FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2015, file photo, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) shoots in front of Brooklyn Nets center Mason Plumlee (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Miami. Wade has been extended a two-year, $40 million contract offer to stay with the Miami Heat, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday, July 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Photo: Lynne Sladky
Photo: Lynne Sladky

David Whitley: Athletes' call should include justice for all

Some of America's most famous athletes took the ESPYs stage and announced they want to help cure the social ills that led to last week's police-shooting tragedies. As they embark on this noble cause, I'd like to offer one suggestion.

Brush up on the U.S. Constitution.

Enshrined throughout is the principle of due process. It goes back to the Magna Carta and became a cornerstone of Western civilization.

With our judicial system, it means the presumption of innocence. You are entitled to a public trial by an impartial jury where you can cross-examine witnesses and present evidence in your defense.

In short, due process is an indispensable safeguard against mob rule and vigilante justice.

It also gets routinely ignored by athletes and others seeking social justice. The latest example is the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police.

"This shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop," Dwyane Wade said at the ESPYs. "Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop."

How does he know trigger-happy police shot Castile and Sterling because they were black?

He saw grainy phone videos of the two men being killed.

There was no context, no investigation, no nod to what precipitated the incidents. There was just a reflexive reaction based on personal experience or ideology.

"Racist murders," is how The Nation put it.

At least the website didn't post a photo of a hooded man slitting a cop's throat, as Browns running back Isaiah Crowell did. He apologized after the uproar and Cleveland police threatened to boycott Browns games.

Four off-duty Minneapolis police working a Minnesota Lynx game walked off when players wore warmup shirts bearing the names of Castile and Sterling, "Black Lives Matter" and a Dallas Police Department emblem.

That last touch didn't mollify the four cops, who failed to see the moral equivalence between two contested shootings and an avowed cop-hating racist ambushing 12 policemen, killing five.

Perhaps the police who killed Castile and Sterling are as evil as the Dallas assassin. One certainty is a lot of jocks (and others, including Minnesota's governor) won't give them the benefit of the doubt.

They've decreed the cops as guilty as Darren Wilson, whose shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.

Athletes boldly spoke up and stoked the rage. Five St. Louis Rams famously did the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture.

It turned out the sanctified Brown was the bad guy. As the Justice Department concluded, he was "shot while resisting a lawful arrest and placing a police officer in genuine peril, with no evidence of race being a factor."

That was lost in the Hands-Up hysteria. Now Wilson lives in hiding, all because he refused to let Brown kill him that day.

When Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, Carmelo Anthony returned to his hometown and marched with protesters demanding justice.

Six police were charged. So far, one trial has ended in a hung jury and two other officers have been acquitted.

After Trayvon Martin was killed, the NBA players union issued a statement calling George Zimmerman a murderer. It came 15 months before the first bit of evidence or testimony was presented.

Now Wade, Anthony, Chris Paul and LeBron James have issued a call to arms. There is plenty of room for debate when it comes to racial profiling, crime statistics and other complexities.

"Let's use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore the issues, speak up, use our influence," James said.

Sounds good. I just hope our influential athletes educate themselves about due process.

If they truly want justice for all, the presumption of guilt is no way to achieve it.

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