When Angus pinned his first Deputy United States Marshal badge on in 1881, he had no presumptions. None about his own life and hardly any about how other people saw the world. He didn’t know the law presumed innocence, or that guilt had to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. Truth be told, he didn’t know much about what judges called due process of law.
Early on, when he carried a badge in his saddle bag, he presumed wrongly that if a judge issued a warrant to arrest a man, then he must have done the crime. Before getting that first badge, riding alone in the high mountain country between New Mexico and Colorado, he didn’t have much to presume about. You ate what you killed and you behaved yourself, even when there was no one around to care one way or the other.
Soon enough, he came to know that some lawmen assumed guilt based on what they thought about the people they arrested. And some even took the law into their own hands, when it suited their personal ambitions.
Had he lived into the 21st Century he would have been appalled at how easy folks decide guilt—based on a man’s color, or a woman’s status, or what the prosecutor says, or what the newspapers think happened. If he could talk, he would have reminded us how important due process of law really is and why we ought to presume innocence and only find guilt when there is no reasonable doubt about it. Being one color or another is not a crime. Newspapers and talk radio often get it wrong. And prosecutors, especially elected ones, ought to try their cases in the courtroom, not at a press conference designed to get them elected to some other office.