The arrows of allegation


Sunday, April 14, 2019

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The famine in Ethiopia in 1984 went unnoticed by the world and largely, there was no response to it until Michael Jackson, the premier entertainer of his era, brought together the world's greatest musicians and did a song entitled We are the World.

This not only raised millions for the cause, but also brought visibility to a crisis being ignored largely because it was occurring in Africa. This was one of many causes endorsed by Jackson, to include epic songs of resistance and protest encouraging tolerance and exposing prejudice.

This, however, is not his legacy. Instead, he is remembered as a paedophile and sex offender. Is this because he was convicted of this offence? No, it's simply because he was accused of it. He was, in fact, charged, made to face a jury of his peers, and acquitted.

But, that doesn't matter, the allegation was enough to destroy all he worked for.

So, the man who saved millions of starving people is, even in death, being propagated as a 'monster', despite having been freed in a court of law.

Let us liken this to our own situation here. The policemen who were charged with the Kraal shooting in 2003 were also accused. They too beat the charges and were freed by a jury of their peers. However, they suffered the permanent loss of their visas. So the allegation, despite not standing up in a court of law, still came with permanent sanctions.

One could say it is just a US visa, but it is not. The British and the European Union often collaborate on bans such as this, so normal travel for them becomes virtually impossible. Even if they decide to go to Africa, how could they reach there without going through the USA, Britain or a European Union state?

So, I guess an acquittal in a court of law means only the relief of sanctions involving custody in a penal institution, because you are either punished by public opinion or foreign governments, or in the case of the Kraal accused, both. We can thank the local human rights activists for this injustice.

The recent issue involving the Calabar High School athletes who were accused of assaulting a teacher brings the power of an allegation again to the fore. These athletes admitted to refusing to obey the instructions of the teacher. They were the subject of an investigation and no evidence was put forward to support the allegation of assault. They were punished with what is reasonable in this era for the offence of refusing to obey a teacher.

This is the time we live in. In my time you got beaten like a prisoner. Maybe this type of punishment is better, maybe not, but it is in keeping with the national standard of high school sanctions for this offence. However, the public and the teacher were not satisfied with the punishment for the offence, but wanted punishment for the alleged offence that remains unproven.

This is the reality of allegations. They are arrows in themselves. They, by their very nature, punish in their own way, whether proven or not.

This means that before persons are charged there needs to be an effort to determine the likelihood of success in a court of law. Also, before we put a man on national television to make allegations that have been subject to an enquiry, to state as fact allegations that are neither established nor proven and that can serve to destroy young lives, we need to conduct some degree of an investigation, because his allegations have hurt the athletes — allegations that have yet to be proven. He has damaged their sponsorship potential and their ability to attract scholarships to certain universities.

There was little or no public debate on the facts in the scandal that need to be discussed. For example, why, if you are charging each student $8,000, do you not provide the basic necessities such as sponges, (or 'mattrasses') for a camp? Is the school being compensated for the electricity used during the running of this business venture? Was it correct, moral, or indeed legal conduct to take other persons' property in order to provide the assets required to conduct the venture, especially after being told “no” by the owners of the assets? Where are the videos supporting the allegation of assault? And why do the videos presented so far counter the report as presented by the educator?

But, the only news that is believable is that which villifies our heroes — whether they be famous cops, like SSP Reneto Adams, entertainers like Michael Jackson, or sports heroes like Christopher Taylor. Sensationalism sells, so why not destroy all our heroes?

Our famous are the most vulnerable because they are the most affected by public opinion. The recent case of entertainer Clifton Bailey, known as Capleton, is yet another example of this.

He, from day one, was saying he had text messages that demonstrated an intent to extort money from him, but no one would even listen to him. He is freed, but will he ever be the same in the public eye after having been accused of this horrible offence? Will we look at him the same way?

The terrible reality is that to put a citizen before a court for rape, you simply have to make an allegation of a sexual assault. There is literally nothing that the police can do. They are obligated to proceed according to the law.

In a matter of assault, you at least need to show damage of the alleged strike area. But with rape, unless the medical exam proves virginity or something bizarre that counters the allegation, you are going to be charged, and afterwards — freed or not — you are destroyed.

This is not to say that I am advocating any leeway for sex offenders; I have no problem with sexual offences carrying the death penalty. But, I recognise the absolute power to destroy that this allegation carries.

Therefore, charging cannot be an automatic response to an allegation of rape. It must be subjected to the highest standard of investigation possible, because, unlike other crimes, it punishes before the trial and in many cases, for a lifetime after.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback:

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