Monday, July 30, 2007

The Duke Lacrosse Scandal: A Perspective

The recent disbarment of Mike Nifong former Durham, North Carolina District Attorney, the potential of criminal charges against him and the settlement that Duke University reached with Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann have once again brought this scandal back into the light of day. The media is finally reflecting an even-handed treatment of what continues to be known as the Duke Lacrosse Team Rape Case, thanks to the now disgraced and discredited Nifong, though even from his jaundiced perspective it only involved three players.

As an old lacrosse midfielder way out here in Texas, I felt the need to express my North Texas Prairie Opinion on the Duke Lacrosse Scandal. Not surprisingly, most out here felt that this situation was mishandled from the start with the presumption of guilt being paramount. We never failed to communicate our true feelings even from the start of this debacle. With the end of this tragedy drawing near we note that even with exoneration and the declaration of innocence, the scales of justice are not yet balanced. There are a lot of issues (some would call it payback) still to be resolved. Only when accountability occurs among all the guilty parties will ultimate justice be served.

The culprits are:

* District Attorney Mike Nifong: It doesn’t take a retrospective to see that his intentions were transparent from the start. His initial public comments were prejudicial and patently dishonest, deceitful and misrepresented the whole case. I might point out those are just some of the terms used by the North Carolina State Bar in their successful disbarment case against Nifong. In public forums Nifong chose to play the race card early on in order to guarantee his reelection, deliberately exaggerating the case, intensifying and especially pandering to the emotional state (which he created) of the African-American Community in Durham and the students and faculty at the predominately Black North Carolina Central University. From the start he failed to properly manage the case by deliberately ignoring evidence, failing to even initially interview the accuser, accused and other key witnesses, deliberately withholding key exculpatory DNA evidence and then lying about it to judges. I and many others feel that he should be criminally charged in this case above and beyond his disbarment and the prospects of never practicing law again.

Nifong’s July 27, 2007 apology and CYA admission that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to pursue charges against Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann seemingly coincides with recently announced plans to consider criminal charges against him. By all the blogging activity going on it would appear that many hope that the accused Duke Lacrosse players will pursue against Nifong in a civil case. Now, that would be a no-brainer.

* City of Durham Police Department: Either they are an absolute joke or they let Nifong hang himself (we understand that he is not well liked). Anybody who has watched any police show on TV probably knows how to conduct a line-up. We, of course, refer to that now infamous photo line-up - only of Duke Lacrosse players that failed to follow US Department of Justice or State of North Carolina guidelines? It was rumored that Durham PD representatives using a dartboard mentality told the accuser that the photos included all who attended the party and asked her to “Pick out who it was.”

In addition, don’t you think they were aware of the credibility of the accuser? But, all this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Mayor and Durham City Council recently announced the commencement of an outside investigation that will surely uncover the many irregularities revolving around this case. For good measure the State of North Carolina is looking over their shoulder.

* Duke University Faculty: Many of Duke’s professors publicly prejudged the case (with apparent glee) and ran toward the dark side foaming at the mouth in a piranha-like feeding frenzy demanding justice and the restoration of order. As one professor stated, “Young, white, violent, drunken men among us — implicitly boasted by our athletic directors and administrators — have injured lives.” Detached and delusional members of the Duke Faculty, then known as the “Group of 88”, however well intended, are now characterized by the perverted and outrageous machinations of Dr. Karla Holloway, Dr. Houston A. Baker Jr., Dr. William Chafe and others who used the incident to forward their own social agendas and led the prejudiced frenzy against White male lacrosse players, even to the point of condemning them. Student demonstrations that some feel were enabled and sanctioned by the "Group of 88", demanded the confessions of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann.

Chafe even invoked hypothetical and fictional antebellum scenarios and the tragic and heinous 1955 murder of Emmett Louis Till as it, “helps to put into context what occurred in Durham” and only succeeded in misleading the populous and further fanning the flames and the emotions of bigotry in the community. Gees?!

Some of the “Group of 88/87” are now strongly backpedaling claiming that their original letter was, “misinterpreted” and was a more obtuse and generic expression of concern about the quality of life at The University though they admitted using the alleged rapes as their lynchpin. As they say in Durham, “Bull!” Despite their protestations, the timing and wording of their document is significant and their continued personal comments are perceived by many as disingenuous.

Some of the faculty members who were so quick to maliciously and falsely condemn the lacrosse players continue to demonstrate their incredible ignorance by defiantly refusing to apologize (at this point who cares?) citing academic freedom or prevailing cultural sensitivities. It appears to many that they are mad as hell that the Duke Lacrosse players were found to be innocent since it invalidates their agenda and damaged their reputations. What would they have done if the strippers were White?

Racism appears alive and well on the Duke campus though apparently emanating from the mouths of the “Group of 88/87” that includes some members of the Duke African-American faculty.

