. Request assistance."
"10-4. Will advise."
The dispatcher radioed Bruce Alverez, an officer with fifteen years' prior experience serving on the Miami Police Department. Gruff and prickly, the older officer had moved to Campbellton after going through a nasty divorce. Because he was fluent in Spanish, Alverez was a huge asset in working with the growing Latino community in the area. Luke left his blue lights flashing and stared intently down the street at the spot where the person had crossed the road.
Suddenly, a figure wearing dark clothes appeared in the light of a streetlamp. He was wearing a loose-fitting shirt that was pressed against his body by the stiff breeze. Luke turned on the loudspeaker.
"You! Under the streetlight! Walk forward slowly!"
The figure beneath the light fit the description of the tall, slender suspect. The young man glanced to his right and began jogging toward the police car. Luke pressed the button for the transmitter.
"Slower!" he called out. "Put your hands over your head!"
The teenager put his hands on top of his head but didn't slow down. Luke tensed. The young man glanced again to the side where several houses were closely packed together. Luke couldn't see anyone else in the glow cast by the streetlight or the headlamps of the police car. He opened the door of his vehicle and got out. The gusty wind was blowing directly into his face, and he had to squint. He placed one hand on his service weapon, a Glock 17. A flash of light far to the east signaled the approach of a storm.
"Deshaun Hamlin?" Luke called out when the young man was about 150 feet away.
"Yeah! I'm Deshaun!" the young man replied.
"Where's Ott?" Luke called out.
The young man slowed and turned sideways for a moment. Then he faced Luke and ran faster toward him.
"Don't shoot!" Deshaun cried out.
"Stop!" Luke commanded.
Instead of slowing down, Deshaun ran even faster. Adrenaline coursing through his veins, Luke pulled his weapon from his holster and held it in front of him as he'd done hundreds of times at the firing range. When the young man was about a hundred feet away, he passed through a deep shadow caused by a large tree that blocked the streetlight. Luke saw the teenager stick his right hand in the front pocket of his pants. Hearing a loud pop, Luke fired four shots in rapid succession. As the sound shattered the silence of the night, the young man fell to the ground in the middle of the roadway.
Luke began to shake uncontrollably. He managed to return his weapon to his holster. Even patrolling a beat in downtown Atlanta, he'd never had to fire his weapon. The threat of lethal force or the skillful use of his physical skills had always been enough. Hearing the sound of a siren, he turned as a police car, its blue lights flashing, sped around the corner and down the street. Luke's whole torso was now quivering. The car screeched to a halt, and Officer Alverez jumped out of the vehicle and ran past him. Alverez knelt by the body on the pavement and placed his hand on the man's neck, feeling for a carotid artery.
"Did you call for an ambulance?" Alverez yelled.
"Do it! Now!"
Luke reached through the door of his car and pressed the button on his radio. "We need an ambulance on East Nixon Street!" he shouted.
"What's your status?" the dispatcher demanded.
"Suspect is wounded."
Luke dropped the radio transmitter on the seat of the car. "Ambulance on the way!" he called out to Alverez. "Did you cuff him?"
"Where's the gun?" Alverez called out, turning his head toward Luke.
"Check underneath him! He took it from the front pocket of his pants and fired at me," Luke replied shakily.
A closer lightning strike released a clap of thunder that made Luke jump. He approached Alverez and the robbery suspect. The young man's face was turned away from him. The trembling that had threatened to take over Luke's chest lessened. The teenager made an odd sound. Alverez was applying pressure to a wound on the young man's chest. Luke took out his flashlight and shined it around on the pavement.
"He fired at least one shot," Luke said.
Something glistened on the pavement on the other side of the wounded man. Luke walked around Alverez and squatted down. It was metal. He started to pick it up.
"Leave that for later," Alverez said. "Help me here."
Before Luke could join Alverez, an ambulance came careening onto the street. Within seconds, the paramedics were on their knees beside the unconscious young man. Alverez stood and faced Luke. "How many shots did you fire?" Alverez asked.
Excerpted from "A Time To Stand"
Copyright © 2017 Robert Whitlow.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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