A friend wrote an email, asking why I had not taken a position on the "Duke Lacrosse / Nifong is Satan" business.
I thought, "That's not true! I've written several times on that." But a GOOGLE search didn't turn up anything (though I swear I have, maybe just in emails, tho).
Have to admit, I'm a bit sick of it. Wherever I go, on trips or professional conferences, people ask. So I certainly TALK about it a lot.
Anyway, my views, for what they are worth.
1. Duke, and Duke's President Richard Brodhead, reacted badly in the first 48 hours after the incident. The season should have been suspended immediately, and the coach and the athletic director fired. That party, and a number of other events leading up to it, revealed a breakdown in accountability and control. That sort of thing would NEVER have happened on Duke's basketball team, for example. The coach is responsible, in my view, for the behavior of student-athletes. And student-athletes have to be held to a higher standard than other students, because they represent the university. Just given what we KNOW, for a fact, to be true about that party (I mean the organized underage drinking, the strippers, and racial epithets), the team needed to be suspended, and responsible adults (coach and athletic director) fired.
2. The President should have treated the incident for what it was: a racial incident. The quick, decisive action described in #1 would have calmed the community. Instead, the administration circled the wagons and went silent for two weeks, AND THEN SUSPENDED THE SEASON AND FIRED THE COACH. It looked like the Prez caved in to pressure, and in fact he did. Either take action, or don't, right away. And decry the racial nature of the confrontation, and abuse.
3. Now, at this point, my sympathies switch entirely, from "punish the team" to "help the three falsely accused players." The team, the coach, and the university have paid
for the racially motivated harassment of the dancers, and for breaking the (stupid) drinking age law, when the season was suspended and the coach fired, even if belatedly. So the vendetta of the (as my friend CL calls him) "Righteous Townie DA
" Nifong against the players charged with the flimsiest conceivable case of rape is reprehensible. The three players charged with rape may not be choir boys (though no one knows that, except for the whole D.C. assault conviction
thing). I'll not reprise the evidence against the three young men, or rather the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct by RTDA Nifong
. The charges should be dropped, immediately. Nifong should be removed from office and disbarred.
4. The famed "Duke 88" were out of line
. I don't deny their, or anyone else's, right in expressing their views. I find their judgment questionable, however. Their statement was, even in the most charitable reading, full of opportunities for what signers later called "misrepresentations", though it appears to me that the critiques of the statement are based on the plain meaning of the words in the statement. Let me be clear: the 88 were not out of line for expressing a view. They were out of line for (a) a rush to judgment, and (b) presuming to speak, or appearing to be presuming to speak, for Duke and Duke's faculty as a whole. Finally, I do have to ask, as many others have asked: If the Group of 88 was so concerned that people react to THEIR WORDS, not to what rumor claimed about the statement, why was the statement removed from the Duke servers? (Again, you can find a transcription here
. Two disclaimers: (a) I can't tell if this transcription is accurate, since the Group of 88 is too ashamed of its words to allow them to be seen in public
. (b) I do not endorse the invective at the top of the this article, but I am reduced to linking this source because the Group of 88 is too ashamed to...(ditto))
5. But that means that the relative silence of the President (though he was on 60 Minutes
, for heaven's sake!) is also appropriate. What is going on now is a criminal proceeding. For Duke to use its public relations apparatus to try to influence the case would mean that we have sunk to Nifong's level, or close to it. (To sink to Nifong's level, we would have to be hiding important evidence, also). Either the three young men did, or did not, commit a rape. If they did, it was on private property. They should be punished, if they committed a rape. But the evidence now appears overwhelming (actually, it was overwhelming three months ago; now it is outrageously overwhelming) that the prosecution is conducting a politically motivated and cynical witch hunt. The system is broken, and Nifong has to go. I would go so far as to say that the city of Durham should have to pay most, or all, of the legal costs of the three young men.
6. Finally, I have heard from a number of people (Radley Balko
, for one) that this protest against abuse by prosecutors is a bit too little, too late. Poor people, black people, and those who have inadequate representation are often railroaded by a legal system dominated by overzealous D.A.s. The only reason, the argument goes, that people are upset now is that the routine abuse has crossed race and class lines, and some rich white boys are involved! Where were you when the poor and the black and the brown were being abused? You didn't protest then!
Well, there are two answers. First, if the prosecutor can go after wealthy people, with good lawyers, and still cause so much misery, that is proof the system is broken and needs fixed.
Second, and more important, critics are missing the point: these young men are not charged with rape in SPITE of their race and class. They are being charged precisely BECAUSE of it. The whole point, for Nifong and for some (I don't know how many) of his supporters is that this is a chance to get back at the elite. Nifong's side appears to want to argue this way: If these particular white boys didn't commit the rape, well they have done other bad things we don't know about. And the very fact of their wealth and privilege is an outrage, and someone needs to be held accountable.
It is difficult for me even to type these last words, because it makes me so angry. And, I may be caricaturing the view, though I think I am guilty only of terseness, not misrepresentation.
So, to summarize lest I be misunderstood:
-- Ending the season, and firing the coach, was appropriate (and sufficient) punishment of the team for the racial and drinking incidents at the party. AD should have been fired also, and it should have been done in first two days, not two weeks.
-- All charges against the players should be dropped immediately, and their lawyers' fees paid by the County of Durham.
-- Nifong is criminally negligent, at least, and should be removed from the case and disbarred.
-- Duke University should continue its policy of cooperation with authorities, but should not make public statements that either support or criticize any of the parties in the pending criminal trial. It is wrong when Nifong tries to try the students in public, and it would be just as wrong for Duke to do so.
UPDATE: Dec 25, 3 pm: I should note that the initial recognition that the statement of the Group of 88 had been deleted from its Duke site came from DiW
. I found the Johnsville
reference through KCJ's site, and should have said so. I regret the omission.