Last September, just before midnight, Senator Doug Jones grabbed his phone, went on Twitter and in no more than 50 words, told the people of Alabama that he would be voting NO on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
Immediately, I was overcome with shock and indignation. Yes, more often than not, Senator Jones toes the party line; he votes against President Trump’s positions 84% of the time.
Naively, I assumed that with so much at stake, this time would be different.
Surely, I thought, he would be reminded of Brian Banks, an African-American senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School who had just committed to UCLA before his career was destroyed by a false accusation of sexual assault.
Or maybe, the images of the nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape who collectively spent over 100 years in prison not far from where he grew up would cause him to demand, at the very least, a smidgen of evidence before casting blame.
As he was pondering his decision, I was supremely certain he would hear the cries of Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley as she wept over the casket of her son, Emmett Till, who was abducted, brutally tormented, shot, folded in barbed wire and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River because he “whistled” at a white woman — a lie she recanted some 50 years later.
Surely, I thought, his years as a federal prosecutor, in which he routinely witnessed lives shattered over false accusations, might reignite his deep and profound respect for the sacred principle that, in our criminal justice system, one is innocent until proven guilty.
With his vote, Senator Jones endorsed a cultural movement which mandates that, even in the absence of evidentiary support, we must #BelieveAllWomen.
While seemingly well-intentioned, this categorical pledge should alarm Black folks in Alabama, as it stands to disproportionately affect us the most. Taking punitive action on the basis of accusation, and not evidence, is a philosophical regression that could awaken one of Jim Crow’s most destructive offspring: a society that values the voices spoken from white tongues over those from black ones.
The National Registry of Exonerations, in a 2017 report examining 1,900 exonerations over the past 30 years, determined that 47% of those exonerated were African-American, despite the fact that we make up only 13% of the U.S. population. In cases involving sexual assault, African-Americans constituted 22% of convictions, but 59% of exonerations. In other words, around half of the time, black men are wrongly convicted of sexual assault.
Realistically, if Kavanaugh is not afforded due process, despite being reared in some of America’s most privileged institutions, what chance do we have?
In a criminal justice system rife with inequalities, the presumption of innocence is often the only thing we can hope for. And Doug Jones’ philosophy — one that assumes guilt when accusations are made — is one that leads to the unjust imprisonment of men who look like me.
All survivors of sexual assault and rape deserve justice, just as the accused deserve one of America’s most potent protections: innocence until proven guilty. It is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence – one that separates us from brutal regimes across the globe and one that must not be relegated to a second-class status.
As election season is upon us and Doug Jones walks the streets of our neighborhoods and preaches to our congregations in the hopes of garnering our vote, remember that politics is more than just handshakes and speeches. Our votes, and the people they go to, have the power to turn ideas into reality.
Let’s vow to utilize that power to keep Jones and his destructive philosophy from creating more miscarriages of justice in our community.
Jalen Drummond is a native of Randolph County and alumnus of the University of Alabama