When I was just a little boy, standing to my daddy’s knee, my papa said son…
Wait. Suddenly I’m quoting John Fogerty. I wasn’t Born on the Bayou, but when I was younger I did take a lot of civics – basically from the time I entered school until the time I finished my formal secondary education. I’ve used my lessons in American civics many times. It helped me as a reporter to know my way around a county clerk’s office, ask for the proper paperwork and follow legislatures, town hall meetings, and various city and county council meetings. From it I learned about Roberts Rules of Order and how to frame questions and search for knowledge in the greater Republic.
I mention all this because I wonder if we’re teaching civics today – for I find many are ready to jettison a wide variety of our civil rights under the auspices of safety without understanding the historical significance and reasons behind those liberties they seem ready to throw in the circular file.
Without making a case against public school education, I mention this because I wonder what the cause is behind the recent rush to judgment regarding the Boston Marathon bombing and the complete lack of understanding of American civics.
Let us recap. Two bombs exploded at the marathon. Three people tragically died and more than 160 were injured. Many of these were serious injuries.
Police hunted down suspects. Members of the media incorrectly reported them captured then the FBI released photos they said were of the main suspects. The next day one of those suspects apparently died in a shootout with police and the following day the second suspect was taken into custody after law enforcement and residents volunteered to lock down the city of Boston. The 19-year-old suspect was hiding in a boat in Watertown and had suffered from a gunshot wound himself.
Some have disturbingly shouted from the highest mountain tops that due process of the suspect should be suspended. Others, many of them the same people who always wail and gnash their teeth about the “Lame Stream Media” have decided based solely on what they’ve seen on television and read in the newspapers the 19-year-old is guilty and should be put to death.
Now, if the boy is guilty, then he should in fact be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I’m not ready to trust what I’ve seen on television or read in newspapers in order to convict this young man. I’ve been a member of the media far too long to place my faith in our ability to prosecute a case. That’s for the courts.
Nor do I ever want to suspend the rights guaranteed the accused under the Constitution. Nor do I always trust everything said by law enforcement. I’m not indicating the FBI did anything wrong, or any of the local police. I’m merely saying the courts are the arbiters of these disputes and that’s where the case belongs.
But H.L. Mencken’s “Boobus Americanus” is alive and well today, populating the countryside and ready to tell me I’m not a “True Red Blooded American” if I say the 19-year-old boy is innocent until proven guilty. One man told me to “Go back to where I came from. What kind of name is Kareeem anyway?”
Another man told me he usually supported due process, but not in this case because it’s obvious the 19-year-old was caught “red handed.”
This gentleman has no first-hand knowledge of the case, but he’s ready to light the torch and burn the man down. So much for his principals. If they are principals of convenience, then they're inconvenient at best.
I take no comfort in this blood lust. I do not fathom why someone would mispronounce my name and ask me to move back to Kentucky. I don’t even understand the fear.
More people are killed by random violence in most large cities on any given weekend than were killed in Boston. More people are injured by automobile accidents. Those events deserve our concern.
But it’s nothing we fear. We fear terrorists. We lock down our cities and hide in our homes. While we accept there is random violence in our country and random accidents, we can never accept nor understand terroristic acts.
So we panic and toss away our civil rights.
You don’t have to be Born on the Bayou to know in that way the terrorists have won.
All it apparently took was one injured 19-year-old boy to shut down a major city - that and fear.
That is why we apparently are ready to jettison the concept of due process and why we need it now more than ever.
I once covered a case – that later went on to be my first book – where two young Hispanic brothers apparently gunned down a white police officer with his own gun.
They claimed self defense, but no one believed them. Six weeks later toxicology reports showed the cop had been “speed balling” – a potent mixture of heroin and cocaine that also claimed John Belushi’s life – when he got into the fracas with the boys. Maybe they were right.
Remember; Appearance is not always reality. Due process can’t be sacrificed because the appearance of a heinous act.
It is then when we need to show the rest of the world we’re civilized and not taken over by the passions which seem to rule most nations.
We should be the gold standard for the rest of the world – much as our founding fathers intended.