Jackson case reminds us of how we define freedom

By Tibor Machan: PNT columnist

Before making observations connected to Michael Jackson’s courtroom triumph, let me remind everyone that in Spain, today, in the 21st century, if a 19-year-old guy has sex with a consenting 13-year-old girl, it’s all legal. Is Spain some Neanderthal country? What’s going on here?
Many kids who commit crimes in the United States — 12-year-olds, 14-year-olds — are prosecuted as adults. What is that all about? They cannot vote, sign contracts, get married without parental permission, but when they do the crime, they must do the adult time! Weird, is it not?
Michael Jackson has been weird for a long time, but, hey, in a free country it’s no crime to be weird. He may even like the company of youngsters too much, even tussle and bustle with them now and then as if he were still a kid. But is that child molestation? Perhaps not, if we look at it with Spanish eyes — if they consent, no problem.
So when I saw about eight black employees at a McDonalds — where I had my once-a-year-dosage of French fries — shriek with joy upon hearing the announcement from the jury leader that Jackson wasn’t guilty and can go free, I thought maybe this isn’t racial solidarity at all but simple empathy and relief. Fans jumping for joy that justice won out over trivial pursuit.
My own take is that I have no take when I am not part of the jury. That, indeed, was my take with the O.J. Simpson verdict as well. I wasn’t there, hour after hour, day after day, listening and watching and then considering the charges and the evidence. I saw bits and pieces and heard a lot of rather questionable late-night humor. I am still committed to my non-commitment. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it’s better than prejudice.
Of course, some of the young blacks who yelled from joy when they heard Jackson go free may have had a tinge of racist attitude mixed in with their relief and vindicated sense of justice. But I think not much. They didn’t turn on me, the only white in the place, and yell at me gleefully. Instead they had smiles on their faces and no sooner was it all over on the TV set, they went back to work.
Mind you, even that tinge of racial attitude may well be quite reasonable. Many blacks, especially in the Deep South — the scene took place in Auburn, Ala., — still often feel demeaned by whites, not out of paranoia but from clear-cut evidence. This and quite a few other regions of the United States haven’t quite left behind the widespread belittling of blacks that has been part of the country’s history for a long time. When a group of people is grouped by others and picked on for traits over which they have absolutely no control, they will quite naturally huddle together, at least until the picking has stopped. And maybe longer, just in case it should start up again.
The solidarity felt by many blacks toward O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson need not be an insidious type of racism at all. Not that it justifies blanket support — after all, just as I wasn’t one of the jurors, neither were the blacks who were cheering the verdict. But there was a certain measured emotional sense to their delight — “So, you see, you will not get yet another chance to deride us, to think badly of us because of some black’s misdeeds, something you do a lot even if it is quite irrational to make such generalizations.”
So, I admit, I felt quite good about the verdict, too, not because I had any opinion about the matter, but because I, too, felt that had it gone the other way, it would probably have fueled some racist sentiments across parts of the country. These sentiments certainly ought to vanish anyway, but with Jackson acquitted this may accelerate somewhat now.
But then what about the laws that enabled the prosecution to go after Jackson, actually to hound him for nearly 10 years? Are these laws good, just principles for a free society? Are we to dismiss the Spanish as barbarians, ones who give credence to the consent of 13-year-old girls?
I am not sure. I do know that where I was born parents regularly let their young children drink a glass or two of wine at dinner, do not have a fit when children have a beer or go to a bar where 16-year-olds can drink, smoke and dance. I grew up completely immune to the temptation to repeatedly get plastered, in contrast to many of my friends in America who had to wait until they reached 21 before they could freely decide to drink alcohol. And what about Holland, where pot smoking is legal and you can go to cafes and order up a joint? Are they nuts or is it possible that this land of the free isn’t really so free and that here and there some other parts of the world outshine us where that’s concerned?

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at
Machan@chapman.edu