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Presumption of Innocence

Presumption of Innocence

This week has been both heartbreaking and infuriating. If you live under a rock, a 25 year old woman drove into a crowd killing 4 people and leaving dozens of others injured. Almost immediately rumors began swirling about what had happened. Many of these rumors were breathlessly repeated in print and on the internet. It was an elderly man that had a seizure. It was a woman that was drunk. She was fired from her job. She was seen stumbling away from her job. She was emotional as she left. She had no prior history of mental illness. And on and on and on for the past few days. Many of the initial rumors have been entirely debunked, but no matter, they are still being repeated and shared on social media.

The mentality of many posters is to string her up. “Give her the needle” one said. “Life in prison for this disgusting human being” said another. Forget the presumption of innocence. Forget that there may be mitigating or exonerating circumstances. The court of public opinion has spoken as her judge, jury and executioner.

This ignores one key part to this whole tragedy: we don’t know the whole truth. All we are getting are bits and pieces and even then, not all of it has been reliable. Why this sudden rush to judgment? Why the need to excoriate this young woman before we have all the facts?

Listen, I am not saying this woman is innocent. I am saying I do not know. And neither do you. She has a history of mental illness. She apparently has untreated diabetes. Her attorney says she is not acting like he would think a sane person would act. It could be anything. And until we find out it wasn’t, she gets the benefit of the doubt. The Court of Public Opinion does not have the same rules as a Court of Law, but it should. Persecution, especially that based on inaccurate information, is disgusting. She is a human being.

Maybe it comes out she took a bunch of pills and was stoned out of her mind. Maybe it comes out she had a diabetic episode and was blacked out. Either way, she has been irreparably torched and that’s wrong.

p.s. It is hard for me not to at least mention that her attorney and her family has said she was in a mental institution a couple of years ago and was released shortly thereafter. I hope this will bring up more discussion of the state of mental health in our state and the horrible lack of funding to address mental health. Instead, we slash their budget and people that are sick have no place to go for help. End result is that people die.

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