19 April 2010

William Anderson: The Defense Is Not Resting

William Anderson, I have discovered, is a sort of soul mate.  No, he's not my new beau:  For starters, he's hundreds of miles away and I don't do long-distance romance.  (Been there, done that!)  What I mean is that he and I are skeptical in similar sorts of ways and have a similar distrust for the same sorts of public figures.  I mean, how could I not love someone who can write an article entitled "Why I Don't Trust Prosecutors" and make a solid case for his mistrust rather than lapsing into just another rant about the dishonesty of lawyers and politicians.

He played a very important role in exposing the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the so-called Duke Date Rape Case.   The young men who were falsely accused of the rape weren't the most sympathetic characters, at least to some people.  But, as Anderson showed, that's hardly a reason to assume their guilt, as too many in the media and elsewehere were all too ready to do.

Now he is cutting through the thickets of chicanery that has ensnared Tonya Craft in a child-abuse witch-hunt reminiscent of the one that ruined Kelly Michaels' life.    Unfortunately, the twenty years or so that have elapsed between Michaels' and Crafts' trial have not been free of such travesties of justice.  The causes and reasons for those "witch hunts" will be debated for decades, and possibly centuries, to come.  But Dorothy Rabinowitz has pointed out that in American society, they are all but inevitable:  every fifty years or so, she says, this country is "affected by some paroxysm of virtue--an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out." In other words, we have never gotten over our Puritan heritage:  the desire to rid ourselves of such "evil" is so great that too many of us will tolerate the prosecution of innocent people in exchange for some illusion of security.

Why do I care about those cases Anderson has pursued?  Well, having been witness to, and victim of, the dishonesty of some people who had one kind of authority or another over me, I distrust anyone who has both authority and ambition.  Even more important, though, is the fact that I also experienced sexual abuse from a family friend when I was a child.  While I want to see the truly guilty punished, I shudder to think that someone innocent could be accused and worse. It is precisely because I know how terrible it is to suffer such abuse that I know how serious it is to accuse someone of having done it.   As someone whose life was constricted by the shame and fear I felt as a result of the abuse, and the self-loathing I developed as a consequence of not talking about it with anyone for about 25 years after it happened, I know that convicting an innocent person will do nothing to heal the physical and emotional wounds of someone who has been abused or assaulted.  

Furthermore, the prosecution of an innocent person doesn't make everyone else safer.  If the wrong person is charged, it means the real perpetrator is free.  Or, if there is no actual crime, as in the case of those young men at Duke, it means that the criminal justice system is wasting its time and taxpayers' money when it tries, convicts and sentences some innocent person.  If anything, I think that going after anyone for the sake of punishing someone, let alone to further the ambitions of some district attorney,  actually makes it more likely that someone else will fall victim to the crime of which some innocent person has been accused.  After all, if those who are entrusted to uphold the law and apply it fairly are engaging in criminal activities (perjury and such), the disrespect for the rule of law and the sanctity of other human beings such behavior engenders can only send the message that, in essence, there are no de facto or de jure regulations or principles preventing the violation of another person.  What respect can anyone, much less some would-be criminal, have for the law if those who are supposed to enforce and apply it are as likely as those deemed criminal to circumvent it, if  not break or ignore it outright?  And what sort of a message does it send when those who are supposed to be the guardians of law and justice can not only behave in criminal activity, but are not held accountable, in any way, for it?

As someone who actually suffered from some of the acts of which Tonya Craft is accused, and for which Kelly Michaels was imprisoned, I am very happy that William Anderson has taken up their cause.  We need more like him!