clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Duke Lacrosse Case, Part I

As a blogger from the Raleigh area one might construe that I have fallen short of my responsibilities for not having raised this issue already. Part of my hesitation was that I not be seen for jumping up and down on Duke just for the sake of doing it. The other side of it was that I simply did not have enough information to render an opinion on the matter. And while the media at large is often satisfied with blowing hot air out over the airwaves or printing whatever speculations they can get their hands on I tend to operate differently. Of course underlying this reasoning is the incredible complexity and confusion of the events of March 13, 2006 in that house on the outskirts of Duke's campus. I happen to think that a woman who cries rape should be given every opportunity to receive justice but I also think that a whole lacrosse team of players is innocent until proven guilty. As of this writing I have yet to render an opinion on who might be telling the truth. Here is my view of the parties involved.

The Media

Whether we know or not June 17, 1994 was a dark day for American society. That was the day of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase in California which subquently ended in his arrest and led to his long trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. What the coverage of the O.J. trial brought was a genesis of the 24 hour news cycle where networks like CNN devoted the whole day to trial coverage and little know legal analysts who once got 5-10 minutes to address some issue became half hour fixtures on prime time news channels. Ever since that trial, every major crime that captures the imagination is picked up and carried by the media ad nauseum. The recent Natalee Holloway case in Aruba gave more life to this phenomenon and the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case has fallen into the same cycle of neverending coverage.

One terrible aspect of cases like this is the news hosts pontificating on this case and its meaning for the Durham community and Duke have probably spent less time in Durham or at Duke than most anyone. In other words you have hosts interviewing people about a community or situation in which the hosts know very little about factually and everything else they know is based on generalizations. The second problem is that both the DA and the defense attorneys have made unabashed use of the media in their efforts to market the case to potential jurors. The media has been nothing less than a totally willing partner in this venture. The DA and defense are not at all bashful about leaking any and all information to the press which may aid their case. It is clear the intention was to try the case in the media. For the DA it was intended to show the community how tough the prosecution was being and for the defense it was to pressure the DA into dropping the whole thing. Both sides have failed and the result is a whole lot of evidence out in the open allowing people to form hardened opinions on the case, some of which may be called to jury duty. The media has been grossly irresponsible overall with the exception of local radio station 850 The Buzz which has been very reserved in its presentation of the case choosing to stick with verifiable facts.

The sad truth is the case may have already been decided by the potential jury and that mean no justice for anyone.

Duke University

The fact that this is Duke makes this case all the more explosive. Duke is considered "Ivy League South" and has all the prestige and glory a highly touted private university can muster. In fact had this event occurred at East Carolina or even NC State the attention would be far less. The fact that it was Duke and also coupled with the fact that a black woman had accused a group of white men of rape gave in the racial element needed to make a national story. There is also a element where Duke's failure to properly administer the behavior of the lacrosse team may have created the situation. According to the News and Observer the lacrosse team had a long history of misdemeanors and violations of the campus judicial code. Numerous players on numerous occassions engaged in criminal activity or illustrated reckless behavior which was largely unchecked by anyone at Duke. Does this mean any one of them was guilty of rape? No, but it does indicate that there was, to use a favorite NCAA term, a lack of institutional control over the team on matters of off the field behavior. Now resigned Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler was surely aware of how his team was behaving and should have done more to rein them in and if he was incapable of doing so then AD Joe Alleva or President Richard Brodhead should have taken actions to bring the lacrosse players under control. This is not saying that had tighter controls been instituted it would have prevented the alleged incident but at least there would have been a record of some kind of attempt to bring these guys under umbrella of authority.

One sure fire way of telling the world you knew you had a ticking time bomb and did nothing to stop it is to slap some kind of sizable CYA penalty down on the team. In this case Duke horribly overreacted and suspended the entire team and cancelled the season on the allegation that three of the 47 team members had comitted this act. This reeks of grade school discipline when the whole class stays in for recess because two attention seeking idiots in the back of the class decide upsetting the teacher is far more fun than slides and swings. What is an even greater travesty is the fact the whole team was tagged with these charges and based on everything I have read it is probable the whole team was not even present at the party. A whole bunch of good guys with excellent grades and overall decent records as citizens of Duke and the city are penalized because a few are accused of a heinous crime. A group of guys who want nothing more than to play collegiate lacrosse and exercise their talents at the highest level are now stuck sitting in their dorms with no season left.

Of course in Duke's defense, the racial nature of the charges made virtually any decision they made a bad one. If they move too slow it is called a cover up and they are insensitive to the Durham community. If they come down too fast and hard they are seen as being to draconian and wrongfully punishing innocent students who may have not even been present. There was no middle ground here but part of that is based on Duke's failure to act when the charges were minor and the behavior controllable. The bottom line here is that Duke could have addressed the behavior of the lacrosse team which was by most accounts out of control. Dealing with the minor infractions would have given Duke opportunity to identify troublemakers and established a punishment track which would have made the actions they ended up taking completely in line with precedent.

The Distict Attorney

Mike Nifong is the DA for Durham County, he is white, and he is also running for reelection in a predominatly black county and city. That is pretty much all you need to know to draw a conclusion as to why Nifong has aggressively pursued this case. As much as I would like to think he is a zealous advocate of the people and will always employ this kind of passion in obtaining justice for any victim, years of watching politics has made me cynical. There are two absolutely inescapable motivators for Nifong here.

The first is politics. Nifong is up for reelection and there is no way in Hades he gets reelected as D.A. if he ticks off the black community. A black N.C. Central student alleges rape against white Duke students and what you essentially have is a political time bomb. If Nifong was three years out from reelection, then he could afford to play this much more cautiously because voter memories are very short and as long as you say the right things during the year before the election the odds are a mistake you made 2-3 years back will not matter. Since this case fell into the election year Nifong had no choice but to go after the lacross players come hell or high water. Even as it appears the case is falling apart, Nifong pressed forward with indictments because if he does not he will be easily beaten when the voters hit the polls.

The second aspect is race. Nifong is making a preemptive strike against a reaction from the black community. The last thing Durham officials want is Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton leading a march down the center of Durham. Instead of allowing the outrage to fester and grow, Nifong headed it off by taking the hard line, even if it means putting innocent men through a trial. If Nifong so much as hesitates or fails to toe the line, the black community will take him to task. And I do not mean this is a necessarily negative action their part. There is still plenty of inequality in the world and enough reminders that black victims often get a raw deal when accusing white attackers. It also should be noted that there is a tenancy to play the race card when it is not a racial issue at all.

As difficult as it is, we must strive to remember that someone alleged attack someone else in a sick manner. The act alone regardless of the colors of the skin should be enough to outrage the entire community of people, bring the zeal of the D.A., but at the same time create a proper environment where justice can trult prevail. Sadly, this is not occurring in Durham. The D.A. is using the media to play politics by using various leaks. The interest for Nifong is not justice for the victim or finding the truth, the interest is reelection and whatever truth ensures that is the one he will be presenting to the jury.

Next: The Defense Paints a Picture, The Accuser, and The Case Itself