A about a week ago, I designated the crowd-funding website GoFundMe an Ethics Dunce. Now it’s clear that it is worse than that. It’s an unethical website, period.
After the six Baltimore police officers were prematurely charged with serious crimes before the investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was complete, the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police created a GoFundMe page for their defense. Less than an hour later, it was taken down, with GoFundMe citing the same dubious policy it used to cut off support for a bakery driven out of business by vengeful same-sex marriage supporters:
“‘Campaigns in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes’ are prohibited by our terms . . . GoFundMe cannot be used to benefit those who are charged with serious violations of the law.”
So, in essence, the website doesn’t support the Sixth Amendment rights of the accused to have a competent and zealous defense, or the principle that a citizen is deemed innocent under the law until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s pretty heinous on its own.
Why shouldn’t this site be used to help guarantee a fair trial for anyone facing prosecution?…This is a site that is designed to help people organize in making donations to support different causes. Giving such charity is a positive act, including giving money to guarantee a fully funded defense. Our criminal justice system is a foundational part of our society. It reflects our commitment to the rule of law. Central to that institution is the presumption of innocence. I find this policy of GoFundMe to be inexplicable and distasteful. Many people want to support the criminal justice system as much as environmental or other causes. The policy makes, in my view, an arbitrary and biased decision in barring those who are accused of serious offenses by the government. It should equally presumably bar those who are viewed as victims of government abuse like journalists or whistleblowers.
But then, GoFundMe is run by people who know little of nothing about any of this. They are politically correct, ignorant and cowardly, pandering to the mob, controlled by popular passions and misconceptions. If they cared about, or understood the principles and values of this nation, they would understand that defending the rights of those accused of “heinous” crimes are among the most worthy causes for funding. The Baltimore officers are a perfect example of this. The legal system will be prosecuting six men in an environment of mob extortion, with community activists, the media and large portions of the community having already condemned them. The threat: convict them or else we’ll tear the city to shreds. It will take more than the average criminal defense lawyer to ensure a fair trial and a jury verdict based on the evidence rather a political agenda. That takes money, and an ethical crowd-funding site would see this as an opportunity to advance the interests of justice.
GoFundMe is not, however, an ethical crowd-funding site.
UPDATE: Mercilessly alert correct commenters below point out that I also declared a website unethical last month for posting a crowdfunding appeal for Officer Slager, who can be seen murdering Walter Scott on video. The fact that Slager is almost certainly guilty still doesn’t change the fact that he deserves the best defense available. I was wrong in my analysis then. I’m right now. I’ve added an update to this effect here, and here.