Friday, December 03, 2010
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
I was approached by a nice woman who runs an out of school program for kids who don't handle the classroom environment so well. My duties would be as a bike shop guy helping the kids develop skill sets handling tools, projects, etc with bikes as their focus. It was to be a paid position and take up about 3 hours of my week. Okay fine. I was interested. Not for the money so much as just to help out.
I received an email from her. In it she insinuated my position was a lock and "oh, by the way, we need to know if you have had a background check recently and been fingerprinted." This was mentioned as if it was no big thing, business as usual.
I pondered her email. The longer I sat there and thought about it, the angrier I became. The notion that I have to prove I am of good enough character to work with children rubbed me the wrong way. In a country that supposedly champions the idea of presumed innocence, background checks, drug tests, and fingerprinting for no legal reason makes this claim look rather silly and hypocritical. And what is worse, the stigma attached to refusing to comply with these requests gives the impression one has something to hide. We should change the slogan to "Guilty until proven innocent".
Some of us still believe in the idea that innocent until proven guilty is an important enough ideal that refusal to comply is not because we have something to hide, but that we just object to having to prove our innocence without having been charged with anything.
Some ideals are worth taking a stand for. Refusing to take drug tests and yielding my past to some investigators are two I feel strongly about. So I emailed her back. I filled her in on the drug stupidity that landed me on the wrong side of the law. But then I told her I would not give her any information that would kick the background check into motion. It was the principle, not what they might find out. I flat out do not care if anyone knows about my few minor brushes with the law. I was stupid when I was young. I got caught being stupid. I paid the price passed down from the bench and then moved on with my life. Christ, it's been almost 30 years now.
And now I am sure she and whoever she answers to are wondering, "What does he have to hide?" And you know what? I could not care less what anyone thinks by my refusal. I know why I did it. I know and admitted what I did years ago. If that is not enough, well, find someone else.
I often make fun of those folks who would have us return to the days of Ozzie and Harriet. I know that the world has become a more dangerous and complex place. But in my opinion, half of our problems stem from a mass paranoia that has ballooned out of control. As a culture we now seem to assume the worst in people before we assume the best. This may be the new reality, but it does not mean I have to cave to it. I always try my best to give everyone I meet a fair shot before I cast them out of my life. It's too bad our nation, our world has decided to take a different course.