Ashley Todd

Ashley Todd

I didn’t write about Ashley Todd last night, when I first read her story. It didn’t make sense to me, but then again, lots of things don’t, and some of those things are true. All that was clear to me then was that one way or another, it would turn out to be a horrible story involving someone with very serious problems, and that I did not want to leap to conclusions.

Now that she has recanted, I’m torn. On the one hand, I think that anyone who would do something like this must have real psychiatric problems. (I don’t think this about all crimes — I think someone could rob a bank and be perfectly sane.) And I can almost think my way into the mindset of someone who is completely convinced that if Barack Obama is elected, something unspeakably bad will happen to this country, and who is frustrated that she can’t make people see what is so evident to her. You can see this kind of desperate conviction in some of the tapes of McCain supporters outside his rallies, and you can read it on some of the right-wing blogs: the sense that this country is about to make an incalculable mistake, and no one seems to care. It would not take much, I think, for someone who felt this way, and who had serious psychiatric problems, to decide, in a moment of absolute boneheadedness, to show the world what seemed so obvious to her.

(Note: being able to understand something like this does not in any way imply thinking it’s not an appalling thing to do. There are appalling things that I can understand, and some of the things I can understand are more appalling than some of the things I can’t. Second note: I don’t mean to suggest that this is something to which McCain supporters are particularly prone, except insofar as this is the sort of thing you do when your candidate is about to lose, and Obama is not losing. Nuttiness does not follow political boundaries, and no one should think that either side is immune to it.)

But what I can’t think my way into is her saying that the person who did it was black. No kind of desperation that I can think of would have required that detail. That’s just gratuitous, and very, very ugly.

I’d like to give a shout-out to the Pittsburgh police. I know nothing about the officers who worked this case, but it seems unlikely that they are all Democrats, all Republicans, or all any political anything. They are professionals, and they did their jobs. If they hadn’t, some tall black man who was just going to the store or taking a walk could have ended up in jail.

Because the police did their jobs, some innocent man, somewhere, will get to enjoy the rest of his life. No one will ever know which tall black man would ever have been wrongfully arrested, or whose life might have been ruined, not even the man himself. But he’s out there somewhere, and while he owes his close call to Ashley Todd’s racism, he owes his escape to the Pittsburgh police. Had it not been for them, ten years from now the Pittsburgh papers might have had occasion to write a story like this:

“A decade after he was cleared as a suspect in one of Boston’s most notorious crimes, William Bennett is still very angry.

In autumn of 1989, the ex-convict was named a suspect in the killing of Carol DiMaiti Stuart, a pregnant, suburban white woman shot, allegedly by a black man, in what looked like a random street robbery. Bennett’s arrest seemed to solve a high-profile murder case, quieting an outraged city whose leaders promised swift justice. But when suspicion shifted to the husband, Charles Stuart, Bennett went from cold-blooded murder suspect to a symbol of police abuse and Boston’s lingering racial divide.

Yesterday, in a rare interview, Bennett told the Globe the case still haunts him. He blames it for his mother’s premature death and frayed family ties. And he refuses to hide his frustration.

“I don’t trust anybody. I barely trust myself,” said Bennett, now 50. “The police falsely pinned a crime on me once and they can do it again.

“I have no faith in the law enforcement and I don’t like cops,” said Bennett, who does kitchen work on Newbury Street for a food service company. “Nothing has changed. You still have those same racist cops on the police force.”” (Boston Globe, 4/6/2000.)

I’d also like to give a shout-out to all the people who held off on this, and to Michelle Malkin, who did a lot to keep this story from getting completely out of hand. To the people who jumped on the bandwagon: think about the responsibilities that come with having an audience. When a story like this hits, you can try to convince people to withhold judgment until the facts are in, or you can lose your head along with everyone else. It seems like a pretty clear choice to me.

And to McCain’s Pennsylvania communications director: now would be a good time to decide to spend more time with your family.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription