Consider this: When the News Bulletin posts an arrest report on our Facebook page, most, if not all, commenters criticize the accused person's alleged actions; many name-call and even make threats.
Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, yet the moment a police officer slaps on cuffs, many people want to be the judge, jury and executioner.
But when a Muslim woman claims a man harassed her — even with Crestview Publix manager Tim Bryant confirming the incident occurred — a number of people demand to see video as proof.
Why is that?
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
Yasmin Saunders' nightmare began Dec. 16, when her Muslim American family went grocery shopping for a barbecue to celebrate their new Crestview home.
She turned the corner of an aisle and a man "threw a pack of bacon onto our groceries and said, 'Merry Christmas, buddy,'" Saunders said in a CNB column. "Observant Muslims do not eat pork of any kind," a Northwest Florida Daily News article about the incident noted.
Saunders — whose father, stepmother and two brothers, visiting from Louisiana, joined her for the shopping trip — is married to a Christian who has served in the military since 2007. He is stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, and was "overcome by emotion" when he saw his wife in tears, she said.
Saunders' column received more than 162 likes and 88 shares on the CNB's Facebook page, but it gained far more attention on Saunders' own page, with 7,031 likes and 3,890 shares and counting.
Most people have left positive notes on the public posts:
●"I hope you and your family know that not all Crestview residents agree with or condone such bigotry ... Please thank your husband for his service on our behalf," Elizabeth Coates said.
●"I am just appalled that someone here would treat you like that; and I know the Publix folks are equally outraged!" Raymonda Schwartz said. "I certainly hope to run into you there, so I can extend a true Crestview welcome to you and your family..."
●"If I could, I would invite them to dinner," Joseph Barrow said.
●"May your family be blessed; welcome to our town," Ray Heath said.
Some said that the man's action was mild compared to other harassment methods. (True, but the whole reason I wanted to run this commentary was because, mild or not, it underscored hatred for someone based solely on being perceived as different. That should concern everyone.)
Still others refused to believe the incident occurred.
SEEING IS BELIEVING?
Let's circle back: Why do some people want to believe the worst about someone arrested, not convicted, but they won't give someone whose story they don't like the benefit of the doubt? Why is seeing video footage necessary to prove one type of incident occurred, but the same isn't true for another kind of occurrence?
Local law enforcement officials often arrest someone without witnessing an incident. They receive a report, they investigate, find evidence to support the accusation, and they, in good faith, make the arrest. That's because there is compelling evidence to believe the crime occurred and that the person in their custody committed it.
News organizations are similar.
When Yasmin Saunders first contacted the News Bulletin, she said, "I have a possible story, if you would like to hear." She said she didn't know if it was newsworthy, but she thought she would share.
She had no expectation of publication, and that was the first sign that I should take her seriously.
BEHIND THE SCENES
My interest piqued when Saunders shared the basic story with few details. I asked her to submit a guest column for consideration, and she shared — not for publication — screen shots of xenophobic remarks on a Crestview man's Facebook page.
She also shared the name of the man who harassed her, and how she knew it was him. (You know how they say there are 6 degrees of separation between everyone? Well, if you're known for making certain kinds of remarks, word gets around, and if someone posts about being harassed in a store, a friend of a friend will naturally link that person to the most likely suspect's page and ask, "Is this the guy?" It's easier than ever to confirm an identity with Facebook profile photos. I do that all the time with work.)
But I digress.
Saunders and I exchanged about 30 messages before her guest column published in the Dec. 23-25 Midweek Edition.
The News Bulletin does not publish just anything someone submits. We, like police officers, gather evidence and see if it all fits.
Of course, the burden of proof on the Opinion page is less than it is on the front page, because this story is 100 percent Saunders' perspective.
And you don't have to believe everything you read on the Opinion page.
But you need to know that the CNB performs due diligence on all submitted content.
I know we live in polarizing times, and everything can seem politically driven. I just wanted to share this behind-the-scenes procedure so you can rest assured that this incident did happen.
And, more important, it's OK to express compassion for this family.
What's your view? Write a letter to the editor or tweet News Bulletin Editor Thomas Boni.