Tom Robinson Was Guilty! And So Were the Scottsboro Boys!
By William L. Anderson
The recent death of Harper Lee, author of the popular 1960 book, To Kill a Mockingbird, once again has put that book and its storyline into public discussion. Lee’s story – that a black man in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression is falsely accused of raping a white woman and is defended by attorney Atticus Finch – depicts things that were good and bad about life in the 1930s South, and also has made Finch into a timeless hero.
Lee based her story, in part, on the infamous Scottsboro Boys Case in Alabama during the 1930s, which became a symbol of race relations and wrongful convictions, and the vulnerability of black men at that time when falsely accused of raping or sexually assaulting white women. The facts of the Scottsboro Boys ordeal are well-known, and medical evidence clearly demonstrates that accuser Victoria Price was lying when she claimed that a number of black males raped her in a boxcar of a freight train that was going from Chattanooga to Scottsboro in 1931, but none of that mattered to jurors, who had decided from the start that the men were guilty because a white woman made the accusations.
American literature students, both high school and college, are familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird, and even more, Americans are familiar with the 1962 film with the same title starring Gregory Peck as Atticus and marked the film debut of the great actor, Robert Duvall, who played the part of Boo Radley. Both Lee and the film make it absolutely clear that Tom Robinson’s accuser, Mayella Ewell, is lying and that white juror wrongly convicted him simply because Robinson was black and Ewell was white.
Likewise, the same thing happened in a larger and even more volatile setting in the Scottsboro Boys Case. Juries of white Alabama residents ignored evidence and convicted the black defendants because, well, that was what they were supposed to do. In both Macomb (the fictional setting of Lee’s book) and Scottsboro, the accusations of white women of questionable character were the only proof needed for jurors to vote for conviction.
One would hope that American society would be past such injustices, but it seems that the same thing is happening again, this time on American college campuses, and, this time, the “believe-the-white-woman-no-matter-what-the-evidence-says” movement is coming from activists associated with the hard Left. This development is doubly ironic because it was the Left that first rallied to the cause of the Scottsboro Boys, and the Communist Party of the USA provided legal funds for the black defendants.
The problem with the Scottsboro Boys was not the lack of adequate defense, especially after the situation became well-known, and especially after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions. (Alabama authorities retried the defendants and got the predictable “guilty” verdicts.) No, the problem was not evidence or lack thereof; the problem was the narrative itself, and the same narrative exists today among feminists that are demanding that males accused of rape or sexual assault be permitted no defense at all since they obviously are guilty. Why? Women accused them, and that is all the “proof” of guilt needed.
Lest one believe I am exaggerating, take the comments of Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, speaking about males accused of sexual assault on college campuses:
It seems like we ought to provide more of a legal framework then that allows a reasonable likelihood standard or preponderance of evidence standard. If there’s ten people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all ten people. We’re not talking about depriving them of life and liberty. We’re talking about them transferred to another university.
Polis later backtracked a bit on those statements, but given that much of the audience applauded his statements at that congressional hearing, there certainly is a sizeable constituency for those viewpoints which say that an accusation itself is proof of guilt or, at least, the bar for an accused male to “prove” his innocence should be so high as to be nearly unreachable. As KC Johnson writes, the “Polis Standard” already is in place at the University of Cincinnati, where accusations of sexual assault pretty much mean automatic expulsion for accused males students. Never mind if they actually are guilty as charged; the university has a default position – Always Guilty – and UC officials know that they won’t have to worry about the U.S. Department of Education investigating them for not convicting enough male students of sexual assault.
The automatic assumption of guilt is not something in the shadows and is being increasingly embraced by mainstream writers. Declares feminist writer Zerlina Maxwell:
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.
Lest one think I am being unfair to Maxwell, she continues with what truly are shocking comments:
The accused would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching his shows, consuming his books or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.
Translation? Men falsely accused of rape are inconvenienced at worst, and authorities almost always will uncover the errors in a subsequent investigation. Both points are false and utterly so. Furthermore, as one reads the accounts of men who have been wrongfully convicted of rape, the consequences are much worse than just being “defriended on Facebook.” From the Central Park Five to Luis Vargas and Jay Cheshire, the consequences of false accusations are horrific, and to call them simply a “rough period” is obscene. Talk to men who have served for decades in prison on wrongful rape or sexual assault convictions and see if they tell you that they merely were inconvenienced, as Maxwell seems to indicate.
Lest one think that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard for determining sexual assault is going to be limited to the college campus, think again. Judith Shulevitz writes in the New York Times that there is a growing movement among American lawyers and so-called legal experts to expand effectually the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to criminal accusations of rape and sexual assault in which guilt automatically is assumed and it is up to the defendant to “prove” oneself innocent, an impossible and illogical standard. Furthermore, she notes that a number of members of the very influential American Law Institute want to expand the interpretations of sexual assault to a point where any touching – including hand-holding – can be classified as “sexual assault.” She writes:
In a memo that has now been signed by about 70 institute members and advisers, including Judge Gertner, readers have been asked to consider the following scenario: “Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of ‘Criminal Sexual Contact’ under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).”
Far-fetched? Not as the draft is written. The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal. “With passivity expressly disallowed as consent,” the memo says, “the initiator quickly runs up a string of offenses with increasingly more severe penalties to be listed touch by touch and kiss by kiss in the criminal complaint.”
