|HERE IS PLENTY wrong, I think, with our current judicial system. Just as troublesome, though, is the unchecked and unbalanced state of the court of public opinion.|
It is a loosely organized but extremely powerful entity, one that can condemn the innocent and protect the guilty. And, oh, how fickle it can sometimes be.
Let's take the current controversy over the Duke lacrosse team, some of whose members allegedly assaulted and raped a stripper. Accusations, and nothing else, have led to the coach's resignation, the cancellation of the Blue Devils' season, and several protests against the team. Recent negative DNA tests that seem to exonerate the accused -- well, no specific players were accused -- have not reversed the verdict rendered by the general public: Guilty.
DNA results do not make or break such a case, which is why I continue to withhold judgment on the matter.
Others have not been so patient. Those who immediately lined up with protest signs did so not because they actually knew everything that occurred the evening of the supposed crime. The real reasons I cannot know, but I can offer a few possibilities.
Well, not always.
- Loyalty. The accuser is a student at nearby North Carolina Central, a largely black university, and this blind faith in the accuser's claim could be tied to the racial dynamic of this case.
- Moral superiority. It always makes us feel better when we can focus on someone else's (alleged) sinfulness. Satan's goal is to soothe our guilt by telling us our behavior is okay, and one way he does that is through "bad people." When comparing ourselves to murderers and rapists, we come off looking pretty pious. How sad we must take such extreme measures to salve our consciences.
- Pent-up anger. This is most often manifested in the so-called "angry white man syndrome," of which sports radio guys seem inordinately infected. But we're all vulnerable to it. Our anger at what we perceive to be an unfair life gets directed toward legal or social injustices. So strong is the desire to unleash our wrath, we reach a verdict long before the jury does.
We often take sides depending on our cultural status.
The O.J. Simpson case was a perfect example. While the evidence pointed strongly to Simpson's guilt, many black Americans stood by him anyway. Many white Americans, conversely, couldn't wait to see him locked up.
Such racial undertones are coloring this Duke lacrosse case, too, along with the Barry Bonds issue.
As with O.J., nobody witnessed Bonds' crime (no, steroid usage wasn't against the rules when he allegedly began juicing, but it was and is against the law). Don't need witnesses, though. After weighing what I feel is sufficient evidence, I've concluded that Bonds indeed took steroids. Try to explain away the evidence, but I don't think you can.
I'm more careful these days in reaching such conclusions, so believe me when I say I've followed this situation pretty closely over the years (being a sports writer, it's kind of hard not to follow such a story). I've learned it's not wise to declare someone guilty, even in your mind, before the evidence has even been presented.
If one isn't careful, even this approach can smack of self-righteousness. One might say, "Who am I to judge? I'm above such narrow-minded behavior." It can also be a cop-out for the indecisive among us.
When faced with questions of someone's guilt -- that someone usually being a total stranger, mind you -- we should remember our own guilt. What if our misdeeds were aired in public?
Actually, they will be one day. God will pass judgment on each one of us, and those who did not let Christ carry their guilt will carry it themselves.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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