December 10, 2014

JONAH GOLDBERG: USING ALLEGATIONS OF RAPE IN A GRAB FOR POWER:

Nine males were accused of being part of a heinous rape. The alleged injustice fomented a mob mentality. An enraged community wanted to skip any talk of a serious investigation, never mind a trial, and go straight to the punishment.

I’m not talking about the now-discredited allegations against fraternity members at the University of Virginia, but of the legendary case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American teenagers falsely accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. Despite testimony from one of the women that she had made up the whole thing, the Scottsboro Boys were convicted in trial after trial. All served time either in jail or prison.

Scottsboro is a landmark case in the history of the civil rights movement and the American justice system. Sadly, it was hardly an outlier. There’s a long, tragic history of African American men being wrongly accused and convicted of rape. The most notorious recent example is the 1989 case of the Central Park Five in which four African American teens and one Latino were wrongly accused and convicted of brutally raping a white woman in New York.

Clearly, the injustices involved in these cases are far greater than what transpired at UVA. No one at the Psi Kappa Phi fraternity faced the death penalty or went to jail. But the lessons learned and principles involved are timeless and universal; everyone deserves the presumption of innocence.

Apparently, Zerlina Maxwell disagrees. She writes in the Washington Post: “We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.”

The Scottsboro Boys case has gone from cautionary tale, to model.

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