Why I don’t assume people are guilty

I’ll always have sympathy for those accused of crimes until they’re proven guilty, even when they look guilty as sin from the outside. I know that isn’t a popular attitude these days. With the Harvey Weinstein story out there, it is probably very cathartic to assume he’s guilty and to cheer on everything that happens to him, but I have personal experience that makes me hold back.

When I was a kid in the ‘70s (not a kid, but I was in my early 20s, you’ll have to forgive me, everyone seems like a kid to me nowadays), I was charged with drug possession and nearly went to prison.

This was early on in the drug war years, and the police were searching anyone with long hair, just assuming that was reasonable enough proof they were smoking something.

I, actually, was not smoking something. Though I did have long hair and listened to all the right music, I didn’t go in for the drug scene. My father was an alcoholic, and that scared me away from anything that might give me a cloudy head or lead me down a bad road. I played it straight. I didn’t judge people for doing otherwise (still don’t), but it wasn’t for me.

That didn’t stop the police from assuming I was hiding something. One such officer harassed me in a park. He searched my pockets and whatnot, and when he didn’t find anything, he went looking around for anything on the ground. Unluckily for me, someone had actually thrown the butt of a joint in the grass. It was cold, clearly hadn’t been smoked in a week, but that was enough for the officer.

Off I went to the jail. I was fingerprinted, booked, and everything. Once the story was out, once I was released and had a court date, I don’t know how many people shook their heads at me, absolutely certain that I was guilty. And not just that I was guilty but that it wasn’t a misunderstanding or a one-time thing. Many people, including many close friends and some family, assumed I must be some kind of junky.

Now, for those too young to remember, the political climate was quite bad back then, in some ways better than now but in others much worse. There was an assumption that anyone in the counterculture was worthless and deserved any punishment they got.

But that sort of assumption, that attitude, is exactly what makes me pause before condemning people now. I think Harvey Weinstein is probably guilty, but I can’t be sure yet. I was lucky enough to find a good criminal lawyer. I am sure Mr. Weinstein will have the best anyone can pay for. I don’t really worry about him.

I do worry about the small time guys who get caught up in things they aren’t responsible for, though, just like me. I’m sure my situation happens every day still to this day. I hope people are more understanding. I also hope criminal lawyers are cheaper than they used to be. People need the chance to prove they’re innocent.