Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Group of 88

88 members of the Duke faculty—including 11 members of its History Department, among them such luminaries as William Chafe and Claudia Koonz—and 15 academic departments or programs recently signed a public statement saying they were “listening” regarding allegations against the Duke lacrosse team. The statement spoke of “what happened to this young woman” (which at that point consisted of nothing more than uncorroborated allegations) and gave a message to campus protesters: “Thank you for not waiting” until the police completed their investigation. Activities of these campus protesters, as we now all know, included such items as the “wanted” poster and branding the team “rapists.”

In today’s Newsweek, a student at predominantly African-American North Carolina Central carried the Duke 88’s thinking to its logical, if absurd, extreme. The student said that he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.”

Newsweek also became the second major news outlet (ABC is the other) to have received access to the exculpatory evidence of one of the indicted players, Reade Seligmann. (The story confirmed that the D.A. refused to review this evidence before making a charge, despite a request from defense attorneys.) According to the magazine, during or within the 16 minutes after the time of the alleged rape, Seligmann placed eight calls on his cell phone, was waiting on a curb a block away from the site of the alleged rape, where he was picked up by a cab; and he then went to an ATM machine, a fast-food restaurant, and card-swiped his way into his dorm. The cab driver has given a statement, cell-phone records exist of the eight calls, the ATM withdrawal slip was saved, and the card-swipe was timed by Duke’s security system.

At this stage, we don’t know whether a crime was committed in this case. But unless Seligmann had contact with the accuser before the alleged crime (which no one is claiming) or his defense team has engaged in a massive doctoring of evidence that fooled both Newsweek and ABC, it seems unlikely that Seligmann (who has no prior record of any misconduct, and who has received an outpouring of support in recent days from those who know him) committed any crime. In the words of Newsweek—hardly known as a bastion of overstatements—Selgimann’s “lawyer was able to produce evidence that would seem to indicate it was virtually impossible that Seligmann committed the crime.”

How many of the Duke 88 would affix their signatures to a public affirmation that they are “listening” to the exculpatory evidence of a student at their own institution, and expressing concern that local authorities could be veering toward a miscarriage of justice regarding Seligmann? Or do they “listen” only to versions of events that conform to their preconceived worldview, like the student at North Carolina Central, seeking “justice for things that happened in the past”?

[Originally posted at Cliopatria.]

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