Like many, I am still waiting for the evidence used as the basis to charge the six officers in Baltimore for the death of Freddie Gray. This morning, however, I was disturbed to read that an effort to create a fundraising site for the defense of the officers was taken down on GoFundMe. It appears that the site has a very questionable standard for funding that does not afford accused parties a presumption of innocence in asking for support to fund their defense.
The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police created a GoFundMe page for the six officers after they were charged Friday. However, less than an hour later, it was taken down.
After 41 minutes, it has only raised $1,135 — considerably short of the $600,000 goal.
There is no confirmation on who is responsible. However, the site states the following : “‘Campaigns in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes’ are prohibited by our terms . . . GoFundMe cannot be used to benefit those who are charged with serious violations of the law.” Really? Why? I was under the impression that people were given a presumption of innocence in this country. Why shouldn’t this site be used to help guarantee a fair trial for anyone facing prosecution? Moreover, how do you define a serious violation? Clearly, this case would qualify but where is the line drawn?
This is a site that is designed to help people organize in making donations to support different causes. Giving such charity is a positive act, including giving money to guarantee a fully funded defense. Our criminal justice system is a foundational part of our society. It reflects our commitment to the rule of law. Central to that institution is the presumption of innocence. I find this policy of GoFundMe to be inexplicable and distasteful. Many people want to support the criminal justice system as much as environmental or other causes. The policy makes, in my view, an arbitrary and biased decision in barring those who are accused of serious offenses by the government. It should equally presumably bar those who are viewed as victims of government abuse like journalists or whistleblowers.
I also was a bit concerned to read Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby comments telling protesters: “I heard your calls for, ‘No Justice, No peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.” I generally think it is a bad idea for prosecutors to directly respond to public protests demanding criminal charges. Such protests should not have an influence on the decision to prosecute and it is always a concern, as with Mike Nifong in the Duke case, where prosecutors are seen as too responsive to public demands for criminal charges. This is not meant to suggest that a criminal case cannot be made but these press conferences can undermine the integrity of a prosecution if the chief prosecutor is viewed as too influenced by external events or demands.