What happened to “presumed innocent?”

Kitsap remembers what happened the last time a group of people were singled out because of their racial or national origin. In our eagerness to protect ourselves against terrorism are we making the same mistake again?

It has only been 91 days since terrorists rocked our country, killed thousands of innocent people and removed our sense of safety.

We have responded the way hurt, injured people do, by lashing back and seeking to destroy the one who hurt us. As a country we sought to simultaneously bind our wounds and respond to an act of war.

Because war had not been waged on our soil in recent history, we may have made some poor decisions in our haste and pain. Among the decisions we could most regret is our prompt abandonment of one of our most precious freedoms, the right to be “presumed innocent.”

Throughout the nation people who had the appearance of being “Middle Eastern,” or having “terrorist links” (whatever that is) were arrested, questioned and held by the authorities. These people were “presumed guilty” by law enforcement agencies because of their national and ethnic origins.

Perhaps we are more sensitive to this type of injustice because of our local experience with Japanese-American friends and neighbors who were interned during World War II solely because of their national heritage. The tragedy of innocent Japanese-American families who were sent to those camps is a national disgrace and a ugly blot on our heritage.

Although it appears that the current battle in Afghanistan may be nearing a close, our war to maintain our freedoms in the light of terrorist threats is only beginning. If we abandon our core principles of equal rights out of fear, we have already lost our freedom.

If we fail to patronize a business only because it is owned by a person of Middle East descent, or treat our darker-skinned or foreign-born neighbor differently––we have already abridged that person’s rights without benefit of a trial.

If we do not defend and protect all of our Kitsap neighbors “rights,” they are no longer rights. We may indeed have to sacrifice personal convenience or have stronger security measures in wartime, but we must not sacrifice our highest principles.

Ironically, that is the very message left in the Declaration of Independence by our founding fathers, who also fought a war against another nation. They fought to protect our individual freedoms and declared them to be the most important rights we enjoy.

May God continue to bless America and allow us to maintain and cherish all of our freedoms.

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