When I was 19, I received a jury summons. I was seated on the jury, but before even getting to that point, each person that wound up in the jury box had to answer certain questions for the judge. Things like name and educational background and whether you had ever served on a jury before.
One of the questions was something to the effect of:
Do you believe everyone who gets arrested is guilty?
I thought that question was silly because obviously people get wrongfully accused. It happens.
Some people actually said yes. They believe that if you are arrested, you must be guilty. Why else would the police arrest you?
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the years. The fact that people actually believe anyone accused and charged with anything is guilty every time.
I always thought I was open-minded and fair about those kinds of cases. For the most part. The one area that wasn’t as easy for me to avoid jumping to conclusions was basically any case involving sex crimes. Yes, I know sometimes accusers lie. But most of them? Of course not. And if you assume an accuser is lying and treat them terribly for it, why would anyone ever come forward in a legitimate case? They can meet the same level of ridicule and attack.
Five years ago, my entire view shifted when a good friendof mine died. The details of the circumstances surrounding his death are awful and also not my story to share. What I DO feel comfortable saying is that he was under investigation for a pretty terrible crime. While the investigation was still going on, he took his own life. Not because he was caught. But because his life, as he knew it, was over. His job and position in the community were such that his reputation would not survive an allegation of this magnitude.
Because of the nature of the case, authorities continued their investigation after his death. A few months later, they returned all of his property to his family, stating that they couldn’t find any evidence against him.
The local papers had published all sorts of things against him. And yes, I made the terrible mistake of reading comments on those articles. I couldn’t believe the horrible things they said about my friend. Someone I thought I knew. Someone I knew would never do these things.
And after the police concluded what I had known all along, there weren’t retractions. There weren’t any news stories to clear his name. He was gone. What did it matter? The damage was done and everyone had moved on.
Ever since that experience, I try to greet EVERY allegation against anyone with a whole lot of skepticism.
This was particularly difficult during the most recent awards season when so many people were angry that Casey Affleck won Best Actor ten years after settling a sexual harassment case. His accuser hit him with some pretty terrible accusations. It did not rise to the level of criminal activity, but she sued him. Although he had been around Hollywood for awhile by that point, he was still on the fringes back then. He settled the case and signed an agreement to never discuss any part of it.
Which means, 10 years later, her accusations are out there for everyone to see, but he is legally prohibited from defending himself.
A lot of people took the Casey Affleck situation and tried to put it into the same category as that of Roman Polanski. In 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to rape of a 13-year-old girl. I don’t know the details of the plea bargain, but he heard from someone that the judge in the case was going to ignore the plea bargain and give him a lot more jail time. So he fled the US, and has been hiding out in Europe ever since. Oh, and, he’s been nominated for two Oscars since being on the lam, and actually won in 2002.
I’m sorry, but there is nothing in my mind that can equate settling a harassment case with fleeing justice after admitting guilt in a rape case.
Where am I going with all of this?
Well, there was a story in the Washington Post on Friday about a case out of Rockville, Maryland. You might have heard about this case back in March. A 14-year-old girl said she was raped by two illegal immigrants. The accused were a 17- and 18-year-old who were enrolled in ninth grade at the school. The girl said they took turns attacking her in a bathroom.
Do you remember that story? All the coverage it got? Particularly on Twitter and on certain news outlets.
How much coverage did you hear over the weekend when it was revealed that the charges were dropped on Friday because the girl lied?
Yes, if you Google the case, all the major news outlets covered it. Three days ago. People aren’t still talking about it. The President, who seized on the case as supportive evidence for his border policies, has yet to comment on this turn of events.
Because all too often, the story isn’t a story once the truth comes out. Everyone shrugs and goes about their business.
I know I’ve focused this post mostly on the issue of sex crimes, but every crime needs to be handled with scrutiny. We are a nation that supposedly believes you are innocent until proven guilty. And yet, we tend to accept that any allegation is proof of wrongdoing. That every investigation is tantamount to a conviction and that if the conviction doesn’t happen it’s obviously because the prosecutors didn’t do their job or the jury was too dumb to understand the facts.
Every single day people are investigated for crimes they haven’t committed.
Innocent people sometimes go to prison.
In this age of information overload, we tend to assume we know the facts when we usually don’t.
I’m not trying to suggest we should open the prison gates and let everyone out in case there are innocent people locked up. We still have laws and we still have a lot of actual criminals.
But we HAVE TO be skeptical. We have to question charges and examine evidence. We can’t just assume people are guilty without looking at the facts and letting them play out.
This was true for those teenagers in Maryland.
And it’s also true for people like…Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
Yup. I said it.
Maybe the allegations against them are true.
Or maybe they’re not.
The thing is, you can’t just assume they’re true because you don’t like them.
It certainly makes it easier to accept accusations when you don’t like someone than when you do. But that doesn’t make it right.
We have to be skeptical. Of everything. Because, at some point, it’s going to happen to someone you love. And you’ll have to sit by while people say terrible things about them. Things you KNOW are not true.
And there will be nothing you can do about it.
But you can change yourself. You can pledge to be different. To be better. You can give people the benefit of the doubt. And withhold reaching conclusions until the evidence supports it.
If we could ALL do that, the world would be a better place.
Hey, a girl can dream.