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Rushing Headlong to Judgement
It seems to me that one of the greatest challenges we collectively face is whether we put a greater emphasis on a person's behaviors, or on the individual person. I know I can be as guilty of this dilemma as the next person. I asked this question before in a thread dedicated to this subject, and overwhelmingly the responses I received were that the greater value should be placed on the person, not the behavior. The reality it seems is quite different.
Jesus taught us repeatedly "Judge not, that you be not judged." I cannot help but struggle with this, when the overwhelming propaganda of paranoia that permeates society is to rush to judgement when certain issues are raised. By virtue of the politics of the war on crime and through the machinations of the mass media, society as a whole instinctively reacts in a knee-jerk fashion whenever certain issues are raised, convicting individuals (and even whole nations) in the court of public opinion long before they ever face a fair and impartial justice system.
We need to look at this responsibly and consider our part in the process. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to scapegoat certain persons who are no more than accused.
One subject stands out among others in our society, and seems above all others to draw the instant conviction of society without any semblance of fair trial; pedophilia. Were vigilantes still the norm, as it seems many of us secretly wish, any person merely accused of this crime would be strung up, castrated, and tortured in every imaginable way we could to exact our vengeance, justice system bedamned. And if that person were actually innocent of the charges, would we not then be guilty of an even more heinous crime than they?
Allow me to posit an example, one that is very possible at least here in the states. A person with a vendetta for whatever reason, can call Social Services *anonymously* and report the abuse of a child. The report does not need to be factual or true, Social Services is bound by law to investigate. This anonymous accusation is in direct violation of the Constitutional right to face one's accusers. And the anonymous tipster might even receive some financial reward if the accused is convicted. Now, Social Services goes to investigate a young father with a two year old daughter. He is a doting father who helps his wife in caring for the child, changing diapers and bathing the little girl as needed. Social Services asks the little girl "does daddy touch you there?" To which the little girl innocently replies "yes," and all hell breaks loose.
The little girl is removed from the home and placed with a foster (which all too often creates problems of its own!). The man is charged and probably confined to jail to await trial. The news media blows the story way out of proportion because sensational stories drive up viewership. The public rallies with the war cry "off with his head!" The man is already convicted in the court of public opinion even before going to trial. He loses his job and friends, and now faces the very expensive task of proving his innocence and clearing his name. He faces a politically motivated District Attorney who cannot afford to appear "soft on crime." The man cannot rely on court appointed legal assistance for bringing the justice of truth to light, the court appointed counsel will tell him to plea bargain and admit guilt for something he would never dream of doing to his precious little girl. His face and name are put on the rolls of child molesters for the whole county to view, and his neighbors around his home are "warned" of his living in the area.
No matter if after a fair trial he should happen to be exonerated and cleared of any wrongdoing, his neighbors will continue to cast angry glances and keep their distance. The media has no requirement to clear the man's name or admit their inaccurate reporting. The legal system can take their time removing his name from their warning rolls with no repercussion. And Social Services has no requirement to provide information allowing the man to sue the false accuser for defamation or to "fix" any mental health issues that may arise in the child for improper removal from her home because Social Services are above the law.
I invented this scenario, but it is all too possible, given the current laws and the zeitgeist of the public mind. There are men being falsely accused of such crimes that are in reality guilty of no more than caring for their child. And society is only too happy to lynch such a man without anything resembling a fair trial; between an overwhelming desire to scapegoat and the aura of fear perpetuated by the legal and social system, and the political air of emasculation wherein a man *must* be wrong about everything and anything particularly when it comes to issues regarding children by virtue of no more than hormones and facial hair.
Yes, this is an extreme example. I am using it to make a point. Do we place a greater value on a person, or on what a person does? Now, what is your answer as soon as I mention the word: pedophile?
Don't get me wrong, our children are precious to us, and rightly must and should be defended against those that would hurt them. But where do we draw the line? Do we automatically jump headlong off the cliff to judgement as guilty simply because the media and the Social Services attach a name and face to an unsubstantiated accusation? Is the public justified in condemning innocent persons in order to insure the safety of our children? Is society justified in ruining the lives of tax paying citizens in order to secure a moment’s respite from the perpetual fear of crime?
Perhaps nowhere else is the apocryphal quote attributed to Ben Franklin more true, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
There's a little town about 30 miles or so from where I live that holds a solemn remembrance every year to commemorate the rush to judgement. Every January 4th Rosewood, Florida somberly marks a time when a number of people were hung and shot to death by a mob of vigilantes over no more justification than a false accusation. By no means is this an isolated occasion in American history, but rather than serving as a sobering lesson it seems we are determined to continue in our old ways.
Remembering Rosewood - The Most Thorough Site
The Real Rosewood
Rosewood massacre - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
We want the world to be a better place. Instead of working on ourselves to bring it about, I guess it just seems easier to mindlessly point a finger and cast our judgement onto someone else. Some old habits are too hard to break I guess, it's been going on for more than three thousand years. We’ve been scapegoating others since the book of Leviticus.
We still can't quite seem to figure this one out. We want to believe we place a greater value on a person than on their behavior and that a person can be redeemed in spite of their behavior, when the truth is our actions betray us. Redemption among our fellow human beings is very difficult, and depending what prejudices are faced maybe even impossible. Even those who serve their time and pay their debt to society all too often remain convicted in the court of public opinion for their entire lives. “Forgive that ye may be forgiven.” Easy words, hard to practice.