Every man – particularly men of color – should be afraid. Very afraid.
After a jury returned two guilty verdicts against former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., incredulously had this to say about allegations of rape and sexual assault:
“It’s rape even if there is no physical evidence.”
The district attorney went on to state that the verdicts against Weinstein “pulled the justice system into the 21st Century. It’s a new day. Their verdict turned the page on our justice system on men like Harvey Weinstein.”
There’s little question of the importance of the #MeToo Movement. Still, even some women in the movement might be troubled that Vance believes their father, brother, husband, son, nephew, or another male relative should automatically be viewed as guilty because of an accusation.
And, for African Americans, such view while not new, is even more troubling.
In 2019, editors at the American Bar Association’s website noted a gaping shorting when it comes to the legal concepts of “presumption of innocence,” which is not expressly enumerated in the U.S Constitution, but instead comes from the Bill of Rights.
The general theory is that every defendant charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“However, by the preconceived notion, a man of color accused of rape, by a white woman, is presumed guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the editors wrote.
“In the case of a white man accused of raping an African American woman, the presumption of guilt shifts from the white defendant to the African American female victim. Here, there is a presumption that a woman is unchaste because the color of her skin is black.
“Alternatively, the standard applied to the white defendant is the presumption that he is innocent until the African American victim is proven pure, innocent, and deserving of the law beyond a white person’s reasonable doubt.”
The American Bar Association editors pointed out historical cases of Black men and boys like The Groveland Four and Emmet Till, who were falsely accused, lynched, and, or, wrongly convicted of rape or sexual assault. Till was wrongly accused merely of whistling at a white woman and violently murdered by white supremacists.
Bar Association editors Chelsea Hale and Meghan Matt further noted the 2016 case of two African American students from Sacred Heart University, was falsely accused of raping a white student.
The student, Nikki Yovino, claimed she was raped in a bathroom during a party held off-campus. Investigators said they believed the woman’s initial story who said she had witnesses to back up her charges.
However, another student came forward to show sexually explicit text messages between Yovino and the accused.
Because of that, Yovino recanted and said she was worried that the consensual encounter with the two students would harm her relationship with another student she admired.
One of the falsely accused students lost his football scholarship while both were forced to withdraw from school.
“Even though a criminal trial was never held, the two young black males were given the excessive sentence of guilt before a thorough investigation was ever conducted,” Hale and Matt wrote. ”Even with Yovino’s lenient penalty for falsely reporting a crime, these two young men’s lives have been forever altered because the color of their skin was different from that of their wrongful accuser.”
After Vance’s comments, social media users skewered the district attorney.
“Well, I hope someone comes forward and accuses him sometime soon,” wrote user @onthefly_99.
“How anyone could say taking us back to witch hunts and lynch mobs equals pulling us into the 21st Century is beyond me. It’s exactly what people said during the Satanic Panic, which started by the junk science of repressed/recovered memory syndrome,” wrote Twitter user @Tiffany44541244.
“This DA is rogue and dangerous. He should be seeking justice and the truth not calling for witch hunts and unfairness,” wrote another Twitter user @Taurus510W.
When contacted, a spokesperson for Vance told NNPA Newswire that “the district attorney stands by his comments.”