Posted by The Editorial Board
In a small community, good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster. On April 19, this newspaper reported that Skidmore senior Justin Tavarez had been charged by the Saratoga Springs police department with grand larceny in the fourth degree and theft of service. It was later learned that a charge of witness tampering had also been added. Justn is the same student who, in 2010, pled guilty to misdemeanor assault.
Unfortunately, in a case like this, many community members who do not personally know Justin-nor the circumstance surrounding his arrest-have presumed his guilt, and now assume that his character is nothing more than the sum total of the crimes he has allegedly committed.
We find this to be saddening. In a community as small as ours, and in a community which purports and strives to value principles of justice and due process, we find it disheartening that Skidmore students have been so quick to assume Justin's guilt, and equally quick to ostracize. Regardless of his previous and alleged criminal activity, Justin is above all a Skidmore student, and no Skidmore student should have to walk on campus feeling marginalized or like the victim of prejudice. Justin's innocence or guilt ought to be determined in the fair courts of law, not the brutal court of public opinion, and until the legal system establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that Justin is guilty, he deserves the community's benefit of the doubt.
As students and members of the larger community, we understand the inclination towards judgment. Such judgments are naturally occurring and inevitable. They are an evil caused by our inability to know all things in all cases. Still, we seek to remind the student body that forming quick judgments-though effortless and often satisfying-neither aids in obtaining a deeper understanding of what has happened nor assists the individual in finding vindication in the public eye. Rather than enjoying the right to explain themselves and have his/her version of the story assessed on neutral grounds, the individual is confronted with preexisting bias. The individual is burdened not only with trying to convince others they are innocent but also just to get others to listen and consider their story objectively. Such a burden is tremendous, and tremendously unjust to impose.
We do not know whether Justin is guilty or innocent and the victim of an unusual and unfortunate series of circumstances. In a community that pioneers restorative justice, we must always assume the best in someone. The law will judge Justin Tavarez. Condemning fellow students for alleged crimes is not our prerogative, and as such, we must continue to treat him and those who have befallen a similar fate with the same humanity we award anyone else. We cannot accuse someone of violating Skidmore's values while infringing upon them ourselves.