Interestingly, we now find out that some of the departments reflected to support the Group of 88/87’s latest diatribe (their clarification) or their initial ad did not, in fact, endorse the statement. Surprise, surprise. It appears now that three, perhaps five departments did not endorse the original ad or the “clarification” according to K. C. Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Johnson teaches offerings in 20th century U.S. constitutional, political and diplomatic history has done a wonderful job keeping the public apprized of the ins and outs of the Duke/Nifong case via his Durham in Wonderland blog site ( Johnson is also co-author with Stuart Taylor of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape.

This writer has also appreciated the very keen and eloquent perspectives of Richard Bertrand Spencer a doctoral student in European Intellectual History at Duke University. In The American Conservative February 26, 2007 issue his article, Rotten in Durham, describes how "Duke’s academic mandarins became a lynch mob and paints the picture of an out of control Group of 88 and their disconnect from reality."

David Brooks, former columnist for the New York Times and professor of public policy at Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy hit the nail on the head when he wrote in June of 2006 in a perspective entitled, The Duke Witch Hunt, "Maybe the saddest part of the whole reaction is not the rush to judgment at the start, but the unwillingness by so many to face the truth now that the more complicated reality has emerged."

Well, thank God for University Provost Peter Lange, Duke’s top academic officer and Duke Law professor James Coleman whose wise counsel, sanity and reason mostly prevailed. So now, what do you do with those members of the faculty that have so ceremoniously and publicly discredited themselves and the university? Along with free speech especially in an academic environment, ethics, responsibility and accountability are also a major part of the equation. We hope that the now disgraced Holloway, Baker and Chafe will learn that lesson. Is the same university environment that promotes tolerance and free and open speech also sponsoring and accepting bigotry, slander and defamatory remarks? It appears so though Baker has since quickly left for Nashville and Vanderbilt University and nobody’s talking. Question of the Day: What is the University going to do to repair the broken relationships and trust between the students and many of the faculty? We sincerely hope that those in the "Group of 88/87" will be able to connect with the 21st century and rising above bigotry and prejudice, appropriately engage pertinent prevailing social issues.

* Duke University & President Richard Brodhead: This whole incident boils down to how Duke University mishandled the situation and brought disgrace upon a great institution. President Brodhead tip-toed between the faculty (including the Group of 88/87), the Black residents of Durham and most every minority organization mostly ignoring the rights of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann. These students were suspended, put on "administrative leave" and later invited back when the rape charges were dropped and Nifong’s true character and intent were finally revealed. There was no presumption of innocence and many believe that the University is culpable for this miscarriage of justice. They apparently felt so as well, witness their recent settlement with Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann.

President Brodhead deliberately initially painted this whole issue in grander, macro terms seemingly falling in bed with some of his “illustrious faculty” though the basic rights of many Duke students were violated. His acceptance of the rantings of the Group of 88/87 under the guise of intellectual freedom was preposterous! Further, the decision to forfeit two games and then cancel an entire lacrosse season is without merit and, again, condemns the many for the alleged actions of a few even if we accept the lesser allegations of underage drinking. I know many good Quakers and Methodists who had their first beers well before their 18th or 21st birthdays.

I cannot question the forced resignation of Lacrosse Coach Mike Pressler as he should be held ultimately accountable for the actions of his team - good and bad. It would appear, however, that given his exemplary record that counseling and a much more productive stratagem could have been created for this situation. It looks to all the world that he was hung out to dry as the symbolic scapegoat for the Duke Athletic Department. This was a bad move and a major loss for Duke and her students. Bryant University, however, gained mightily.

When Brodhead reinstated the lacrosse program earlier this year he very publicly backed in the back door, “I am, I know, taking a risk in reinstating men’s lacrosse.” Brodhead continued, “The reinstatement is inevitably probationary.” What an enabler? He apparently also reflected concerns about the academics of the lacrosse team though they have perennially graduated all their players. The Coleman Committee, created by Dr. Brodhead to examine the culture of the men's lacrosse team, stated in their report, "The lacrosse team's academic performance generally is one of the best among all Duke athletic teams.” They went on to say, "In 2005, twenty seven members of the lacrosse team, more than half, made the Atlantic Coast Conference's Academic Honor Roll, more than any other ACC lacrosse team. Between 2001 and 2005, 146 members of the lacrosse team made the Academic Honor Roll, twice as many as the next ACC lacrosse team."

Much of Brodheads’s concerns revolved around some disciplinary issues that generally involved the consumption of alcohol, though also cited as pervasive throughout the University. These issues were apparently successfully addressed. This writer has not seen that issue resurface during 2007.

In an effort to buttress and reinforce the reputation of The University and Brodhead’s handling of the whole incident, the Duke University spin doctors have been very busy.

Their latest offering was the June 18, 2007 release that appeared equally penned if not edited by Duke University Legal Counsel. That news release centered on the following statement. “The Board of Trustees and the President have also determined that it is in the best interests of the Duke community to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward. For these reasons, and after considerable deliberation, the trustees have agreed to a settlement with each student. Beyond this statement, the resolution is a private matter among the students, their families and Duke.” Give Duke University an A+ for running at the problem and defusing any further issues.

