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Duke Lacrosse Non-Case Exposes Some Unsavory Business
web posted January 29, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – A noted author once wrote that there is nothing more dangerous than an outraged mother protecting her brood.
Some time back I watched CBS’ popular news magazine show “60 Minutes” (one of my favorite viewing areas in a bleak television landscape) and saw firsthand what the writer was talking about.
The mothers of Duke lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligman were being interviewed by CBS correspondent Leslie Stahl, and what these mothers had to say should send shivers up the spine of Durham, N.C., prosecutor Michael Nifong.
Last year, Nifong, in the midst of what some said was a losing battle to win election as the Durham County prosecutor, indicted the women’s sons on charges of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.
The players fell into trouble after an off-campus party in which lacrosse team members hired a stripper, who later complained of being sexually attacked by the three. It was a charge that became an explosion that shook Duke, Durham and the judicial system.
In the ensuing months the tales about the wild night of partying took on more twists and turns than a daytime soap opera. The alleged rape victim’s story sounded plausible at first, but soon began falling apart with one revelation after another.
Forensic tests couldn’t link the accused students to rape, but DNA tests revealed semen from four different men in the victim’s system. To top it all, Nifong began a target, too, with allegations of unethical behavior.
The “happy” circumstances of rich white boys ganging up on a poor black female stripper and mother trying to make a living while going to college were too great a gift to be bothered with the burden of presenting the real facts in the case.
Nifong, his critics claimed, was trailing in the race for solicitor when he took on the “rape case” and, again his critics claim, he began playing the race card to scoop up black votes in the Durham community.
What has happened in the months since the charges were filed and the election was held is a sad example of what can happen when the judicial process is bent and twisted to suit the designs of nearly everyone involved.
Years ago I had a conversation with Aiken prosecutor Leonard Williamson about criminal matters, and he told me prosecutors have a duty to not only convict the guilty but to free those wrongly accused.
Williamson was well aware of getting to the heart of a criminal matter. He was on a legal team in 1946 that defended a homeless drifter who had been convicted of murdering an Aiken store owner and his wife. A hanging party was planned but the man was freed on a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court. Nearly 15 years later the real killer was exposed by the Aiken Police Department.
“I knew his life didn’t amount to much for most people,“ Williamson said about the falsely accused man, “but there was something about his story that we (his lawyers) believed every step of the way.“
While Nifong’s zeal to convict three young men has nearly ruined the lives of the accused, the prosecutor has company in this bit of business. The publicity ginned up disgraceful conduct by 88 members of the Duke University faculty who signed a newspaper petition condemning what they called “social disorder” on the campus.
The faculty members quickly gained allies in local newspapers, media pundits of every stripe, social do-gooders with racial axes to grind, the clueless and garish New Black Panther Party, the usual suspects lined up in the academies of arts, humanities and other worthless university disciplines.
All that was missing, it seems, was some rope.
Now, with egg smeared all over their faces, the faculty members, nearly all with tenured positions and the majority of them in the social sciences department, are in retreat and one has quit a position at Duke. A few are apologizing for hasty judgment but most are hiding out from the press.
Why is that those involved in social studies, the arts and humanities can usually be found in the front of the lines of those protesting democracy, religious belief, capitalism and the free enterprise system?
A Duke English professor became a laughing stock after writing a statement exposing his illiteracy. You would expect a Duke English professor to have a command of the language that goes beyond sixth grade script. Almost can land a teaching position these days.
I find it inexcusable that people in high places, including Duke University’s president, were so quick to act before all the facts were gathered. The lacrosse team’s schedule was cancelled, the coach was fired and the students left school.
Duke’s president, apparently hearing the sound of Duke grads snapping shut their purses, has welcomed the students back, but students, alumni and parents are calling on him to resign. Such is often the fate of the spineless.
What has been revealed in this sorry episode is not only Nifong’s incompetence and suspect motives, but the lynch mob mentality that lay simmering beneath the surface in the Duke faculty and administration.
Duke is one of the richest schools in the nation and the most incompetent of its faculty reportedly rakes in six figure salaries. To meet this payroll, Duke parents are putting up $40,000 a year for tuition and associated costs. I would enthusiastically argue that the parents are getting little value for the money they spend.
Education critics have long maintained that the biggest mistake universities and colleges ever made was to grant tenure to teachers. Tenure, its supporters maintained, was needed to hold onto the best teachers, but it now is exposed for what it really is. It granted lifetime jobs for the bad as well as the good and it means tenured radicals are not held accountable for bizarre behavior and are not held responsible for their actions. The law of unintended consequences means you get a lot of people who spend more time promoting political and social agendas than they do teaching to the textbooks.
If responsible people want to improve education, they should take action to abolish tenure. The second step would be for university and college trustees to demand dismissal of any teacher who strays from the prescribed course of study. If a president balks, then dismiss him or her as well. You clean a festering wound by starting at the top.
I fear my views about tenure will not pass a political correctness test, but I have a First Amendment right to express my feelings in this matter. I close with the conclusion that the powers at Duke, the runaway faculty members and Mr. Nifong are going to find out just how dangerous enraged mothers can be.
“We’re going to be with Mr. Nifong until the end of his days,” one mother said as the CBS interview session ended. Nifong, I fear, will be reminded of her words when the players’ parents begin filing their lawsuits against the prosecutor, the North Carolina judicial system, Duke University, the city of Durham and its police department.
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