Roy Johnson’s “Alabama's violent criminal sweeps extract cancers among us; what happens next?” column was troubling. Calling people accused of crimes a “cancer” is grossly dehumanizing. When doctors treat cancer in a person’s body, it is violent. They cut it out, irradiate it, or attack it with powerful sometimes toxic medicines. And, ideally, removal is permanent. Doctors and patients don’t want cancer to come back; they want it to be gone forever. So if we treat people like we treat cancers as Roy Johnson suggests, by excising them from our communities and families, then let’s be honest and say we are not interested in seeing them “rehabilitated and transformed.”
But that’s not what we want. We want justice, and justice relies on our country’s commitment to the constitutional principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. This dangerously misleading article claims that these individuals were “wanted for attempted murder, robbery, and other nefarious crimes.” Johnson’s inflammatory language greatly distorts the truth: many of the 29 people arrested are accused of non-violent offenses, some as minor as marijuana possession and failure to pay restitution. This does not make someone a danger to the community.
Even more were picked up because they missed a court appearance. There are a number of reasons why people miss court dates, ranging from lack of access to transportation to not being given adequate notice. Johnson’s blanket presumption of dangerousness is unfounded and flies in the face of our constitution’s presumption of innocence, while unnecessarily perpetuating demeaning and harmful attitudes about people who may have committed crimes.