A political science professor I once had delivered a beautiful explanation of our adversarial legal system. Her point was allegedly part of the original basis of the age-old statement, “innocent until proven guilty.”
Our legal system is structured in an adversarial fashion in the hope of doing the least harm. It’s preferable that a hundred guilty individuals go free than a single innocent man or woman be sent to prison.
Beautiful as it was, I didn’t necessarily agree with this statement at the time. I’d seen plenty of obviously-bad people win their day in court and, despite their crimes, walk free as anyone else. Some even went so far as to flaunt how they’d beaten the system, which just added more insult to injury.
At the time, I felt very strongly that we needed better prosecution, stiffer penalties, and a way to ensure that no obviously-guilty persons got away with their crime.
Unfortunately, most people around me agreed.
Today, we’ve almost reached such a system, and to say I’m sorry for what a younger me wished for is an understatement.
We live in a world where air travelers are treated as suspected terrorists and intrusively searched for just wanting to take a trip. Americans stand in line to have their belongings x-rayed, their persons scanned, or to be patted down by a security official as if they’ve already done something wrong. Ironically, you can pay to bypass these screening requirements – your payment, a quick background check, and your promise to be a good citizen adds you to the list of people who can wear shoes, jacket, belt, hat, etc through a metal detector. Your laptop no longer needs to be removed from your bag, either. 1 You’ve now paid to be recognized as an innocent traveler.
We live in a world where police shoot to kill and then justify their action later by painting the deceased as a violent criminal without a trial to ascertain their guilt or innocence. Where police shoot at an unarmed man rushing to retrieve an emergency asthma inhaler for his 6-yr old daughter. When a 12-yr old with a toy is shot mere seconds after police arrive on the scene.
We live in a world where the above situations are all excused by the public as unavoidable consequences. Where individuals are tried in the minds of the police, have their guilt established without contest, and then used by said police to justify lethal action.
We live in a world where my biggest personal encounter with law enforcement’s new “guilty until proven innocent” mentality is having to remove my shoes to prove I’m not a threat to a plane. It’s a world where my friends feel unsafe walking at night with their hands in their pockets because they’re afraid a passing cop might suspect them of a crime and take the location of their hands to be evidence of a concealed weapon.
I’m angry that we’ve let our country get to this point. I’m also ashamed that my silence in the face of this injustice has let it continue to grow. I’m also ashamed of the way that I, too, have judged those around me and unjustly declared guilt.
- Once my ticket was erroneously marked as Pre-check – I’ve never paid for the service – so I got the expedited treatment at the airport. They didn’t even make me hang up on my conference call. ↩