LPs, remember them? The college turntable of my recollection always seemed to be playing something from UB40’s first album, Signing Off. If all you have heard is their cover of “Red Red Wine,” you have no idea how politically and emotionally charged that debut album was.
How I ended up today of all days to realize that the album was missing from my digital collection is already in the fog of mental disarray. Downloaded it is, and as I started the first track, “Tyler,” I went down another rabbit hole, one that brought me face-to-face with the same kind of helpless outrage that I found in the music as a teen.
We didn’t have Wikipedia back then, you know. I knew one person who had a computer. And I guess I wasn’t as plugged in to social issues as I thought. I had no idea until today what injustice that opening song was about. Or is about, because Gary Tyler’s nightmare goes on and on. I only wish I had paid attention sooner.
You can read Tyler’s story on Wikipedia, the New York Times, the Free Gary Tyler website, but the outline is this: during the throes of desegregation, a white crowd attacked a bus carrying black students. A 14 year old white boy was tragically shot and killed. Another boy, 17 year old black Gary Tyler, was framed for the crime and sentenced to death. After the US Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana’s death penalty was unconstitutional, Tyler’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. The US Appeals Court, Fifth Circuit, ruled the trial was “fundamentally unfair.” Witnesses have recanted. Amnesty International calls him a political prisoner. The state Board of Pardons has three times recommended a pardon. But Louisiana’s governors have so far refused to free him.
I remember that album from 1981, my freshman year. I saw UB40 perform that song the summer of 1982 or 1983. That’s over thirty years since I first heard the song, and his conviction was already condemned by the courts. 2015 marks 40 years Tyler has been unjustly imprisoned. It’s hard to believe that this kind of injustice is happening in America in 2015. What is the matter with Bobby Jindal? Even a governor can’t undo the miscarriage of justice and the lost decades, but give this man what years he has left.
I have nothing, not one thing to complain about. For the last 40 years, I have had my freedom; Gary Tyler has not. That ain’t right.