Forgiveness can get a bad rap. Especially when race is involved. In a nation built on the backs of enslaved Africans—and on the white supremacy that justified it—no interaction between a white man with power and a black man without it is ever just an isolated, inspiring story about the power of forgiveness.

Yet that’s the premise of Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship. Told through the first-person reflections of former “bad cop” Andrew Collins and the innocent black man, Jameel McGee, who spent four years in federal prison due to Collins’s wrongful arrest of him, the book follows their unlikely friendship—forged in the furnace of forgiveness.

McGee was living in poverty-stricken Benton Harbor, Michigan, when he asked a relative’s crack-carrying friend to give him a ride to the store to buy milk for his baby son. Waiting nearby was narcotics officer Andrew Collins, who routinely planted evidence and falsified his police reports to help secure convictions of poor black men like McGee. His motive? Looking good to fellow officers.

As Collins attests, “I had become a monster, not out of greed or zeal or my questionable tactics or lack of integrity. No, I fell into the abyss because I was weighed down by pride.”

This can be frustrating to read. True, Collins was caught and received a 37-month sentence (later reduced to 18 months.) The innocent McGee spent four years in prison. But even after his release, the phony drug conviction shackled him. Demoralized, jobless, penniless, and homeless, he would sleep in a relative’s car, enduring freezing Michigan nights. He was nearly suicidal before a loving aunt pointed him to life-saving help.

Convicted (ghostwritten by best-selling author Mark Tabb) is a story about God. In America, where the poison of anti-black policing has left generations of black men in prison—and where white believers can conclude such injustice isn’t real or hardly their problem—only a redeeming God can make something good of it.

That certainly happens in Convicted. God heals. Two men change. Both are transparent and thoughtful on their shortcomings and obstacles: male pride, bad choices, burning anger, and crippling shame.

The book is at its best when we see McGee and Collins probing inward, illustrating for readers why a young white police officer would break the law to boost his career—and how an equally ambitious, hard-working, young black man could get trapped in a criminal justice nightmare. Their insights give us an inside look at policing culture, judicial bias, and poverty’s dysfunctions, helping us see the real people in environments too often set at odds.

Such insights get compromised, however, by the book’s maddening failure: its reluctance to acknowledge the systemic and implicit bias enabling this emblematic American story. In America, justice isn’t colorblind. Arrest and sentencing data confirm this. Poor black people, most notably, pay the appalling price. But Convicted never confronts readers with these patterns of injustice.

The book extols a healing God and the power of forgiveness. Yet it points no blame at institutionalized racism, never uttering the words “black lives matter.” Instead, it suggests that bad cop Collins—whose lies helped frame and convict nearly 60 black men in Benton Harbor—was just one man with personal demons. Systemic bias and racism? Never mentioned.

Other books are far more honest in examining such anti-black policing dynamics, among them Paul Butler’s fearless Chokehold: Policing Black Men and the anthology Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution and Imprisonment edited by Angela J. Davis. Both make for urgent reading, as do Michelle Alexander’s stunner The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, and Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court.

Sadly, Convicted fails to address such themes. Two men are free and reconciled, and we can praise God for that. But their forgiveness appears sanitized. As McGee says, “I’m free. But I didn’t do it. God did. Some people got it. Others didn’t. That didn’t matter to me. I kept telling them anyway.”

More racial context from both McGee and Collins would have made their healing story more powerful, certainly for a racially torn nation. We’re left instead with a heartfelt journey and an appalling realization: Their story never should have happened. But God can rewrite this national chapter. May he help us confess every part of racial pain. Then he can heal us all.

Patricia Raybon books include My First White Friend: Confessions on Race and Forgiveness (Penguin) and Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace (Thomas Nelson), cowritten with daughter Alana.

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Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Book Title
Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship
Release Date
September 19, 2017
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