I graduated from high school 21 years ago this week. I still remember that night at Bridgeport's "Bull Memorial Stadium".
But there are few Decatur boys who had planned on graduating this week which will not be allowed to take part in commencement ceremonies. Why? They were arrested on felony charges a couple of weeks ago. In case you haven't heard, there was quite brouhaha that broke out in a Decatur field the other night. Four Era men showed up at an impromptu Decatur Senior party. One of the Era boys got out of the vehicle, two Decatur boys bowed up at him, an Era boy popped out of a sunroof with a club and then cold cocked the two Decatur boys in the skull.
The rest is history.
Who did what may never be known. Whether anyone is guilty of anything has been far from established. Nevertheless, the Decatur I.S.D. immediately banished the boys to an alternative education program and told them they were no longer welcome on a campus they had given a great deal of their hearts and souls to. Why? Because of an arrest.
I spent ten years as a prosecutor and one thing I learned very quickly was that, legally speaking, an "arrest" doesn't mean squat. An arrest can be based on a hasty investigation and the perception of one law enforcement officer that a crime "probably" happened. It takes one cop preparing one piece of paper and presenting it to one JP. Even when acting in good faith, mistakes are made.
As a matter of fact, every jury is instructed by the judge that: "The fact that a person has been arrested . . . is no evidence of guilt whatsoever."
And why is that so?
After an arrest, it often takes a great deal of time for the dust to clear and the facts, or the lack thereof, to rise to the top. A conviction can only occur when 12 independent and rationale individuals all agree that the facts establish guilt. If one of the 12 has a doubt, and that person consider that doubt reasonable, then the person on trial cannot be convicted.
The standard of "reasonable doubt", which is required in order for a conviction to occur, is a tremendous one. And it is in place for some very important reasons: We cannot be mistaken when it comes to the subject of crime. We cannot err. We simply cannot be wrong.
The cavern between an "arrest" and a "conviction" is a monumental one. Most criminal cases never make the jump.
But the schools are oblivious to that very basic concept. They hear the word "arrest" and their eyes glaze over, their brains flat line, and their tongues spew out a pre recording of "You are expelled. You are expelled. You are expelled."
What's worse, in this case, the "arrests" have nothing to do with school. The alleged conduct did not occur on school property or at a school function. Yet the ISD, which is nothing more than an agent of government, bans them from school.
I don't know what will eventually happen to all of the boys. I do know that represent two of them and I will do everything in my power and ability to see to it that their lives are not destroyed by this event. If they are wrongfully accused, which I believe they are, they will walk away. Shaken and disillusioned perhaps, but free.
But I can't give them a commencement. No, that has been taken away from them.
The memories that I have, as stupid and silly as they may be, still make me smile. Yet the Decatur boys will forever have a void in the most meaningful of all teenage events: high school graduation.
You should demand an end to this madness. Now.