Innocent Until Proven Political? [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Jessica Machado is a freelance writer and former contributor to the Fall River Herald News. She is also a former radio host at WSAR and political blogger.
Innocent until proven guilty. A saying as old as time, but more importantly, a principle put in place to protect us from being wrongfully punished for something that we did not do. The legal system and its attorneys, judges and juries methodically placed throughout the land to carefully decipher guilt or innocence on a case-by-case basis, with either consequence or exoneration at the end.
Yet despite these carefully placed crime safety nets, there is nothing to protect someone from the court of public opinion. The accused is instantly catapulted into the realm of internet judgment where, despite no adjudication, guilt is resolved and reputations are destroyed.
Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia has been accused of many things, including altering his tax returns and perhaps more concerning, accepting bribes for executive actions. The indictments are seemingly specific, detailing alleged events that led to his second arrest of the year.
But Mayor Correia is just one in a seemingly endless string of Fall River politicians who have been accused of wrongdoing and falling victim to the prevailing belief of guilt. Former Mayor Will Flanagan was accused of brandishing a handgun on a late-night ride with the very same Jasiel Correia and while no charges were officially filed, Flanagan was ousted from his seat as mayor and shamed into hiding, his political career destroyed. In 2015, sitting city councilor Pat Casey was accused of stealing the cars of an acquaintance who had passed away, only to have a court side with her in the lawsuit brought upon her by the deceased woman's estate. Pat Casey lost her seat in the election that year.
And while the wildfire of public opinion is sure to spread, it is important to take into consideration the political opponents of Jasiel Correia and how much fuel they are adding to it. Can a city council president ethically ask for the mayor to step down when he himself would become acting mayor should Correia do so? A city councilor who, while in chambers, jokes about the mayor being arrested, has it all to gain should Fall River lose out on anything, as the neighboring town he is the administrator of is sitting and waiting to move in on any missed opportunities. Having witnessed the lack of cooperation between the governing body that is the Fall River City Council during Correia's administration, it should come as no surprise that many of the councilors are supporters of Paul Coogan, Correia's primary opponent in this upcoming election, donating both time and money to his campaign.
With so many politicians poised to benefit should Correia leave office, citizens should take a step back and not be so quick to form an opinion on the accusations towards Mayor Jasiel Correia. The Judiciary Act of 1789, establishing the Judicial Courts in the United States, has an exemplary history of holding citizens of this country accountable for their actions. Each and every individual, including Jasiel Correia, has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Fall River voters need to extend that right to their mayor in the arena of public opinion as well.
The destruction of livelihood and reputation has to be put on hold because the voters of Fall River got it wrong in the past, and while some may say the politicians are making Fall River the laughing stock of the state, the blame can be shared by its voters, who are impulsively removing political leaders based on rumors and Facebook fodder. The constituents of Fall River need to sit this one out and wait for the court system to do its job.
Because in Fall River, everyone is innocent until proven political.
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.