Friday, January 23, 2004

Student Sex Case in Georgia Stirs Claims of Old South Justice

New York Times

Since I'm in Georgia at the moment, I thought I should mention this local controversy - an excellent black student and high school football star in a mostly-white community is convicted of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation. His sentence is 10 years (the statutory minimum). The victim was a white classmate, and 15 years old; Marcus Dixon, the defendant, was 18.

The controversy surrounds whether Dixon's treatment was fair, or racially motivated. Quote:

"Mr. Dixon's lawyers argued an appeal on Wednesday before the Georgia Supreme Court, in which they presented Mr. Dixon's prosecution as faulty and his punishment as unusually cruel. Under state law, they argued, Mr. Dixon should have been sentenced under the lesser charge of statutory rape, which carries a maximum one-year sentence.

'This man should be pursuing his education instead of sitting in jail,' said his lawyer, David Balser.

. . .

On the eve of Wednesday's hearing, nearly 100 people gathered outside the state Supreme Court here, holding candles and singing, "We Shall Overcome." Speaking to the crowd, Dr. Joseph Lowery, a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, did not mince words.

'If the young lady was black and Marcus Dixon was white, I don't think we would be here,' he said, his voice breaking with emotion."

Not so fast. If the prosecution was faulty, then I'm in agreement that Dixon deserves a new trial, and if the conviction was racially motivated, all the more reason to try and get things right. There are some signs this might be the case.

But if one's compassion comes from the fact that he's young, smart, and now will spend 10 years in jail, you must also believe he's innocent. Because if he really did rape that girl, he doesn't deserve any compassion. He received exactly what he deserved.

I just hope the people singing "We Shall Overcome" are doing so because they believe him to be innocent, and not because they believe that, if he's guilty, he's going to jail for 10 years because he's black. If he's guilty, he would be going to jail for 10 years because he raped a 15 year-old girl. In that case, the only person that we need to "overcome" anything is his victim.

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