This is one of those “Be afraid; be very afraid” moments. Adherents of this guilt-assuming legal doctrine claim that they just want to place such “crimes” in the “misdemeanor” category, but Shulevitz notes: “…once a law is passed, you can’t control how it is used.” This is not idle speculation, and the best current example is the infamous Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 911 attacks ostensibly to fight “terrorism.” Today, the law is heavily-used in garden-variety drug cases as a weapon prosecutors can use against the accused since the rules of evidence in the Patriot Act are much more favorable to the prosecution and police than are rules governing ordinary drug laws. Likewise, the infamous RICO statutes passed in the 1970s supposedly to go after “organized crime” figures have been expanded to criminalize ordinary business transactions.
The Barack Obama administration and its feminist allies clearly favor lower evidentiary standards and an expansion of the range of what would be called sexual assault. To further that point, the U.S. Department of Education has demanded that colleges and universities change how they investigate sexual assaults in order to find more male students guilty and expel them. Institutions of higher learning that exonerate males have found themselves being investigated for Title IX violations by the DOE. At the present time, more than 100 institutions are on the investigation list, every one of them for exonerating a male; not one institution is being investigated because it denied due process to the accused or came up with a wrongful conviction and punishment.
If we are to go with the Obama administration and feminist standards, Tom Robinson and the Scottsboro Boys were guilty. So was Emmitt Till. So was Ed Johnson. So were the members of the University of Virginia fraternity who really didn’t rape “Jackie,” but feminists say they did, anyway, and woe to the person – in this case a female UVA dean clearly labeled in the infamous Rolling Stone story – who actually tries to mount a defense or to fight back against lies. And so are the numerous men released from prison after various Innocent Projects investigated, had DNA testing, and convinced judges that miscarriages of justice had taken place. Females accused all I have mentioned either of rape or some other sex-related crime, and if the Obama administration and the gaggle of feminists that now dominate the “discussion” of sexual assault have their way, the Innocence Projects and everyone else who works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people can just go home.
In the same way, feminists and black activists joined together to attack and attempt to discredit clear and convincing evidence of innocence in the Duke Lacrosse Case, and perhaps it is ironic that prosecutor Mike Nifong’s actions were so outrageous that it got him removed from the case and forced state authorities to re-investigate to see if it should go to trial. Had Nifong done what prosecutors normally do in cases where defendants obviously are innocent – just keep pushing forward – he could have brought it to trial in Durham and a Durham jury would have spent no more time deliberating for a guilty verdict than did the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird or in the various Scottsboro Boys trials, given the fact that Durham politically is dominated by the hard left.
And, as Shulevitz has pointed out, if Barack Obama and his political allies have their way, future criminal juries will be able to convict men for sex crimes that never happened because the legal system must support “victims,” including those that never were victims in the first place. However, since the full force of the Obama administration is behind the drive to use kangaroo courts to come to predetermined convictions, there is not much anyone can do.
Stuart Taylor, Jr., an attorney and a well-known journalist in Washington circles, has excoriated the recent “documentary” “The Hunting Ground,” in which the film alleges that women on college campuses are more likely to be raped there than in the most crime-filled cities in the world. Stewart is not alone. A number of members of the Harvard Law School faculty also voiced serious criticisms of the movie, saying it provided a “seriously false picture” of a case at Harvard in which a black law student was accused of sexually assaulting two other students, a situation in which the black student, Brandon Winston, was “vindicated by the law school.”
One of the great ironies of the current push to expel male students from college on flimsy charges is that a number of the males targeted are black. “The Hunting Ground” not only goes after Brandon Winston dishonestly but also targets former Florida State quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner) Jameis Winston. Taylor notes that the movie butchers many of the facts of the case in which a white female student, Erica Kinsman, accused Winston of raping her. Taking his former employer, The New York Times, to task for its coverage of the Winston-Kinsman case, Taylor writes:
… there is a large body of evidence that The Times has kept from its readers that would lead a discerning reader to another conclusion: that Winston has been cleared by three separate investigations because the evidence shows that his claim that his accuser consented to have sex is as credible as her often-revised account.
The Times‘ coverage of the Winston controversy (and others like it) shows the nation’s most influential newspaper exemplifying bias in the Winston case in particular and on the issue of campus rape in general.
At this point, those on the other side accuse people like Taylor of being “rape apologists” and worse. Note that Taylor has not defended rape or sexual assault. Taylor defends the due process of law. Taylor defends the rights of the accused. In the modern politicized age, defending due process is anathema.
America seems to have come full circle since the Scottsboro Boys and the fictional wrongful conviction of Tom Robinson. What truly is ironic is that the USA has a black president who has teamed up with white feminists to help railroad innocent black men into prison or have black male students booted out of colleges and universities because white females have accused them of rape. No doubt, some of those accusations are correct, but many are not, but a black president and white feminists are not interested in separating the guilty from the innocent and, instead, are pushing a Jared Polis standard for higher education.
It is said that Barack Obama wants to make sure he has a legacy, and in the situation involving accusations of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, Obama certainly has forged one. The only problem is that he has brought back the same standards of “justice” that got black men wrongfully convicted of sex crimes – and Obama apparently sees no irony in all of that. Obama may say that Tom Robinson and the Scottsboro Boys were innocent, but his actions declare them to be guilty.