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What Oklahoma’s High Schoolers Can Teach Us

By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Back when he was 19 years of age, Julius Jones — now 41 years old — was accused of first-degree murder, and later sentenced to death. After 22 years, Jones has continued to maintain his innocence, and amid a myriad of other injustices, his alibi was never properly considered in his trial. Against this backdrop, Jones’s 2002 sentence was followed by years of protest and emphatic calls to prevent his execution — but it was only this past month that these calls were finally heard: On Thursday, Nov. 18, Governor J. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma commuted Jones’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

Just hours before Jones’s scheduled execution at 4 p.m., Gov. Stitt gave word of this decision. In its wake, Jones’s supporters at the Oklahoma Capitol erupted into joy, having reached the apex of an uphill, extended battle for Jones’ life.

This fight extended for far longer than it should have, leaving iterations of emotional strain and exhaustion in its wake. Even still, it could have been so much worse: Julius Jones could have died on that fateful day — but today, he’s alive. And for that, we’re grateful.

Vitally, at the heart of Gov. Stitt’s decision to commute Jones’s death was an impressively loud chorus of student activism. The week of Jones’s scheduled execution, students across Oklahoma City, with the support of Oklahoma City Public Schools, led statewide walk-outs, urging Gov. Stitt to halt the execution.

These bold strokes of student involvement came at the close of an arduous campaign — joined by conservatives, celebrities, and Christian leaders alike — garnering support for Jones’s cause. The likes of Kim Kardashian West and NBA superstar Russell Westbrook, alongside the American Conservative Union’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, and the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s executive director, Timothy Head, all campaigned on Jones’s behalf. This diverse mosaic of characters — further charged by the energy of young students — is a remarkable demonstration of unlikely allies coalescing in pursuit of a common cause. Inevitably, this union should beckon all of us to consider how we might build coalitions across political and personal differences as we work towards such worthwhile goals.

The central role of students in the final days of this fight is also remarkably telling. When it comes to protests, our nation’s youth always seem to find a way to get involved, and — with the compassion and conviction they exhibit — to unfailingly make waves upon doing so. Recent history serves as a powerful reminder of this reality: After the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students from Stoneman Douglas High School led protests for gun control. Ultimately, their energies rippled throughout the nation and were propagated by student allies across the United States. This dynamic, with youthful energy fueling societal change, follows a much deeper history — one that extends not only across time periods, but also across borders: In South Africa, public school students in Soweto, South Africa, valiantly protested apartheid. In Iran, more than 10,000 students protested a police raid at the University of Tehran. More recently, students have fueled the Black Lives Matter movement through their protests across the United States and in cities around the world. Here at Harvard, hundreds of fossil fuel divestment protesters stormed the field at Harvard-Yale Game back in 2019, continuing a long trend of Harvard student activism on campus.

The high school students who took charge in Oklahoma just a few weeks ago deserve to be celebrated amid this legion of heroes. Without them, Julius Jones may have died.

We want to live in a world where the burden of our political madness and darkest social problems does not have to lie on the shoulders of teenage activists who should be able to enjoy a more carefree adolescence; yet in absence of our own action and that of our government, we applaud their much-needed efforts. It’s time that all of us learn from these high schoolers and pick up the mantle ourselves.

If we are to be successful in the pursuit of this goal, we must build bridges across the cultural, political, and racial gaps that so easily divide us — just like those who joined the campaign for the commuting of Mr. Jones’s sentence. If we want change in today’s polarized political climate, we must cast away our differences. We must build coalitions with those whom we don’t always see eye-to-eye with; and work to see each other as allies. From there, we must be willing, eager, and able to unite.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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