“'Tis much more Prudence to acquit two Persons, tho’ actually guilty, than to pass Sentence of Condemnation on one that is virtuous and innocent.”
-Voltaire, “Zadig,” 1748
The past seven days served as a welcome reminder for Loudouners and all Americans to remember a longstanding tenet of our legal system: the presumption of innocence.
In our social media-, flashing lights-driven culture, the American public and political talking heads are often too quick to assume guilt and ostracize before facts of a case are borne out or courtroom proceedings lay all the information on the table.
The most obvious news of the day is Special Counsel Robert Mueller's determination, released Sunday, that President Donald Trump did not collude with Russian operatives to sway the 2016 presidential election. While we insist the public should have the opportunity to see the full report, we count it a good day for the nation when a dutifully elected president can move beyond an opaque cloud of investigations and focus vigorously on what they believe is best for the country.
Indeed, Mueller said his report does not exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction of justice, but that statement alone is not reason enough to pile on resources for more probes into the president's behavior during the 2016 campaign. Investigations have been ongoing for two years. It's time to move on.
The more essential and existential matter should now be defending ourselves against a Russia and China hell-bent on disrupting our democracy, sowing discord and ultimately crippling our commonality. For anyone who was still, somehow, doubting that Russia tried to sway the outcome of the 2016 election through social media troll farms and disinformation, the Mueller report should eliminate every last scintilla of doubt.
A last word on the dealings 40 miles down the road. For Democrats hoping Mr. Mueller's findings would be the end of President Trump, stop. If a Trump presidency is too much to bear, oust him at the ballot box in 20 months.
Closer to home, on Wednesday we saw two local legal cases that will long linger in the lives of those involved.
County prosecutors dropped a charge of indecent liberties against a Loudoun County Public Schools teacher after investigators could not find sufficient evidence to further pursue the case. The teacher was accused of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a juvenile student.
There's no question LCPS has had – and continues to have – profoundly troubling systemic issues, but for this particular Park View High School instructor, it appears she became the target of a “bluff,” as the accuser's mother said. In this and all cases, the presumption of innocence must win the day.
In Leesburg, another odd incident unfolded: that of the Air Force service member who carried a gun into Tuscarora High School March 19. That the Airman, Mi-Allah Justice Grant, carried a sidearm into the school is not in dispute, and every Tuscarora parent should be bewildered that some school staffers apparently didn't see the harm in Grant carrying a gun around school.
On Wednesday, Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman (R) openly proclaimed prosecutorial discretion and said details of the case pointed to a naive 18-year-old man who felt, due to his status as a service member, he was allowed to carry a gun throughout the school. Mr. Grant's lack of awareness is unsettling, but in the end we agree with Plowman that the felony charge of carrying a firearm in a school should be dropped. We hope Grant, who is reportedly awaiting deployment to Japan, will serve our nation better in the future than he did on March 19.
Looking at the bigger picture, we hope Tuscarora High School staff members know guns aren't allowed in school. We don't think that's too much to ask.
Likewise, it shouldn't be too much to ask that everyone – the media included – remember the centuries-old axiom presuming innocence.