Gee: Some people don’t get the benefit of the doubt
Giving someone the benefit of the doubt: To retain a favorable, or at least a neutral, opinion of someone or something until the full information about the subject is available.
When They See Us is a new Netflix series that came out last Friday. It’s inspired by the high-profile Central Park jogger case from 1989. The case involved a female jogger who was attacked and raped in New York’s Central Park. Five teenagers were convicted of this crime. If you haven’t had the chance to watch it, I highly suggest you do.
It took me three days to get through this four-episode miniseries. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the time. Mainly, it was because it was so upsetting. But I watched it. Now it’s 5:37 a.m. and I can’t sleep at all. Here’s why.
Thirty years ago I was walking through the academic building at Howe Military School. It was the time between classes. Two kids were wrestling in the hallway and were banging up against the lockers. Once I saw this, I ran up the stairs to get to my next class. But during that class, I was called down to the office.
On my way to the office, I’m thinking to myself, “Great, now they are going to want me to tell them who was wrestling in the hallway.”
When I arrived at the Commandant’s office, he immediately said, “Scott, you’re written up for Conduct Unbecoming.” For those who didn’t attend military school, that’s bad. Conduct Unbecoming is worth 25 demerits, which are marks that can go against you if you do something wrong like not shining your shoes, missing a name tag, or in this case wrestling.
I was surprised, so I asked what I did. The Commandant told me that I was attacking a kid in the hallway.
“No sir, I didn’t do that,” I said. “I ran past when others were wrestling.”
“Scott,” he said. “One of the Tactical Officers (an adult who is in charge of one of barracks that we lived in) saw you.”
I told him it was a mistake and that I was sure it was just a misunderstanding. But he just said “Scott, we are done here.”
I approached the Tactical Officer later that same day. I told him that he had the wrong person. But he said “No Scott, I saw you. Don’t pretend like I didn’t see you.”
I couldn’t believe this. Why is he saying this? Why is he doing this?
By the way, this incident was a big deal because it put me at over 30 demerits (I had 10 already). When you get 30 or more demerits, that’s “F-Conduct,” which means no privileges for the weekend and you have to match with rifles for hours. I had never been on F-Conduct, so I was devastated.
That evening at the barracks, I approached the kid who I was accused of attacking; the kid who was wrestling in the hallway. I told him what happened and what I was accused of. He said he would go tell the Commandant the truth, that he was the wrestling with someone else.
The next day, he did just that. He told the Commandant what happened and how I didn’t try to attack him. The Commandant asked him if he was being threatened. He told the kid that a Tactical Officer saw the whole thing, so he didn’t want to hear anymore.
So I lost my privileges, even though I didn’t do anything. Even after the kid confessed, they didn’t believe him.
As I often did when things bothered me, I called my dad to talk with him about it. After I told him the story, the first thing he sad was, “Why did you run?”
Well, I ran up the stairs because I didn’t want anyone to think I was involved.
“Well son, there’s nothing I can do,” my dad said. “Unfortunately, you’re going to have to accept the punishment.”
I’m crying over the phone and explaining to him that this adult is lying on me; that the kid even told the truth. I told him about how they think I threatened the kid so he would lie for me.
But again, my dad told me “Son, I understand that, but you’re just going to have to learn from this.”
Now I’m mad. I’m so mad at my dad and everyone in the world.
“Why is that I don’t get the benefit of the doubt?” I said.
There was a pause for about five seconds.
“Champ,” my dad said. “Because you have to learn that you have to leave no doubt.”
For the next two days, I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
But then, on Friday after school, the kid approached me and told me everything was fixed. He called his mom — a wealthy family by the way — and told her what happened. She called the school and fixed everything. And just like that, the demerits were gone and I was good to go. If you’re asking if the kid got demerits for wrestling in the hall — um, no. It was a wealthy family, remember?
The five teenagers from the Central Park jogger case were never given the benefit of the doubt in 1989. One of those teenagers, Korey Wise, wasn’t even on the suspect list. He went down to the police station to support his friend who was being asked about the crime. It was Korey’s coerced confession, however, that was used to put them all in jail. Korey is also the only one who went to adult prison — he was 16 at the time — and he was incarcerated the longest.
This case happened 30 years ago, and today it is so hard to watch. Tonight, I can’t sleep. They didn’t get the benefit of the doubt then. I don’t know that much has changed today. I do know and understand what my dad was trying to say then. Some of us can’t count on the benefit of the doubt, we have to leave no doubt.