What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Fear is a great motivator, but it is also a great defeater. Bruce Lee once said, “Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better.”
I have debated on writing this specific post for months, and I admit that fear has been the primary motivation for my hesitancy. I have found myself in the very epicenter of controversy, not because I sought it out but because it sought me out. As a result, I have had moments filled with great resolve and passion and meaning, and at other times it has been a brutal, ugly, exasperating and exhausting experience.
Let me begin by saying that I would consider myself to be an average American. I vote every 4 years when we are electing a President, but I don’t recall ever voting in a mid-term election. I have never attended a protest or anything even similar, even though I certainly have opinions. I have never even signed a petition. I have always assumed that what is good and right and just always wins in the end. That those who have been convicted of a crime got what they deserved. That our community, state, and national leaders truly care about justice. Over the past 3 months, I’ve begun to rethink all of those decisions and assumptions of mine.
There is a 19 year old young man in our community who was just sentenced to 25 years in prison for Super Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child. I don’t know either the young man or the small child in this case. For all of my life, I would hear this type of story on the news and shake my head that someone could do such a thing, and then I would applaud the fact that he was caught and that he would be thrown in prison for a long, long time. You probably agree with me right now as you read this. But this time – and only this time – something was different. I had this burning in my gut and this uneasiness in my heart that something wasn’t right here. Unknown territory for me, for sure! So I began to investigate this case a bit deeper and tried to find out more of the story. The more I discovered, the more outraged I became. This time I could not just ignore it and let it go away – I felt like I needed to do something, but I had no idea what to do.
I came across a page on a social media site that was filled with thousands of other people who felt the same way I did. The vast majority have never protested, or signed a petition, and they didn’t know anyone involved in the case, but they were drawn to this and felt that something just wasn’t right. I decided that I would write a post about how I was feeling on that page…and shortly afterward, hundreds of people had responded to it and said they felt just like me but didn’t know how to put it into words. The next day, I had more to say and wrote another post, and the day after that, and the day after that…and so on for about a week and a half. Each time, I had hundreds of people responding to my thoughts in agreement.
While my involvement in this cause was restricted to a few online posts to this point, rallies were beginning to occur, petitions were being presented, money was being raised for a defense fund, etc. Within just a few weeks, close to 10,000 people had signed the petition asking the courts to go back and take a second look at this case to assure that justice had occurred. A movement was beginning.
Some of the leadership of the group, and the family of the young man who had been convicted, had read my posts and realized that I knew the case inside and out and that I was connecting through my writings with the masses of people who were interested in this case. They approached me and asked me if I would consider becoming a spokesperson for the young man’s family. This would require me to be a vocal leader, be interviewed by various media outlets, write press releases and statements, lead Public Relations efforts for a convicted sex offender…something that I never thought I would be doing under any circumstances. There were lots of fears within me at this request. My name and face would be widely seen and recognizable – which I knew would bring a lot of heat and hatred from child advocacy groups and individuals who just wanted to make a name for themselves by throwing bombs my way. My family would certainly be a consideration in this request as well, and not wanting them to face abuse simply for being related to me. I own my own small business, and how would my involvement impact my current and potential client base? Fear of the unknown was certainly a major factor at this point.
As I weighed all of the heavy fears and tried to predict the future, one over-riding thought just would not leave me alone…what is the RIGHT thing to do? I spoke with my family and asked for their thoughts. I prayed earnestly about this decision. The next day, I contacted them and told them that I would help in any way that I could. I contacted my current clients and told them of what I was doing and why, and received nothing but support from them as they knew me and understood that I wouldn’t be involved in something like this unless it was worthy of the risk. I also contacted potential clients that I was close to signing deals with and made sure they knew what was happening before they signed anything. I didn’t want them to turn on the news and get surprised by seeing me on an interview.