While The Board of Trustees and President Broadhead, “welcome their exoneration and deeply regret the difficult year they and their families have had to endure” their settlement precluded the open admission that they were largely responsible for that, “long ordeal.” Even with the settlement it seems incredibly disingenuous for Broadhead to commiserate with the students.

Bottom line: Duke University has a far larger task ahead of itself – healing the broken relationship and trust that has to exist in any institution of higher learning. If Duke University really cares then they will really have to live up to their own words, “We resolve to bring the Duke family together again, and to work to protect others from similar injustices in the criminal justice system in the future.” We wish them God speed in that task.

* Crystal Gail Mangum: Yes, this is the stripper who made all the baseless charges. She saw an economic opportunity and when that failed, engaged her vendetta. Thank God the other Lady had the courage to step forward. State Attorney General Cooper apparently feels that charges against Crystal would serve no real purpose insinuating that she is mentally ill. I have no problem, however, (a la OJ) prosecuting her to the fullest extent allowed by the law and insuring that she never profits from her shameless lies. Can’t you just feel another docudrama or book in the making?

* The Media: Of course, all this was voraciously consumed by the media who bought into this: hook, line and sinker accepting the district attorney's case and especially his behaviors directed against the three students. It was big news and looking for that next big break, the press fanned the flames and built the story by giving Nifong a ready platform for his baseless, prejudiced rantings. Many in the Press had to know that something was awry as Nifong's behaviors deteriorated, conjuring up images of Lt. Cmdr. Queeg's eccentric behaviors as he rolled those marbles in his hand while he ranted on about his stolen strawberries. Even Nifong’s characterization of the incident as, “The Duke Lacrosse Team Rape Case” was a major tip off that something was wrong. Not one member of the media initially stood up and questioned the whole debacle.

The Media did eventually catch on, but only after about six months of putrid babble until defense attorneys got the other side of the story to the general public. Despite all the attention Nifong later stated that he was not really aware of the national significance of the story? Makes you wonder what planet he was on! Where were his Friends and confidantes?

The Big winners are:

* Players & Coaches: All the players and coaches of the 2006 and 2007 Duke University Lacrosse Teams and the three accused members to especially include Reade Seligmann who, immediately understanding what was going on, appreciated the fact that he had been singled out knowing that his airtight alibi would eventually exonerate him and, most importantly, spare a fellow teammate from undergoing possible indictment.

My late Father would have approved Reade’s recently announced decision to transfer to Brown University where he will surely play lacrosse next year and engage a distinguished academic career. In announcing his decision Reade stated, “I appreciate the support and loyalty of my teammates and coaches at Duke. I will miss them. I know that they will understand why I cannot return to Duke.”

Reade is the class of this Team and we in Texas salute him!

* Conclusions: We’re not in Oz, rather 21st century America, a litigious society where anybody can say anything about anybody – and does. We have our courts to sort it all out. While an indictment in our society might reflect an initial review of the evidence, it surely does not reflect ultimate guilt or innocence and needs to be perceived in context. It means that based on the evidence, a charge deserves a closer look. If all it takes to ruin someone in our society is to point a finger, then we need to reevaluate our recommended behaviors and policies in these cases. Indeed, people who bring false charges are themselves subject to the law of the land. The scariest aspect of this whole scenario is we continue to see the erosion and potential destruction of individual rights in our country.

Justice will not be served until other entities besides Duke University are held financially liable for damages. They include Ex DA Nifong (civil and criminal); City of Durham, NC; County of Durham, NC; several of the Duke faculty; Crystal Gail Mangum and other parties who maliciously took away their college experience and essentially a large part of their lives (and their parent’s money in legal fees). They need to restore to the best of their ability, the lives of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann and their families. I suspect that will be done and the damage amounts will be huge. People will be hurt and so be it. Yes, accountability is a great concept and especially so in the case of Duke University which faces many years of healing. Again, we hope that this is resolved as amicably as possible for the benefit of the many.

Classy as they are, the Duke University Lacrosse Team will probably vigorously reject my next premise. Duke University doesn’t now deserve to have a Team with the Integrity, Character, Courage, Loyalty, Bearing, Endurance and Enthusiasm that have performed to such a high level. These student athletes have prevailed despite the inappropriate, unwarranted and sometimes visceral attacks made against them by many on their own campus. By their actions they have brought honour and light to an institution that probably is not now worthy. With the Duke Lacrosse Team’s continued vigilance and support they might be. We will be keeping an eye on them.

Perhaps this miscarriage of justice will allow us to stop and breathe the fresh air of restraint and reaffirm the cornerstone of American Justice: the basic right by any Citizen to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. The past is prelude and we need to retain the solid memory of three men who despite a mad rush to judgment, an abuse of power and the slings and arrows of prejudice, yea, took arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing - ended them. Je me souviens.

Thanks, Aye,

Ned Buxton
An old midfielder………

1 comment:

'the Old Salt said...

Well done, bro. You have said what needed to be said befor the players had their hids drug through the muck and mire. Keep up the good writing