Bankole: Let Detroit determine John Conyers fate

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

We are a nation of due process. We are a nation of laws. We are a nation where everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction. We are not a nation where people who are accused of wrongdoing are publicly shamed and transported to the guillotine before the evidence is entered.

That is one of the crowning jewels of our democracy. That is what has made this two-century-old republic a lasting testament to the power of a constitutional democracy.

And the last time I checked, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. has not been proven guilty of anything even though the sexual allegations against him sound damning and involve a questionable settlement that is driving much of the outrage against him.

Attorney: Conyers ‘not going to be forced out of office’

Conyers should be accorded due process as well as his accusers since all are equal before the law. That process has already started in the form of the congressional ethics investigation that should be allowed to fairly and independently run its full course without fear or favor.

Until the ethics investigation is completed and the panel submits its report based on the preponderance of the evidence, Detroiters should be the ones to determine the fate of the man who has been representing them in Congress for half a century.

The people in Michigan’s 13th District who elected Conyers should have the power to vote him out of Congress. That is why the Founding Fathers call it the House of Representatives, because members of Congress are supposed to take their orders from the consent of the governed. And in this case, Detroiters should make that call.

Yes, sexual abuse is inexcusable and shouldn’t be condoned. As indicated in a previous column, the sexual assault accusations sweeping the nation are not a war on men. They should be taken seriously regardless of who the accused is because women should not have to accept sexual abuse as an inevitable route to building careers in public service.

But to get to the bottom of the truth in the Conyers saga would require us not jumping to conclusions or making hasty calls for his resignation. It also requires not erecting a second cross and giving into the cry of “crucify him.”

A longstanding campaign to remove Conyers from office — reignited by the present allegations — has kicked into overdrive and seeks to undermine the process of the ethics investigation, and could possibly cloud the judgment of people who should otherwise safeguard the process.

The disturbing accusations pose a serious threat not only to Conyers but to the legacy of black political leadership that he embodies and its profound commitment to civil rights.

But such historical legacy should not override the demands of justice. The accused and the accuser both deserve a fair hearing before the ethics committee.

The alleged actions of Conyers are being felt in the civil rights and labor community whose causes he has championed in Congress over the years.

“Based on what I’m hearing about Congressman Conyers, I would like to hear a little more. We shouldn’t rush to judgment,” said Rory Gamble, executive director of UAW Region 1A, an organization that considers Conyers a stalwart of the working class. I’m not defending what he is accused of. If it comes out that he did something wrong he should be held to a higher standard.”

“Let’s hear from both sides of the story. If he is guilty of sexual harassment, he should resign. We should not condone that from anybody. But I want to take a longer look and hear all of the facts.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP, said he is troubled by the saga and insisted Conyers should not resign from office.

“It is a very painful situation. It is no question that women should be respected and protected at every level by all entities,” Anthony said. “I do not excuse nor do I negate anyone in this situation. As one who has and continues to be a supporter of Conyers since I first voted, I have never experienced what he is being accused of in my dealings with him. I have always seen him as a champion for everybody, women, dispossessed and neglected.”

Anthony said he doesn’t want the sex scandals to be the sum total of Conyers’ legacy.

“I don’t want to see this impact the totality of his legacy as a political leader in this nation,” Anthony said. “I believe he has already moved to address this by stepping down from the House Judiciary Committee. I do not support him stepping down as a congressman. I think he should leave when he decides it’s time to fold his tent.”

Tracy Martin, an attorney and political activist who lives in Conyers’ district, said the congressman has some tough decisions to make.

“Yes, the ultimate jury is the people. But, if findings of fact emerge from the ethics investigation that John Conyers acted dishonorably, created a hostile work environment for his staffers, misappropriated funds, and engaged in a pattern and practice of cover-ups, he has three options in this current politically charged climate: resignation, retirement or expulsion,” Martin said. “It’s not hard to figure out which alternative he would ultimately pick.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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