My message has always been: I don’t know for certain if this young man is guilty or innocent, but I do know that he did not receive a fair and honest investigation or trial. Every accused person deserves that. Now because I am much more involved and closer to the case, I believe wholeheartedly that he was wrongfully convicted. The dates where the prosecution say that he committed these indecent and disgusting acts, he wasn’t even in town. He was more than 3 hours away from the place where this supposedly occurred, and there is verification that he was not in town. The case against this young man was an accusation by a child – no evidence, no witnesses, no one has ever been able to place this young man alone with any child. Beyond that, the investigator assigned to this case never interviewed or interrogated the young man, the owner of the day care where this supposedly occurred, any other adults in the day care, never went to the day care to investigate. This investigator admitted under oath to deleting approximately 100 emails between himself and Child Protective Services. He admitted to asking leading questions in order to get the answers that he wanted. These are just a few of the reasons why I believe he deserves a second look before serving a 25 year sentence. If all it takes is an accusation – and nothing else – then all of us are at risk to be imprisoned.
Just as I predicted though, the attacks were relentless against me, my family, my business, my church, and my friends. I remained silent and did not respond to the attacks. I tried to stay focused on facts and not on personalities, treating everyone – even the ones with whom I vehemently disagreed with – with respect and dignity. They did not reciprocate in kind. It has been difficult to turn the other cheek, but these people have no impact on the justice that I seek for this young man. It does me no good to respond to them because they cannot help accomplish what I seek. They are irrelevant to this case. Plus, taking on the issue of sexual assault of a child in a 140 characters or less is not feasible.
Currently, this young man’s case sits before a Court of Appeals and we wait for their decision on what will happen next. We have been told that this will take months, or possibly a year, before we hear anything from this court. Meanwhile, this young man serves his sentence while thousands try to keep his message in the forefront so he will not be forgotten.
Here is what I have learned from this chapter of my life:
- When faced with the choice between the easy thing or the right thing…always pick the right thing. Your conscious will not forgive you if you ignore what is right.
- Any type of assault is wrong – but particularly any type of assault to a child. Those who commit these crimes deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law…after they have received a full and fair investigation and trial.
- Many people go through their day to day activities with a lack of passion, purpose and meaning. Commit yourself to something bigger than yourself and you’ll be excited to be involved, even when you might be under attack.
- Some people aren’t happy unless they are unhappy and making it known to everyone around them.
- There’s a fine line between being an “advocate,” and being a “predator” online.
- We have lost our ability to disagree with someone respectfully. Instead we label, shout, and bully in the hopes of silencing the other person. This cannot be good for the future of civilization.
- Our law enforcement, legal, and judicial systems are in dire need of accountability and transparency.
- In most cases, the jury gets it right…but not always.
- No true, legitimate, debate can occur in 140 characters or less, so don’t even try.
- Elections have consequences.
And last, 11. Injustice anywhere leads to injustice everywhere, and that is unacceptable. No matter what it takes, we cannot tolerate injustice. It demands our action. It demands our hearts. It demands time…as long as it takes.
Bruce Lee said that we eliminate the fear within us by knowing ourselves better. I surely know myself better today than I did when I started this journey. I know who I am. I know my motivations. I know my heart. I know my character. None of this battle will benefit me in some way monetarily or professionally…quite the opposite. I’ve been attacked mercilessly. My wife and daughter were attacked. My business was attacked in an effort to silence me or discredit me. My church was attacked in an effort to embarrass me. It has been extremely stressful. My fear in writing this post has been that readers will do like I have done for most of my life – jump to the immediate conclusion that a child was harmed, this evil guy did it, and I am the scum of the earth for wanting to ask people to give him a second look before he serves a 25 year sentence. You may react that way, and it would be unfortunate because you do not know me nor the things that I know.
I guess at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?” In this case – knowing what I know now, knowing the unfamiliar sense of injustice that I felt internally, knowing that I set an example for my daughter of doing what I believe to be right even in the face of persecution – yes, I would do it again. It has already cost me. It may continue to cost me. But it has also been quite rewarding and fulfilling to know that you are doing what you believe to be right. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?