Editorial: Rush to judgment

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On Monday Chatindra Jawahir was an art teacher at JHS 157 in Rego Park, one of the thousands of men and women working in the city’s public schools. By Tuesday he had become Queens newest public enemy No. 1, accused of raping and sodomizing a 12-year-old girl.

Based solely on the accusation of the young special-ed student, District Attorney Richard Brown ordered the arrest of Jawahir and made certain that the media was there when he was taken into custody on Monday night. There he was on the evening news, led in handcuffs to the waiting police car for all of his students and their parents to see. In a devastating electronic moment, the reputation of this teacher was destroyed.

By Tuesday afternoon, Brown was issuing an official oops. The 12-year-old girl had recanted her story. The teacher never touched her. Furthermore, officials said that information gathered from the girl’s Metrocard did not support her accusations.

But Jawahir had already been subjected to what must have felt like a public execution. What could be more devastating for a decent man who had dedicated his life to teaching children than to be accused of being a child abuser?

Brown and the Special Victims Unit have some explaining to do. We know little about the girl who made the accusation, aside from the fact that she now admits that she lied. How much investigation did the prosecutor do before having this teacher arrested? How serious is this girl’s learning disability and is there information in her school records that suggests she is capable of telling such a terrible lie or that she was incapable of seeing the ramifications of her lie?

Has the girl been arrested? If she is not being held accountable for the damage she has done because of her disability, then why were the authorities so ready to believe her in the first place? Why not reassign the teacher to some central office while a more thorough investigation was conducted?

Even the egg-faced oops was qualified. “I have declined prosecution of the teacher and have directed that he be released from custody,” Brown said on Tuesday afternoon. But he then added that his office would continue to investigate the situation.

The hammer must come down hard on teachers who use their position of trust to take sexual advantage of children. At the same time, police and prosecutors must make sure that the system does not help a child with emotional problems ruin the reputation of an innocent teacher.

Editorial: Clean the Plaza

We confess that is hard to think of Queens Plaza as the gateway to anywhere. Mostly it’s a mess, complete with litter, graffiti and wall-to-wall traffic. The plaza itself has become a quality-of-life crime.

Last week Mayor Bloomberg ands other city officials announced that Queens Plaza would be targeted for repairs and an intensive cleanup. Some of the cleanup will be done by volunteers. Most of it will be done by low-level criminals ordered to do community service. The police will also target people who dump their trash on vacant lots near the plaza.

Go get ‘em! As we recently wrote, we are all for making low-level criminals do their community service in the neighborhoods where they committed their crimes. Let their punishment serve as warning to others

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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