Fulwider, 3-13-2018

Guest Commentary: Noor Salman trial: Let’s not rush to judgment

By Bryan Fulwider

With the trial of Noor Salman under way, Central Floridians are being reminded once again of the pain experienced when on June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen murdered in cold blood 49 people at the Pulse nightclub.

In addition, he physically wounded an even larger number, plus emotionally traumatized scores of survivors who escaped physical injury and impacted our entire community in ways too diverse to enumerate here.

Now a jury is tasked with determining whether Salman was complicit in her husband’s brutal actions and supportive of his self-proclaimed allegiance to ISIS.

As reports emanate from the courtroom about statements made in testimony and the arguments put forth by the prosecution and the defense, it’s inevitable and understandable that, for many, emotions will run high. How could they not?

But for the long-term good of our community and the cause of justice, emotion must be tempered not only in the courtroom but also in what takes place in the court of public opinion.

We must continually remind ourselves that justice in the United States is based on a number of considerations that include (in terms used by laypeople) “avoiding a rush to judgment,” “innocent until proved guilty,” “due process” and “beyond reasonable doubt.”

In the Colonial era, the foregoing principles didn’t come into play during the feeding frenzy we call the Salem Witch Trials. In a matter of four months, 19 people were executed and some 150 were accused.

Despite the values and procedures enshrined in our nation’s Constitution, a bygone era too often saw mob rule supplant the law. Thus we went through a time when lynchings were commonplace, especially if the accused were of African descent.

Although he later sued numerous media outlets — successfully, in several cases — it’s no way for a man facing health issues to have to spend his final years.

Despite our well-crafted national and state constitutions, despite our collection of laws, we’re much better at punishing than providing justice — because no matter how harsh the punishment, a guilty verdict doesn’t restore any life that has been lost. Nor does it remove any pain already experienced. More significant still, rarely does the punishment provide the kind of closure and soul satisfaction for which victims and their families yearn.

As a member of the Florida Innocence Project, I’m all too aware that it’s possible for the accused to become a victim. When mistakes are made in prosecution, whether accidental or the result of overzealous prosecutors, those who aren’t guilty will be punished as if they are guilty. So justice must ever be a juggling act between redress for the victim and appropriate protection for the accused.

I don’t know whether Noor Salman is innocent or guilty of the charges against her. What I do know is that the case is more nuanced than some news reports have suggested. And I do know that her side of the story hasn’t received much attention.

And I do know that Proverbs 18:17 declares: “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

Many of us have read, listened to and watched a lot of news about Salman. But it would be greatly to our advantage — and that of our community — to withhold judgment until all the facts and all the arguments have been presented.

Then let the jury decide.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, is one of the Three Wise Guys on the WMFE radio program “Friends Talking Faith.”