NEW YORK -- Reading about Michael Jackson brings to mind H. G. Wells. Before discussing that improbable connection, let's get something straight! In our book, there is nothing more horrific and revolting, to a degree that renders it almost unimaginable, than abusing a child. Turning to the next page in our book, there is nothing that can suggest mitigation, motivation, or excuse, whether it be purpose or perpetrator, priest or pervert. Sexual abuse of a child is an ultimate irredeemable, unmitigated, absolute evil. And if there were a Richter scale of evil, any child molester should be relegated to a level of hell populated by twisted despots and serial killers.
Turning to the Michael Jackson affair, elements continue to disturb us. The District Attorney Sneddon is nick-named "Mad Dog." People should rightfully be suspicious of a District Attorney with this appellation, since such monikers are usually reserved for criminals like Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll -- who played a nifty tune with his tommy gun during the heyday of Prohibition. We prefer our role model for a District Attorney to be like the character played by Jay Jostyn in the long running 1939-1954 radio serial "Mr. District Attorney." At the beginning of the show a booming voice from an echo chamber intoned the duties of "Mr. District Attorney" and then proceeded to name the virtues of that position -- first of which was "protector of the innocent."
Innocence is a unique presumption under the modern law of free societies. We all come clothed in that state of grace, and it is the job of government to pierce, when appropriate, that cloak. This all is a far cry from "Mad Dog" Sneddon's unique pursuit of justice.
In his first press conference in which he announced his prosecution of Michael Jackson, you would think he was going to a Bar Mitzvah. It was delayed because the police were, as he indicated, preoccupied with Halloween events. He then mangled the law when he announced that now, because of a new statute, the victim can be forced to testify. One could reasonably suppose that a District Attorney would read the law before a major prosecution was announced, and certainly before proving his ignorance to the assembled press of the world. The California statute does not force a victim to testify, but rather it is designed to prevent a situation where the victim takes money not to testify. Apparently, before "Mad Dog's" next press conference, when he correctly explained the statute, some law student showed him the law.
After the press conference, "Mad Dog" sent 70 police officers to Jackson's home to search for clues. Again, one might reasonably raise the question that since he was absolutely certain that he could prove Jackson guilty, what was the need to send the 70 policemen? Or at least it would seem logical to send them before, not after, the announcement. Also, if we were parents of a child that had been molested, we would be telling our story not to a force of 70 cops waiting to pounce like the Fourth Infantry Division in Iraq, but rather to an overworked, underpaid police officer who would be typing out our complaint on a 1942 Underwood. We would also question why our child was relegated to one kind of police attention and Jackson to another.
ALL OF THIS BRINGS US to H.G. Wells' short story, "The Country of the Blind," which tells the tale of an adventurer who "slipped eastward toward the unknown side of the mountain" in an inaccessible valley "[t]hree hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the snows of Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuadors' Andes, [into a] mysterious mountain valley, cut off from all the world of men," peopled by natives who are all, at this stage of their insulated existence -- blind. "A strange disease had come upon them and had made all the children born to them there...blind."
The traveler falls in love with one of the chief's daughters and asks for her hand in marriage. The elder of the tribe senses there is something different and strange about the traveler -- something that must be rectified before he can claim the girl. They finally decide that he is different because he has two lumps on his face -- his eyes -- that must be removed. "[I]n order to cure him completely, all that we need to do is a simple and easy surgical operation -- namely, to remove these irritant bodies."
Michael Jackson is certainly odd and dances or sways to the beat a different drummer than the rest of us. Sadly, it is often human nature to look at someone radically different from ourselves with a mixture of loathing and fear. Think of the emotions registered on the faces of people who buy tickets to the thankfully disappearing "entertainment" freak shows.
Michael Jackson, if he is a child molester, or if there is evidence of such conduct, should be tried, convicted and punished in the harshest manner allowed by law. However, he should not be forced to face a jury if his crime is merely being odd or different from us, or offending our sensibilities. In any event, it should be in the public's interest to have trials that are fair and unbiased prosecuted by a District Attorney who approaches his assignment in the same manner. It is not served by having a prosecution conducted by a District Attorney whose nickname is "Mad Dog," who has personal grudges to satisfy, who misstates or misunderstands the law, and who chooses to make a circus out of a situation that cries out for all the fairness and sensitivity as befits the legal process as it strives towards resolution.
"Mad Dog," given his actions, is not the person we feel should represent the body politic in this pursuit. In the way he has undertaken his mandate, he has shamed himself, and in a larger sense, all the rest of us who look to our system as an example of the way a free society deals with those who have violated its laws. In a sense "Mad Dog" has made us all culpable in a twisted and personalized institutional predetermined search for the truth.
California has a new Governor, like him or not, who was elected on the basis of his bringing new thinking and approaches to old problems. He has it in his power to appoint a special prosecutor for the Jackson case. He should do so. We are all -- including Jackson, like him or not -- entitled to a process that does credit to our way of government, and in so doing, to all of us. Too often, in our nation's history, we look back, years later, to a criminal trial and we see, with the acuity of hindsight, a process hopelessly compromised by questions of race, religion, national origin, or just plain fear. This unfortunate history stretches from the witches of Salem, to the Scottsboro Boys, to Sacco-Vanzetti, and the deplorable Red hunts after the First and Second World wars. This should not be allowed to happen in the Jackson case.
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