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Baumgarten: Guilty until proven innocent

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Baumgarten: Guilty until proven innocent
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

In this day and age, it is hard to believe that there is a thing such as justice in the world anymore.

This month marks a very important ruling in the justice system — some may say it is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice. On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted 28-year-old George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

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If you recall, Zimmerman, who was a part of a neighborhood watch, reported a suspicious African-American boy walking toward him. After making the phone call to police, the two got into a violent confrontation, which left Zimmerman with a bloody face and head, and Martin fatally shot.

The incident drew up mass criticism nationwide, especially by the media and African-American community. People protested by wearing hoodies and carrying skittles and energy drinks, just like Martin had when he was shot. President Barack Obama called for a full investigation, saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”

The case deserved a full investigation, which it got. The verdict drew more response. The public said Zimmerman was a racist that got away with murder. His parents said they had received numerous death threats and were afraid to return home. People were reportedly beaten by African-American men who shouted, “This is for Trayvon!” To say the least, people wanted Zimmerman’s head.

Fast forward almost a year later. Across the country another case — though not quite as impactful as the Zimmerman case — was dismissed. Arson charges for former Trinity High School Principal Thomas Sander were thrown out after a judged ruled a confession, which Sander’s attorneys said was coerced and taken before investigators read him his Miranda rights, was ruled inadmissable. But even before the allegations against the Dickinson Police investigators came to light, the public was sure they had their guy. The public said Sander got away with a crime and deserved to be punished. One person wrote on The Dickinson Press Facebook page that the courts should not waste their money on a trial and throw him in jail.

But since there was lack of evidence — aside from the confession — Sander was relieved of the charges.

Just this week another allegation popped up. Students and teachers at Belfield High School have accused Principal Jeffrey Lamprecht of misconduct, saying he took pictures of girls — which is true, according to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations — and making sexual comments toward students.

The BCI investigator said the actions were criminal in nature, but that the school should handle it within the school district rather than pursue legal action. This usually means there is no hard evidence.

However, the school board has moved forward with dismissal procedures. Though some have risen up in support for the principal, others have also called Lamprecht odd, and some on social media are calling him “sick” and are calling for his removal.

These days we tend to want justice for things that have happened, and we often see the worst in others before we see the good. Sometimes we even jump on the national bandwagon — as many did to condemn Zimmerman.

Should Zimmerman have followed Martin? No. Was the boy’s death tragic? Absolutely. But was Zimmerman within his legal rights to defend himself? According to Florida state law, he was.

Let’s come back to our local cases. We don’t know if Sander is guilty, and we may never know. People may feel that they didn’t get justice. But at the same time, whether Sander is innocent or guilty, he deserved his rights just as much as the students and teachers deserve to be in a school.

The same goes with Lamprecht. Should he have taken pictures of those students and kept the girls in his office so long, talking to them behind closed doors? Probably not. It does throw up a red flag for most. However, the BCI couldn’t find any hard evidence that he committed any crimes. If they had, he would be on trial. Instead, he will go before a trial on Aug. 19 when he faces his school board. Until that happens, it’s unfair to make any judgments either way.

This shouldn’t at all suggest that the children or teachers are lying. The accusations made are serious and should be taken seriously. They also have the potential to ruin a man’s life. If the claims are true, they deserve investigation. Hopefully, those accusing Lamprecht of what he did understand the seriousness of this situation.

It’s so easy say a person is guilty, especially if the reader doesn’t know all the facts. It’s up to the media to report those facts without any spin, no matter how grizzly they are. People deserve to know what is going on in their community.

With that said, it’s irresponsible to jump to conclusions when a man’s livelihood is at stake. When it comes to matters like this, it is the responsibility of the governing body, and the people, to look at the facts presented and make their decision based on the truth and not emotion or public opinion.

Because in the eyes of today’s society, a person we don’t like, especially one that we have had poor encounters with in the past or believe is weird, is always guilty until proven innocent. And just remember, if you were in a similar situation, would you like to be treated fairly, or would you want people to assume you are a criminal?

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/april.baumgarten. Follow her at twitter.com/aprilbaumsaway.

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April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.   
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