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What Happened to Presumed Innocent?

There was a lot of skepticism over why the NAACP asked the country not to prejudge Michael Vick. Because surely it’s wrong to support someone who exhibited such savage cruelty towards dogs even if that someone is black and a … Read More

By / August 7, 2007
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There was a lot of skepticism over why the NAACP asked the country not to prejudge Michael Vick. Because surely it’s wrong to support someone who exhibited such savage cruelty towards dogs even if that someone is black and a nationally-recognized sports superstar. He shouldn’t have any support, ran the argument. He's a criminal. Those people said the issue wasn’t about race, it was simply about cruelty towards animals. The black community of Atlanta, where Vick has been the star quarterback for the Falcons, sees it a little differently. For them, it’s always been and will always be about race. With the backdrop of Atlanta race relations over the last century, Wright Thompson has written an article, “A History of Mistrust” for ESPN. The subtitle tells the story: “Having trouble understanding how so many black Atlantans see the Michael Vick case as a racial conspiracy? Try walking a mile in their shoes”:

NAACP president R.L. White, who is the pastor of a church with 14,000 members, understands the outcry in the community. He is a product of the civil rights struggle. As a child, he saw a cross burned in his front yard. As a grown man, he shared a friendship with Martin Luther King Sr. These memories provide the foundation for his preaching and activism. "The one thing that I say is everyone is welcome to their opinion," he says. "But my opinion is this: Unless a person has a trial, he is not guilty of anything. That is the fabric of our country." After services on Sundays, he speaks with his parishioners. Many smell a conspiracy. White says you have to understand what people have been through before dismissing their theories. Yes, if Vick's guilty, then he's done an awful thing. But let's wait to see whether he's guilty. That's his point. "For a lot of African-Americans, who have in the past either been accused themselves or seen people they admired not be given due process," he says, "they are skeptical about proceedings against well-known African-Americans."

R.L. White has also shared his thoughts in an interview with Newsweek.

Similar to Mr. White's stance, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, of the First African Baptist Church in Monroe, Georgia and an 85-year-old civil rights veteran who helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott, calls the knee-jerk condemnation of Vick a “violation of human rights”:

"I do not seek to excuse Vick," he says. "Dogfighting is despicable. It smells of sadism, savagery, and reflects the hardening of spiritual arteries. It is cruel and betrays animals that show humans affection and trust, and thus are easily led to a bloody end. But that does not justify the violation of human rights in the principle of presumed innocence. The mad rush to execute Vick has been bloodthirsty itself."

Michael Vick may very well be guilty and deserving of very serious punishment. In fact, Vick's co-defendant has himself pleaded guilty. But Vick's guilt has yet to proven and until then, what happened to "presumed innocent"?

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