Guilty until proven innocent

Guilty until proven innocent
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Sadly, America’s police are being pronounced guilty until proven innocent. In aiming to combat individual injustices, America is being led into a systemic one. Rather than rightly rejecting prejudice, the left is redirecting it against the police.  

Recently, back-to-back incidents show how far the pendulum has swung against America’s police. 

On July 10, 20-year-old Hakim Littleton was shot and killed by police in Detroit. Immediately, Littleton’s name was added to the narrative of Blacks unjustly killed by police. 

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Violent protests erupted, ending only after police used tear gas and made arrests. 

The problem was that the shooting’s reported facts contradicted the prevailing narrative. Littleton was not the person police were arresting; rather, he thrust himself into another man’s arrest. Littleton was also armed, drew his weapon first and fired first. Only after being fired upon, at almost point-blank range, did officers return fire. The circumstances of the shooting remain under investigation.

A day later and across the country, two police officers were ambushed and killed in McAllen, Texas. Officers Edelmiro Garza Jr. and Ismael Chavez Jr. were responding to a domestic disturbance call when Aldon Caramillo killed both in what was described as an ambush-style shooting. The officers’ tragic story completely contradicted the prevailing narrative about police brutality, so it went comparatively untold.  There were no protests mourning their deaths. 

Imagine if both stories had been reversed. Imagine if Detroit police had killed a black man in a manner that followed the prevailing narrative. Imagine if two Texas police officers had entrapped and then killed a minority man. In those cases, both incidents would have been major news across the country; either would have further stoked national outrage and protests. 

As it is, because of the apparent circumstances in Detroit and the kind of victims — law officers — in McAllen, both stories sank comparatively quietly and quickly away. It is safe to say there will be no professional athletes kneeling for the two dead Texas officers — no yard signs, no bumper stickers, memorializing them.  

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It is safe to say this because just the opposite has been said already. When Savannah Chavez, the 18-year-old daughter of one of the fallen officers, posted a tweet in tribute to her father, it was met with vitriolic abuse online. The abuse ridiculed daughter and fallen father alike — the former guilty of nothing but grief, the latter guilty of nothing more than being ambushed in the line of duty and being a police officer.  

These two stories, so divergent from the surface of today’s prevailing narrative, actually connect perfectly with the professed principle for today’s outrage. At the core of both these stories is the prejudging of incidents based on the individuals involved. 

To prejudge is to be prejudiced. What police have been accused of in specific instances is now being applied to them generally. The specific incidents have been condemned as unacceptable; however; the growing general anti-police bias has been implicitly condoned — at least if overwhelming silence means anything. 

America is on a dangerous path toward simply exchanging one injustice for another — trading isolated injustices for a universal one, which will leave society as a whole more vulnerable.  

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a hallmark of American justice. It is a shorthand rendering for half the amendments in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Law and order is equally an American hallmark; it also lies at the core of any civilized society. Without it, not only are society’s most vulnerable endangered, but ultimately, society itself. 

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a principle. To be a principle, a position must be universally applied — to all cases, to all individuals, always. If it is not, then a position becomes nothing more than an agenda.

It is clear there are many on the left who do not share “innocent until proven guilty” as a principle. Instead, they seek to use it to advance an unacceptable agenda of condemning the police as guilty until proven innocent. Defunding the police may be their explicit ultimate goal, but delegitimizing the police is their implicit immediate one.

Most Americans share the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and were horrified to see it violated in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is therefore time that these Americans return to this common principle and not be led unconsciously — and unconscionably — into exchanging isolated injustice for a systemic one.

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.