"It is better that ten guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted." – William Blackstone
You know, I screwed up on April 15. I broke one of my own important rules, and I speculated about something important.
Speculation isn't bad when it's between good friends at a party. But I Tweet publicly, and what I say seems to create a reaction from people. Basically, what I said was that I thought the Boston Marathon bomber was probably an extreme right winger. I immediately walked it back, saying that it was just my first impression, and first impressions are usually wrong, but there it was. It was out there. I considered deleting the Tweet, but I generally only do that when I misspell something, and I follow it up with a corrected Tweet.
I usually have no use for things like that, and I chided myself for it. But I realized my mistake almost immediately, became defensive about it, and when the perpetrators were identified, I issued a public apology. I would love to say I'll never do it again, but I'm human, I have emotions, and I am not perfect. I will try, however.
I don't mean to sound conceited, but I wish there were more like me on this. Most people are like me, of course, but those who are not seem to be awfully loud and insistent.
Take this past weekend. Please.
Someone I have followed on Twitter for years faces some legal trouble because of something that happened a while back, and some folks have been digging into it. One of them typed out a blog post about it, and a small but loud group has decided that what this blogger has found is sufficient to label him a "pedophile." The totality of what they have is the following:
- A small two-inch story from a local newspaper dated August 2005, claiming this person had been arrested for drug possession and that police had found pictures of "child pornography" in his home. No details. Just that.
- A court log, showing him pleading guilty to a couple of charges of "sexual exploitation of a minor." Again, no details.
That's it. There are no actual court records, there are no copies of the pictures, no evidentiary details at all; there is nothing. Yet, this blogger goes on for many more paragraphs, insinuating that this person is a "pedophile." Moreover, this label has been passed around all over Twitter. Now, it's entirely possible this person is a "pedophile." It's entirely possible that every implication the blogger makes will turn out to be true. But it will be pure luck. It's certainly not based on any evidence.
You can't possibly know he's specifically a "pedophile" based on the evidence available publicly. I know of at least one case in which a father was convicted of such a thing because he took pictures of his toddler son in the bath, naked. Is HE a "pedophile"? How about the guy who was forbidden from seeing his daughter unsupervised for 12 years because said daughter allegedly claimed he touched her inappropriately while he was giving her a bath when she was two years old. It was later found out that the mother and her boyfriend had made up the whole thing. Was HE a "pedophile"? Apparently not. But they sure were able to come up with a lot of "evidence."
Have any of you ever heard of the McMartin preschool case in Southern California? For years, the people who ran the preschool were accused of molestation, rape and child sacrifice, and they had loads of evidence to prove it all. Except for one thing; most of the evidence was in the form of testimony by preschoolers who were coached by parents. LOTS of evidence, yet, they were acquitted.
In this instance, in order to come to the conclusion of "pedophilia" based on those two scant pieces of evidence, you have to ignore a lot more evidence. For example, take the fact that he's still Tweeting, while awaiting sentencing. The fact that he was released on his own recognizance while he awaits sentencing is interesting (although admittedly not conclusive). From my experience, it's quite unusual for an actual "pedophile" to be allowed to go home after pleading guilty. Usually, authorities can't wait to lock them up.
For a week or more, someone had been sending me this fatuous blog post. I had read it, but decided not to comment, because I felt doing so was beneath me. I still do, which is why I'm not providing a link. But then, I made an off-hand comment, saying that I was more skeptical than most, because I know someone who has to register as a sex offender because he was 18 and his girlfriend was 16 when they were caught having sex. He's almost 30, has a wife, a kid and another on the way, but he still has to register. He's not dangerous; he babysat my nephew many times without incident. A lot of people took that as "defending a pedophile," and some of the craziest of the bunch actually speculated that I must be a "pedophile," because I was "defending him."
See the problem with making conclusions based on limited evidence?
Of course, I wasn't defending him. He has a lawyer for that. I was simply saying that I don't know the details, and I would withhold judgment until such time as I have a lot more evidence than a newspaper article and a case log. He may be a "pedophile," I don't know. But those who are calling him that don't know whether he is or isn't, either. And that's the reason for this article.
Part of being effective when imparting information to others is a healthy dose of skepticism. Skepticism is a necessary tool when it comes to telling the truth. Truth isn't about what you think is right, but what can be proven right. And I'm sorry, but taking two pieces of "evidence" and creating a narrative from it is not how journalism is made. I try not to call this blog "journalism," but I come closer to it than blogs which simply insinuate "truth" based on limited evidence.
Evidence is not the same as proof. I know a lot of people think that way, but that's simply not the case. One piece of evidence doesn't prove anything. Often, a whole lot of evidence doesn't prove anything. If you doubt that, consider the number of men on death row who have ended up being released from prison altogether based on DNA. There are a lot of innocent people out there who are forced to plead guilty to a crime to avoid prison, or because they can't afford to continue fighting charges. There are a lot of companies and people who are forced to settle civil cases because they don't have deep enough pockets to fight the other side's lawyers. This isn't a new thing; all of the people who called me "pedophile defender" know this. I know this, because a few of them have had to fight spurious charges made by others themselves.
