Right Opinion

Due Process and Proving Guilt Are Important Principles of Fairness

James Shott · Feb. 12, 2019

Defending Democrats is not something I feel the need to do very often, but recent developments compel me to defend those condemned for something without due process.

In America, we live by an important principle: Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

When the hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court began last year, many people automatically believed Kavanaugh was guilty of the accusations against him without having seen or heard anything besides the accusation of wrongdoing that allegedly occurred decades ago.

Today, the Lt. Gov. of Virginia, Democrat Justin Fairfax, stands accused of sexual improprieties from years ago. Immediately upon those accusations being made public, people were again jumping to conclusion by rendering him guilty based upon nothing more than accusations.

Yes, there is more evidence of Fairfax having a connection to each of his two accusers than what was shown against Kavanaugh. But so far it is just an accusation, albeit a somewhat convincing story. Even so, that falls well short of what ought to be required to remove someone from office.

There is a process for removing an official like a lieutenant governor from office. It’s called impeachment and trial.

If we are so shortsighted as to be willing to demand someone be removed from a position simply because of an accusation, we will have abandoned a critical protection from vicious and unfounded charges that every one of us benefits from.

Never forget: Anyone can accuse anyone of anything at any time. If that is the standard required for trashing someone’s reputation and removing them from a position they hold, we are indeed in trouble as a nation.

There are also demands for the resignations of two other Democrats in high Virginia government offices for activity decades ago. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring both have admitted to appearing in public in blackface.

Northam first apologized for being in a photo showing a blackface man and another person in a KKK costume, but later denied being one of those two people. He also said later he had participated in a dance contest in blackface as Michael Jackson.

Northam and Herring are also hearing demands for them to resign. If these resignations happen, the new governor for the Commonwealth would be the speaker of the House of Delegates, who is a Republican.

As much as I personally would like to see a Republican as governor of Virginia, this is not the way that should be accomplished. Northam and Herring might be racists. This episode of decades ago, however, does not prove that.

Today, the activity Northam and Herring participated in is identified as wrong. However, a few decades ago, it was not unusual for white folks to appear in blackface for minstrel shows and other performances. Blacks actually were sometimes in those shows. Many times these performances involved a white person playing the part of a black person, but they were not ridiculing or insulting blacks. They were often honoring them.

Perhaps this outrage is due, at least in part, to not knowing much about our history. White people appearing in blackface goes back a long, long way, to the 19th century. More recent Americans to have appeared in blackface include old-timers Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope.

But some current popular folks appearing in blackface include Ted Danson, as his girlfriend, Whoopi Goldberg, looked on laughing; Dan Aykroyd, who appeared in a movie with Eddie Murphy; and left-media darlings Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Joy Behar, and Sarah Silverman. Billy Crystal, Cyndy Lauper, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jason Aldean have also have painted their faces.

The key element here is that when Northam and Herring performed these acts, they were not considered wrong. Context is important.

When someone is offended by what someone else does, says, or writes, that is not all there is to the story. Being offended has replaced baseball as the national pastime. It’s almost as if people go to college and major in “how to be offended.”

But just because being offended is popular today does not mean that the offended party is always correct in their reaction to things. And just because someone or some group takes offense at something doesn’t mean we must hasten to pass laws against it. The intent of the person being accused of some social infraction is the most important thing.

Just because one or more people think what someone wrote, spoke, or did is bad doesn’t mean that the person intended it that way. The error might well be on the part of the offended party that doesn’t understand the context but feels empowered to complain about it.

Furthermore, it is unfair for people to be criticized today for doing things that were common and not unacceptable when they did them years or decades before.

We’ve got to get past this idea of perpetual victimhood, get control of the tendency to believe that our individual feelings are paramount, and return to dealing with things we don’t like in a mature, American fashion.

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