Have you no decency?

“This brushing aside of the presumption of innocence is becoming commonplace…Defaming the dead is just plain cowardly.”

Something’s been bugging me for a while now. A bit like that piece of popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth during a movie that you can feel, but you can’t quite locate and remove. I’ve been wanting to write about it but hadn’t found quite the right jumping-off point.

Until recently.

The first popcorn kernel in my teeth is a concept fundamental to our legal system that is being selectively ignored: the presumption of innocence.”

This is a concept so fundamental, that I shouldn’t need to explain it (but you’ll notice that I have included a link for those who might be interested). Each and every one of us is entitled to the presumption of innocence. If we are accused of a crime, the burden is on the state to prove its case, not the contrary.

This is true—as it should be—regardless of the accused’s race, gender, religion, or social status.

We are all innocent until proven guilty.

We all understand that if an accusation is made but a jury finds the accused not guilty, then the accused is…?

Not guilty.

This is not rocket science.

But, what happens if the state brings charges against a citizen, and then—rather than proceed to trial, withdraws all charges? One more time with feeling—what happens if the government accuses a citizen of a crime, and then concludes that the case is not even strong enough to take to a jury, and drops the charges?

Is that person innocent or guilty in the eyes of the law?

If your answer is “not guilty,” you are correct.

A person who has been accused but not convicted of a crime is not guilty.

A suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. 

On January 26, 2020, nine people, including Kobe Bryant, lost their lives in a helicopter accident. Social media reacted generally as decent people would to such a tragedy—outpourings of love, affection, condolences.

But, I’ve now seen several posts of an article by Jill Filipovic, Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies that takes another tack.

I will not attempt to summarize the article—it speaks for itself and you can read it by following the link here.

The problem I have with it is simple. Filipovic begins her article by sympathizing with those grieving Kobe Bryant’s death, then adds:

“And also…Kobe Bryant raped a woman.” (emphasis original)

To be fair, Filipovic immediately backtracks and acknowledges that this rape allegation was not proven in court (as the victim refused to testify and the state dropped all criminal charges). In addition,  the victim took “a payout” (Filipovic’s words, not mine) to settle the civil lawsuit.

Yet, the rest of Jill’s article goes on to educate us about how we should treat Bryant’s death by recognizing the bad—that “he raped a woman”—as well as the good.

I have no problem with that conceptually. Every life is a tapestry.

The problem I have with Filipovic is that there are lines that must be respected, lines regarding the existence of which Filipovic is apparently (due to ignorance or intention) oblivious. When we agree to live in society together, we accept those lines. One of those fundamental lines in our society is the presumption of innocence.

Kobe Bryant did not “rape a woman,” as Filipovic claims.

Bryant was accused of a crime. The state dropped the charges. He was not guilty before the accusation and remained not guilty after the state dropped its case.

And I’m sorry Jill, but your hindsight second-guessing pseudo-analysis as to why and how the case was resolved does not rise to the level of anything more than tawdry speculation. It does not change the outcome.

By all reliable accounts, Kobe Bryant lived a good life and kept his end of his bargain with society. He worked hard. He paid his taxes. He married and built a beautiful family. He went to church hours before he boarded the helicopter that ended his life.

When he was accused of a crime, he hired legal counsel, appeared in court, and zealously defended his innocence. Which was his right. He didn’t flee the country to France like a Polanski.

He followed the rules like any decent human being should. He deserves the same decency in return.

This brushing aside of the presumption of innocence is problematic and is becoming commonplace. I will be writing more about it, as well as the right to counsel.

In this particular case, Filipovic’s article is not just problematic, but indecent and disrespectful of Bryant, his family, and the principle of presumed innocence. Worse, Filipovic’s screed would in fact be libellous—meaning she could be sued for her false claim that Bryant committed rape—save for the fact that Mr Bryant is dead and the dead are not subject to defamation.

Defaming the dead is just plain cowardly.

Nine lives were lost on January 26, 2020. Each and every person who died that day deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

And, if we truly believe that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental value in our society, then we have to respect the outcomes of the process which applies that presumption.

To do otherwise is disingenuous and indecent.

Jill Filipovic should practice what she preaches, and rather than publishing bald-faced speculation to garner likes on Facebook, “…maybe the stories [she tells] about our culture’s most resonant figures should strive to be true, for better or worse.”

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