This is one of the reasons I object to the black-and-white thinking that seems to infect a large number of self-described "political junkies." Very few things are as they seem; everything political has many layers, and there are often many reasons for doing things that can't be understood in simple terms. My favorite recent example was the consternation over the Democrats who voted against cloture on the gun bill. There were 41 Republican votes; it wasn't possible to get 60. Why not cover your ass in your home state and live to fight another day?
Reactionary behavior is human. We all do it. (See above.) But we have to learn to overcome natural human tendencies and do other things, because it's right to do so. Yeah, I know, it's easy to go along with the mob. But doing the right thing is rarely the easiest thing to do. It can actually be a challenge. It would have been easy for me to just go along with them. Instead, I put up with defamation and attacks. But if we're to be successful socially, personally and politically, we have to think about the consequences of what we do. The key word is "think." You can't read one blog post with pretty much zero evidence and make a conclusion based on that. Likewise, I can't use the date (Patriot's Day) and a few other errant factors and conclude that an American right winger bombed Boston.
"I don't know" is an acceptable and usually an honest answer.
It's just crazy to take anything at face value, especially if it doesn't pass a basic smell test. But even if it seems logical, keep checking. Skepticism is not the same as cynicism. Cynicism is an anti-intellectual exercise; cynics think they already know answers they couldn't possibly know. Skepticism is basically keeping your mind open at all times about everything. Always be open to new evidence and new ways of thinking.
Acceptance of a meme without question is the sign of a closed mind, and being a closed minded progressive should be an oxymoron.
UPDATE: The virtual Twitter lynch mob has supplied me with a THIRD piece of "evidence;" a decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court, in which the Court rules on the admissibility of evidence. This, according to the "mob," apparently proves "beyond a reasonable doubt" that their target is, in fact, a pedophile.
Keep in mind, there has been no trial. Until he pled guilty to charges that I presume are lesser than he faced in court, he was innocent.
These people kept repeating, "He's exhausted all of his appeals, and now he's guilty." This is just ignorance writ large. The appeal was for a decision regarding the admissibility of evidence. Oh; and lynch mob? He's not trying to "hide" evidence. If you'd bother to read the decision, he wasn't home when the search took place, and a non-resident guest let police in. He challenged the admissibility based on the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. You remember that, right? The one that claims you're innocent until a judge or jury says otherwise?
The fact of the matter is, he hasn't even been tried. But to an ignorant lynch mob, a list of the prosecution's evidence is sufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Can you begin to see why our system is broken? One reason he probably pled guilty was because of the emotion surrounding the issue. Imagine these geniuses were in the jury pool. That is not a good thing, folks. How did those photos get there? Could someone have framed him? Might a neighbor he screwed on a drug deal placed those photos there to get him in trouble? We'll never know, because the only evidence we've seen is the prosecution's. In an adversarial system, one is entitled to put up a defense. That's in the Bill of Rights, too, by the way.
This is scary, folks. Our system of justice is based on the presumption of innocence, and is absolutely undermined by a presumption of guilt. I feel guilty for having smeared the right wing after the Boston bombing; how could any actual progressive (all of these people claim they are) be cyber-lynching this guy with little to no information? Again; there has been no trial, and all anyone has seen to date is the prosecution's case. He agreed to a plea deal, which is sealed. We will get more details from the sentencing hearing, but until then, no one knows anything, regardless how hysterical some emotional people get about this issue.
I know how scary pedophiles are. I have had to deal with one at one point. But that is no reason for emotion to overtake all reason. Let the justice system play out. That's why we have it. We will probably find out what he actually pled to. But pretending you know by reciting the prosecution's case is just creepy.
Last update: The person in question was sentenced to one year in prison, and eight years probation yesterday (May 29). He will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. That is because he took a plea deal. He was never given the opportunity to present a defense, so the evidence against him is simply without context. He can rightfully NOW be called a convicted felon and a sex offender. Pedophile? That's a medical term, and I'm not a medical doctor. Of course, neither are those folks who are throwing the term. Since I have never met the man, and I don't know anything other than what the police and prosecutors tell me, I would leave the use of that term to people with greater knowledge than I.
Note to the people who are accusing me of "defending" this guy. I'm not defending anything except a system through which people have to be proven guilty. The concept of taking anything the government says about you at face value without question is abhorrent to me. This guy chose to plead guilty to a charge because every trial has become a crap shoot these days, and that's wrong. No one can come up with anything I have said that suggests I defend this guy personally, because I don't defend him. He has a lawyer for that. I am simply saying I don't know what happened. All I know, and all anyone knows, is the list of charges and the compendium of evidence presented by the prosecution. No one has seen, or will ever see, a defense case, or defense evidence. No one will ever hear testimony from the other side.
I'm simply saying we know half the story. That's all any of us knows, whether you're talking about me or the virtual lynch mob. And that has been my only point all along.
I'll leave you with this:
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Ben Franklin