Let me start by stating clearly that I don’t like Roy Moore—his politics, his history, his behavior, the people he associates with, or anything I’ve learned about him. I probably want him out as much as anyone. I hope he and his supporters lose, but not through vigilante tactics.
1989: Donald Trump, tough on crime
If you haven’t watched the Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five, I recommend it. The New York Times rated it one of the top documentaries of 2012, when it came out.
It’s about the case of the Central Park Jogger and the five boys convicted. While jogging in the park in the spring of 1989, she was knocked down, dragged or chased nearly 300 feet, violently assaulted, stabbed five times, raped, sodomized, and almost beaten to death.
The police acted quickly, bringing in five youths who were out that night.
The five youths confessed.
As even criminals have rights, their cases had to work through the system. Early in the case, Donald Trump paid $85,000 to put out ads calling to execute them, not to coddle them.
In a 1989 interview, he said:
The problem with our society is the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights … maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.
Michael Warren, the veteran New York civil rights lawyer who would later come to represent the Central Park Five, believes Trump’s advertisements played a role in convicting them, saying
Notwithstanding the jurors’ assertions that they could be fair and impartial, some of them or their families, who naturally have influence, had to be affected by the inflammatory rhetoric in the ads.
They confessed. They were convicted. There was no death penalty and their crime could not be undone, but at least justice was served.
2017: Jamelle Bouie, tough on crime
I rarely read Slate. I happened on to it today when my browser autocompleted wrong on my way to read geek site Slashdot. I saw the headline
“If True”: The moral cowardice of conservatives who say they’ll wait and see whether to condemn Roy Moore.
The piece, by chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie, documented various Republicans’ reactions to accusations of politician Roy Moore, accused of having “initiated sexual contact” with a 14-year-old girl nearly 40 years ago while working as a 32-year-old prosecutor and more.
Bouie wrote that while some Republicans condemned Moore, many hedged their condemnation. He takes them to task:
If true. On the surface, this looks like a condemnation and a call for Moore to leave the race. But it isn’t. These Republicans are shocked by the allegations, but they aren’t willing to make a judgment about their veracity or make a choice about their support for Moore. Indeed, if true defers the issue to Moore himself. Either he makes it true by acknowledging and affirming the allegations, or he doesn’t, in which case those Republicans won’t have to act. If true renders the question inert. If true is moral cowardice.
It appears Bouie wants to play a similar role today to Donald Trump 28 years ago—to influence people’s reactions to this man, to help bring him to justice.
One problem: It wasn’t true about the Central Park Five
To this day, many believe the Central Park Five were guilty.
The confessions were coerced. DNA evidence ruled them out.
The actual criminal confessed.
The convictions were vacated. The city settled to pay them tens of millions of dollars after imprisoning them for years, their lives ruined. The actual criminal couldn’t be tried since wrongfully convicting the Central Park Five stopped the investigation past the statute of limitations.
Again, I recommend watching the documentary. I’ve only written the tip of the iceberg of the injustices in the case. After watching, I doubt you’ll be able to see someone presume an accused person guilty similarly again. Maybe I’m overreacting here because that documentary made me cry.
Roy Moore, today
Maybe Moore is guilty. I don’t know. A journalist doesn’t have to follow due process as the government does, but Bouie doesn’t know either.
An accusation doesn’t mean guilt. To assume it does ignores the point of due process, which is in our Constitution for a reason.
Again, I don’t like Moore’s politics, his history, his behavior, the people he associates with, or nearly anything I’ve learned about him. I probably want him out more than Bouie does. But the Central Park Five crime seemed more heinous and the case against them more open-and-shut, yet Donald Trump likely played a role in a miscarriage of justice.
I hope Moore and his supporters lose, but not through vigilante tactics.
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