Duke Case: Some Loose Ends

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Op-Ed: The Duke Case

The Duke Rape case and our legal system’s speedy reaction to the way it was prosecuted is another example of how justice in America is different for white and Black folks, in perception and reality.

Three former Duke Lacrosse players were acquitted of raping a stripper that was hired as entertainment for a team party. After determining that the Durham County District Attorney improperly charged the players, the attorney general in North Carolina cleared the three men of all charges.

The North Carolina State Bar quickly turned their attention to Mike Nifong, the Durham County District Attorney that prosecuted the case against the players. As the district attorney in a largely Black district, critics of Nifong had accused him of using the Duke Rape case for his own political advantage, during an election year.

On June 15, 2007, Nifong was disbarred by unanimous decision of the bar’s disciplinary panel. Among the charges Nifong was found guilty of were fraud, dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation. Even Duke University settled out of court with the three former players for an undisclosed amount.

The three former players are now widely portrayed by the mainstream media as victims. They were victimized by a public rush to judgment, Duke University and by Nifong’s rush to convict them. They have done television news magazine shows with sympathetic interviewers asking how they survived such an ordeal. How could this have happened to these three innocent young men that represent the best of this country’s youth?

The former players may have been the victims of an overzealous prosecutor, but are they totally innocent victims? No mention is ever made that these same innocent young men used an Escort Service to hire two women to strip and who knows what else. The team house had a reputation for rowdiness and unruly behavior. Neighbors reported students urinating out of the house windows. There were also reports of racial epithets being hurled at Black students that passed by.

Who can forget the e-mail that was recovered from one of the player’s computer in which they described a sick homicidal fantasy involving the dismemberment of one of the strippers. This also wasn’t the first time that members of the Duke Lacrosse team had run-ins with the law.

At the time of the rape investigation, 15 of the 47 players on the team had been cited by police for public and underage drinking. One of the defendants in the rape case had been arrested in Washington, DC with two other friends for beating a man in a bar, while taunting him with “gay� slurs.

The players lured the two strippers to their house under false pretenses. According to published interviews of the owner of the escort service, they were led to believe that the strippers would be entertainment for a bachelor party and that there would be about five guys there. There is also some speculation that the accuser might have had something put in her drink.

According to the second stripper’s testimony, the accuser was fine until she accepted a drink from one of the players. After sipping the drink, she became “glossy eyed�. The strippers became alarmed when one of the players discovered that the girls had failed to bring sex toys and suggested that a broomstick could be used instead. This bought the party to an end.

The point is, while these transgressions don’t add up to rape, they also don’t add up to the media’s portrayal of these young men as innocent victims. If this young woman falsely accused the three defendants of rape, she should pay a penalty and the players should have been exonerated.

However, I have a hard time with the portrayal of the three accused players as solely innocent victims with no accountability or responsibility for the situation in which they placed themselves. The last time I checked soliciting women for sex acts, underage drinking and lewdness were causes for being arrested, let alone expulsion from school. The player’s own misguided actions created the situation. To date, I have not heard any of the players accept responsibility for their own actions.

I’m not suggesting the three former players are bad people. I also understand that these types of parties occur and have been occurring on campuses for years. These young men were the victims of a horrible circumstance that arose from a bad decision they made. They are not worthy of public scorn, but they surely aren’t worthy of the borderline adulation they’ve received. During the telecast of the College Lacrosse Championship game between Duke and John Hopkins University, one of the broadcasters referred to Duke as “America’s Team.� Do we just forget about the pattern of deviant behavior displayed by the team that was uncovered during the rape investigation?

As I see the outrage of white America over the way the Duke players were treated, I tried to bring to mind a case involving a Black defendant where the legal system worked to correct itself in the same way as it did for the Duke players.

I tried to recall a situation in the last 20 years, where a perceived travesty committed against a person of color caused outrage within white America. Perhaps, that accounts for the difference between the way white and Black people view these situations.

The same legal system that worked the way it was designed to work for the Duke players, has consistently failed Black defendants. Furthermore, even when clear cut cases of injustice involving Blacks gains national attention, those instances are often dismissed as individual aberrations, with no connection to a broader pattern.

A quick review of some of the more famous legal cases where race was involved highlights how differently Black and whites view the legal system.

Some Black’s response to O.J. Simpson’s acquittal of the murder of his wife, Nicole Simpson, was not a reflection of whether they felt he was guilty or innocent. It was a reaction to seeing how dismayed whites were when the legal system worked for a Black man in the same way that it had worked for whites all too many times. The intelligence of the mostly Black jury was questioned by the media and became a national punch line on late night television.

When Rodney King was beaten unmercifully by L.A. police officers, Black folks figured the case for police brutality was pretty obvious. Everything you needed to know was right there on video. Instead many white people accepted the LAPD’s defense that King was a threat and the Simi Valley jury’s acquittal of the officers. The juror’s intelligence was never questioned the way the jurors in the O.J. trial was.

Susan Smith, a white woman from South Carolina, drowned her children in the family car and told police that she was carjacked by a Black man. A similar situation happened in Boston when Charles Stuart murdered his family and blamed an unidentified Black perpetrator. Willie Bennet, a Black man was arrested for the crime in the Stuart case, as the enraged citizenry of Boston called for reinstatement of the death penalty. These were both sensational cases that stayed in the news for weeks. However, the public outrage was focused on the murderers. Whites never joined the call for racial justice once it was discovered that both murderers relied on their whiteness and America’s predisposition to believe in Blacks as criminals to get away with the most heinous of acts.

Of course these are just a few examples. There are many other examples and many more that never make it to the public consciousness. However, it is amid this backdrop that whites started using the phrase, “playing the race card� to refer to Blacks using race to circumvent responsibility and play on white guilt. I can’t think of a more inaccurate and misleading phrase in the English language, when the history of Black peoples in America is considered.

We now have Genarlow Wilson. Genarlow is not unlike the Duke lacrosse players. He was a star football player and with a 3.2 GPA. Genarlow clearly represented the best of this country’s youth.

Genarlow was 17 when he was arrested for statutory rape of a 15 year old girl. Even though the act was performed willingly, the law in most states says that a 15 year old does not yet have the mental capacity to consent to sexual acts. Genarlow was preparing to take the SAT the day he was arrested.

The sex took place at a party in a hotel where there was under aged drinking and willing participation in sexual acts. Someone at the party decided to film the event. The film is what led to Genarlow’s eventual arrest. After viewing the film, it was obvious to the jury that the 15 year old participated willfully in the act. However, Georgia state law had mandatory sentencing guidelines for statutory rape which forced the jury, against their stated better judgment, to find Genarlow guilty.

Genarlow was given a 10 year sentence for child molestation and would have to register as a sex offender upon release. He’s been in prison for over two years.

In interviews, Genarlow has expressed regret and taken responsibility for his actions. He admits that he was wrong to participate in sexual activity with the young lady. The media is just starting to give Genarlow’s case some attention. The Georgia Assembly has since passed laws that if they were in effect three years ago, Genarlow would not be imprisoned.

I have to ask, where is the public outcry and mass media attention now? If a 10 year jail sentence for sex between a 15 and 17 year old, both of whom were participants, is not an injustice, then what is?

There are injustices perpetrated against people everyday. Sometimes whites are the victims, sometimes Blacks are the victims. If we’re going to fight injustice, we have to be willing to fight all injustice, not just selected instances that involve people of your own ethnicity or sex. When we are all able to see all injustice for what it is, there won’t be a Black side and a white side to every story.

Stephens is a Black Star News contributing columnist.

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