The Charlotte News
Wednesday, May 15, 1940
Site Ed.Note: On first read, "Life's Price" may sound racially condescending at points to modern ears, (though reading a subsequent editorial,"Addenda", from June 2, 1940, belies this suggestion). But when considered closely and against the racially segregated and, alternately, paternalistic or invidiously discriminatory American society of the 1940's, whether in the South or outside it, the editorial demonstrates a sensitivity and equanimity both to the African-American defendant and, moreover, to the African-American victim not usually seen except in the most progressive voices of the day. While our own experience should tell us that "tough love" as often fails miserably to rehabilitate or deter as it succeeds at accomplishing anything but engendering further bitterness when concerning misdemeanors or felonies involving drugs or property, punishment for serious crimes of violence is another issue entirely, requiring sentences which are stiff enough to prevent recidivism in the individual perpetrator as well as to deter the community at large.
But, as Cash notes in passing, we must never be led to think in terms which offer only as pro forma discussion the notion of the presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of our jurisprudential system. For without it, we become no better, maybe worse for the hypocrisy exhibited, than the regimes of Europe against which this country fought in World War II.
"Presumption", when one considers it, is strong language; it is not a tepid, timid sort of half-hearted lip service to the concept but the requirement of a strongly held belief in the innocence of the accused until credibly evidenced to the contrary sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that a person is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty and that such evidence is so strong as to produce an abiding conviction, that is, a belief which will persist over time--all of which, of course, is a fancy way of saying that one is as certain of it as that the sun will rise tomorrow, maybe more so. Lack of such certainty requires acquittal, and no one should ever serve on a jury who is not prepared to provide that strong presumption of innocence to anyone and everyone. The strongest of proof being that which is and ought to be required for the conviction of any criminal offense, the onus of which likely lasts a lifetime. Failing that, the individual just did not "get off" but was acquitted by a jury of his or her peers and deserves the full accord of rights given to anyone else in society and the continued presumption of innocence, notwithstanding what some cornflakes selling radio or television talk show host may on the airways until time immemorial jabber about to the contrary. Else we spoil the kitty and get gobbled by the Big Cat--or maybe the Old Jackdaw.
For another Cash stance on the issue of capital crime, rendered on different facts, see "Grey Mouse", August 6, 1939.
Negro Killing Is More Than Misdemeanor To Sink
We assume that the jury was justified in finding that the two Negroes, Lucille Johnston and Johnnie McCrite, guilty of nothing worse than manslaughter in Judge Hoyle Sink's court yesterday. But the judge apparently thought he had to deal at least with fairly aggravating cases of manslaughter, for he clapped sentences of from twelve to fifteen years on each of the defendants.
That, we think, is a good healthy sign. The low value which has been put on Negro life by white courts is certainly one of the factors which go to explain the appalling prevalence of Negro murder among us. Juries have always been reluctant to convict for anything more than manslaughter, and judges have commonly levied minimum penalties, from three to eight years at most.
Racial prejudice was not the only reason for that. Part of it arose from the "protection" afforded Negroes by influential white men in the days when it was usual for virtually every Southern Negro to have his "white man" as patron. And part of it has been due to the fact that the testimony of the witnesses is often plainly unreliable.
Nor should that be lost sight of now. A Negro charged with murder is entitled, like anybody else, to be assumed not to be guilty until the crime is conclusively pinned on him.
Nevertheless, the kind of sentences handed out by Judge Sink yesterday are obviously called for in cases where the crime is proved. It is only in that way Negroes themselves--or rather the murderous element of the Negroes--are to be taught a decent respect for life on their own account.
Blitzkrieg Chalks Up An Elephant As Victim
One effect of the Nazi blitzkrieg in the Low Countries has been to knock the Republican 1940 campaign strategy over the ropes and out of the ring.
What had been planned was an effort to sell the country the idea that Mr. Roosevelt and all his cohorts are warmongers who deliberately wanted to betray the country into a war which was none of our business, which would never concern us if only we stayed quietly at home and minded our own affairs.
Thomas Dewey, who began by endorsing the Roosevelt foreign policy, had hastily to change his view to conform to the High Command strategy--went so far as to "guarantee" that if he were elected he would not go to war under any circumstances. And Arthur Vandenberg, with the marvelous bad timing which usually distinguishes him, came out with a similar "guarantee" at the very moment the German armies rolled into Holland and Belgium.
But the new invasion has conclusively demonstrated that the war is inevitably our concern. It has utterly destroyed the central isolationist thesis that it is possible to stay out of war simply by making up our mind that we want to stay out of war and rigorously refraining from giving the bandit nations cause for taking offense. Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg all did precisely that.
Worse, the invasion has opened up the terrifying possibility that even by the time of the national conventions Britain and France may be beaten, leaving us to face the Nazi threat without adequate arms. And in any case, it has made it quite plain that the war which has now really begun involves the fate of Western civilization.
The Republicans are left high and dry without a program. And they deserve it. The whole plan was one which deliberately jeopardized the national interest for political advantage, for nobody can honestly "guarantee" to keep us out of war for four years, or even for four months.
The U. S.
Our Entry Into War Would Not Aid Allies Now
The heated argument as to whether we ought to get into the war in Europe--which, incidentally, is being mainly carried on by the "isolationists"--seems a little beside the point.
Plain fact is that we can do nothing to aid the Allies in their immediate jam. It took us four months last time to put an army into action in France. And there is no prospect it would take less than a year again. By that time the struggle in northwestern Europe either should have come to a decision or settled into a stalemate.
If our hands were free at sea, we could certainly stop the Italian brigand who is busily whipping up his country to play the jackal at the feast he smells coming. The mere threat of the intervention of the American Navy would probably be sufficient--if he were convinced that we mean it. But he knows all too well that we couldn't mean it.
The moment the American battlefleet leaves its present station off Hawaii, the Japanese are virtually certain to seize the Dutch East Indies and get control of the rubber and tin we must have for war.
The things we can really do for some early effect on the war are:
1--Unless our boasted technical skill and industrial resources are a myth, we ought to be able to build up in a few months an airplane industry which would dwarf our present one, and which would turn out planes at a rate far beyond that possible to Adolf Hitler and his fellow criminals.
2--At the same time we ought to be able to build up a great machine for turning out munitions, tanks, and so on.
3--We can lay aside bootless arguments about the old war debts and prepare to finance these aids to the Allies.
All these things can be done without any declaration of war on our part. All we need is mere enabling legislation by Congress.
It is true enough that, if the Allies still lost, we should probably find ourselves in for war with Hitler. But we should probably come to that eventually in any case. And we would at least be in better condition to meet it.
It is also true that it would be costly--certainly no minor consideration in a country in which expenditure is already staggering. Nevertheless, it would be far less costly than even a few months of a struggle with Hitler on our own account.
In any case, and whether we like it or not, these are in reality the only feasible things we can do at present. A declaration of war now would simply be a preparation for a contest which may cease to exist before we can get ready. And the need for arming our own forces would probably simply have the effect of shutting off from the Allies the planes and so on that they are already getting from us.
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