Benefit of a Doubt

benefit-of-doubt-logoA couple of days ago, I wrote “the situation faced by (Moral Monday) protesters who’ve been arrested is a relatively safe one”. Today, as happens on occasion, I have to eat those words. A couple of hours after that post went up, I read on the Love Wins Facebook page that Shon McClain, one their people, had died in custody at the Wake County Detention Center. According to reports, McClain was in an altercation on June 4th with Officer Markeith Council, which left him hospitalized and on life support; McClain died last Monday.

Shon’s death has brought to light the fact that there are some problems at the Wake County Jail. Over the last few years, there have been multiple assaults on inmates and one was left unsupervised for over an hour and found unresponsive on a jail mat. That inmate also died. Now, jail isn’t what you’d call a “safe space”; considering some of the people in there, it really can’t be. But, part of a guard’s job is to ensure the safety of the inmates, not send them to the hospital.

Now, I could talk about why a guard who’s 6′ 3″ and weighs close to 300 lbs. found it necessary to slam someone half his size (McClain was 5’7″ and weighed 145) onto a concrete floor, twice. I could talk about whether this incident will get the attention it deserves since Shon was homeless and African-American. But, I’m not. I’m going to talk about what a lot of us thought when we heard about what happened to Shon: he probably deserved it.

I know it’s an easy thing to do. Council is a law enforcement officer with 3 years of service in what can only be called a stressful job. McClain had a bit of checkered past and was in jail awaiting a court date on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia and consuming a malt beverage on city property. In our world, law enforcement officers are good and true and protect us from the bad guys. No one wants to think they might be capable of hurting innocent people. McClain, on the other hand, might not have been one of those “bad guys”, but wasn’t he in jail because he screwed up?

He was in jail because he got caught with drug paraphernalia and alcohol in public. I’m not going to go into the abject shittiness of life on the street; I don’t think I need to. But, I will say this: if you were in Shon’s situation, isn’t it possible that you might look for a way to anesthetize yourself to that shittiness? Even if it was just temporary?

The SBI is investigating Shon’s death and, until that investigation is over, Council is innocent until proven guilty, i.e. he gets the benefit of a doubt. But, if Council gets that benefit, what about Shon? Is it right to think that maybe, just maybe, he got what was coming to him because of his past and present situation? I don’t think so. Shon was a child of God, just like Council, just like you and me. Doesn’t he deserve the benefit of a doubt, too?