Let me say at the outset that the death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, or the murder of any child, is a tragedy. Am I outraged at the verdict of not guilty of murder or manslaughter for Casey Anthony? No.
Was Casey involved in the death and/or cover-up of Caylee? In my opinion, she probably was. Innocent people don't lie to investigators, and she was found guilty of four counts of giving false information. Contrary to what legal huckster Nancy Grace and others claim, the "devil" is not "dancing at Casey Anthony's verdict." In this case, the imperfect American system of justice worked.
What we need to remember is that our system of jurisprudence is not designed to determine empirically whether or not a person actually committed a crime. A jury verdict of not guilty does not mean innocent — as in free from moral wrong or without sin. "Not guilty" just means that the state (prosecution) was unable to meet the legal burden of proof.
The prosecution was never able to definitively determine how little Caylee died. Without the cause of death, the prosecution was unable to prove to a jury "beyond a reasonable doubt" who or what killed her. It's just that simple. It was heavy lifting from the outset, and unfortunately, the weight of the circumstantial evidence did not carry the day.
Instead of all of this hand-wringing, second-guessing and Tuesday-morning quarterbacking, we need to shift our focus away from the distractions of what we do not know, and will probably never be able to prove, to what we do know. Comparisons to the O.J. verdict are a distraction and a waste of time. Statements that Casey would have been convicted if she had been an African American are not necessary (even if there's sufficient data to support that position).
We need to focus our attention and direct our ire toward a system that allows thousands of innocent men and women to languish in American prisons for crimes they did not commit. We need to be outraged about the innocent victims of racial profiling, incompetent counsel, biased prosecutors and judges, and racist juries. We should call for improvements in the criminal-justice system so that the innocents like Michael Anthony Green go free instead of spending 27 years in a Texas prison for a rape and abduction that they did not commit.
Americans should be outraged about Lanell Dowling, the 26-year-old New York City man who spent seven months in jail because he "fit the description" of a mugger and armed robber. All charges were dropped when cellphone records and Facebook entries proved him to be innocent. Even though witnesses identified him, it should not have taken seven months for such accessible evidence to be presented to the court.
Americans should be more outraged that Rodney Stanberry languishes in an Alabama prison, convicted of crimes that he did not commit. Stanberry was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995 and sentenced in 1997 to serve three 20-year sentences for attempted murder, first-degree burglary and robbery — to be served concurrently. He began serving his 15th year of incarceration on March 25, 2011.
Americans should be fed up with the phony "war on drugs" that has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of nonviolent, low-level drug offenders incarcerated, most of them African American. According to Harvard professor Charles Ogletree, "While representing 12 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent of monthly drug users, African Americans are 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges and 59 percent of those convicted on drug charges … They also account for 74 percent of drug offenders sentenced to prison."
Americans should be outraged when a sitting Supreme Court justice opines that the brutal beating of a prisoner at the hands of guards is not cruel and unusual punishment. According to Common Dreams.org, in the 1992 Supreme Court case Hudson v. McMillian, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the beating of Keith Hudson by three prison guards was not cruel and unusual punishment, although the beating left a hog-tied Hudson with loosened teeth, facial bruises and a cracked dental plate. ''A use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be torturous, it may be criminal … but it is not 'cruel and unusual punishment,' '' Thomas wrote.
Be concerned that Guantánamo Bay is still open for business, that the Patriot Act has been extended and that your "private" conversations are not so private because of the National Security Agency's "warrantless wiretapping."
What's the greater moral outrage: the guilty going free or the innocent wrongfully convicted? The death of little Caylee was a tragedy, but her mother's case went through the system, and the system worked as it is designed to do. Don't let the media attention and hyped "moral" outrage distract you from the real challenges to U.S. civil rights and liberties. The next innocent victim could be you!
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer-host of the call-in talk radio program Inside the Issues With Wilmer Leon on Sirius/XM 128. He teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.