Duke Rape Case
This editorial in the Washington Post sums up the Duke Rape Case issue nicely. The author starts out by admitting that she was biased against the players when news of the case broke. Her reasoning here is what you would expect. They were rowdy athletes, intoxicated, upset that $800 had only bought them a couple of minutes worth of a show; there was, of course, the email and the (alleged) racial insult, and let's not forget that some of these boys have pending charges on other past violent incidents. They fit a certain profile, no denying it.
But fitting a profile, as we're endlessly reminded when it comes to "driving while black" incidents and airport searches of Arab passengers, is not a crime. And this columnist, at least, understands the difference. The overall point of the article is that, despite early damning circumstantial evidence, as facts of the case have come to light it looks increasingly like the charges are false.
What's interesting is the way the column ends:
In an odd way, I hope Nifong's proved right, because the alternative -- that he began with a dubious case and stuck with it as it became shakier -- is so troubling.
I couldn't disagree more.
Right - the idea that a DA would stick with a shaky case to earn some cheap political points during a primary (Nifong was up for election when the case broke, and the black vote in Durham, which is 60% black, is extremely important) is troubling in the extreme. But this columnist is kidding herself if she thinks this never happens. More to the point - whether or not Nifong's pursuit of the case is on the up-and-up, that there was political pressure on him to pursue "someone, anyone on the Duke lacrosse team" is beyond dispute. The black community held regular meetings on the matter (some of which Nifong attended), and any number of articles on the subject available on the internet make it crystal clear that a great many people in Durham and elsewhere made up their minds about this case on much less evidence than this columnist presents for her own early bias. Whether or not the charges turn out to be true, this is a deeply disturbing demographic fact. And whether or not Nifong bowed to their pressure, the unsettling fact that pressure was being exerted does not go away.
For an idea of the level of argument on the "they're guilty, I just know it" side, have a look at this ridiculous blog. Among the "reasons" given why the athletes must be guilty:
Let's just imagine that this assault took place at a predominately Black university and the victims were white, this would've been front page national news. [...] It seems to me that this story has remained local to the North Carolina area.
Is this serious? The story has certainly NOT "remained local to the North Carolina area." Even at the time of writing (March 29) this was national news!
Cultural masculinity is a sickness that can turn men into monsters, and men in college sports are exposed to more of this virulent stuff than anyone.
"Cultural masculinity is a sickness that can turn men into monsters." I couldn't make this crap up. Sure, masculinity has a dark side, and that dark side definitely does involve rape. But masculinity has lots of positives as well: devotion to duty, responsibility, single-minded pursuit of goals, industriousness, material production, etc. Masculinity is not a "cultural sickness," and femininity is far from above reproach.
The quotation above continues:
Do I excuse these rapists? No, of course not - they are responsible for what they've done, and I fervently hope they rot behind bars.
"These rapists," as though the trial had already taken place. Not only are they guilty, but our omniscient narrator also knows what the sentence should be: "they rot behind bars." And all this because the police had just (remember, this is March 29) picked up some suspects. Tell me true, is it a healthy civic attitude to assume that whoever the police pick up deserves to have the book thrown at them? I'd say it's as if these people have never heard of framing before - but of course they have heard of it, and that's what's so sick about this kind of reaction. Knowing good and well that innocents are sometimes falsely accused, they want the coviction anyway - for no other reason than that these boys aren't "their kind of people."
On a site linked in the entry that purports to be an objective study of media coverage:
Alas, I'm not at all surprised that these two-legged hyenas with dicks for brains are getting a relative pass from the media. Nor would I be surprised if they get away with rape. But one has to wonder what responsibility Duke University will assume for this crime, and what action they will take to reinforce their institutional integrity.
"two-legged hyenas with dicks for brains." That's lovely, that is. This for a crime no one has yet proven. A crime that Duke University is supposed to take responsibility for, despite the fact that there hasn't even been a trial?
Look, people, due process isn't a trivial thing. It's a right. There's a damn good reason that right is enshrined in the Constitution - and it has to do with people like you - people who make up their minds based on surface details and circumstantial evidence for political convenience. It is because abuse of power is real that we need such protections.
I have my own biases in the Duke Rape Case; I'm human, after all. As a white guy who has frequently seen the race card played against his friends and associates for mere convenience, I admit I wouldn't mind seeing this come out in favor of the players. But I understand that the case has to turn on facts and evidence, and not my personal preferences. If the players are guilty of rape (or even of a lesser violent crime), they should absolutely go to jail. The difference between me and the people I've quoted is that I understand that revenge fantasies do not trump reality on the ground.
So in response to Ruth Marcus, I couldn't disagree more. We don't know whether the crime really happened, and we won't know until the case goes to trial (and even then we might not know - let's face it, guilty parties have gotten off before, and innocents have gone to jail before). What we do know for certain is that there is a highly dangerous and bigoted lobby pushing for a conviction they want to see not because they know for certain that they boys are guilty, but because they want to believe they are - a dangerous and bigoted lobby that in some important sense doesn't care whether these particular boys are guilty because they have already decided that "masculinity is a cultural poison," or that white people are automatically privileged, or whatever else. Whether or not they get their way in this case, they will be hanging around for the next one, and the next one, and on and on until they learn the lesson they claim to want to teach others: that fitting a profile is not a crime, and that due process is a guaranteed right in no small part because appearances are often decieving.
If we're going to indulge in fantasies about how a particular case should or shouldn't come out, then I think there's more reason than not to hope the boys are innocent. First, of course, it's always good to have one less real rape in the world. Second and equally obvious, it's always good to have a few less criminals in the world. But third, this case is highly publicized, and a lot of bad people have a lot riding on the idea that the boys are guilty for ... well, for being white boys on a sports team, frankly. This would be a lot of egg in those people's faces. And these are people who need egg in their face, I think we can all agree. Left to their own devices, they're happy to dispense with due process to put people behind bars because they "fit the profile." That's a cultural trend that could use a big setback - to the benefit of all of us.