Friday’s Chronicle featured yet another extraordinary article by columnist Kristin Butler. “Shocked and dismayed” by 49 percent of
Duke students, therefore, should confidently address the “very serious problems” currently confronting the relationship between them and the community in which they reside:
- A district attorney “who thinks it’s acceptable to target Duke students because our 'rich daddies’ can buy us 'expensive lawyers’.”
- A police force with what attorney Bill Thomas called “a real pattern of arresting Duke students on less serious charges while not arresting non-Duke students on much more serious charges.”
- Most important, “the fact that three of our classmates will face a politically motivated prosecution this spring despite overwhelming evidence suggesting their innocence.”
“Let’s come out and say it,” declared
Just as I hoped every Duke student could have read Butler’s pre-election column, I hope every Duke students reads—and is guided by—
A commenter reports that twice during Election Day, Cy Gurney, Nifong’s wife, was interviewed by local television news. She offered, the commenter correctly notes, “two stellar lines.”
The first: “I don’t know the details of the [Duke] case, but I do know Mike, and I know he would never do anything wrong or unethical.”
To take but one example, we “know” that Nifong ordered the police to violate their own regulations, in multiple ways, in the April 4 lineup. Apparently, Gurney sees nothing “wrong or unethical” with a “minister of justice” ordering police to override designed to ensure due process so that he could get someone—anyone—to indict before the primary. One wonders what the Nifong household would consider a “wrong or unethical action.”
Gurney’s second line: “Winning the election isn’t worth it if you, you know, lose your soul in the process.”
That’s a moving sentiment. In fact, my post from the day before Gurney’s comment concluded with this haunting question posed by a
Nifong is, if nothing else, flexible in his conception of his duties.
Before the election, he asserted, “If a case is of such significance that people in the community are divided or up in arms over the existence of that case, then that in and of itself is an indication that a case needs to be tried.”
After his plurality-vote victory, however, he proclaimed public opinion—divided or not, up in arms or not—irrelevant: “What decides what I’m doing is what I think is the right thing to do. I’m not somebody who rules by referendum.”
Friends of Duke spokesperson Jason Trumpbour highlighted two encouraging accomplishments from this election season:
- Beth Brewer, who “stepped forward to organize Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek and, within a short period of time was able to offer serious opposition to Nifong”—and, from my personal knowledge, devoted enormous time to the effort.
- The organizers of DSED, who, “by educating and organizing students, they showed the world that Duke does support the three accused students despite the position the administration has taken.”
Trumpbour also cautioned against lashing out at the 49 percent of
Although the campus received less attention than events at Duke, the election also shone a spotlight on North Carolina Central. The news from Central, however, was less than positive:
- Turnout in the NCCU precinct, at 8.9 percent, was by far the lowest in the county, suggesting that the accuser’s fellow students weren’t exactly rally to her defense. But then again, someone who behaves in the manner portrayed in yesterday’s Herald-Sun article probably wouldn’t be very popular on campus.
Durhamhas a polling place on NCCU’s campus, at the , raises uncomfortable questions of why no polling place exists on Duke’s campus. Has the Duke administration made such a request? If not, why not? If so, why was it turned down? Miller-Morgan Building
Moreover, the composition of NCCU’s student government raises profound concerns about campus attitudes. The most infamous comment of the entire case to date came from NCCU student Chan Hall, who said he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.”
Hall, incredibly, is not a random extremist student. In fact, he is a campus leader. An elected senator in the NCCU Student Government, he chairs the Legislative Affairs Committee (the body that deals with policy issues). Hall also was runner-up in the election for Student Government Speaker. That someone with Hall’s views could be elected to a leadership position at NCCU is chilling indeed.
At the pre-election Duke media forum, the N&O’s John Drescher declared that no newspaper in the country over the past three years has done more to expose prosecutorial misconduct than the News & Observer; Duke Law professor James Coleman seconded the observation. The work from this case by Joseph Neff or Benjamin Niolet or the columns by Ruth Sheehan confirmed Coleman’s observation.
This record makes all the more puzzling the N&O’s decision to make no endorsement in the Durham D.A.’s race. Do members of the editorial page board read their own newspaper? If so, how could they have chosen to take a pass on the race, given that their own reporters and columnists have thoroughly exposed Nifong’s unethical behavior?
In a column taunting critics of the “minister of justice,” the N&O’s sole pro-Nifong columnist, Barry Saunders, compared Nifong to Richard Nixon, who once described his political goal as having one more victory than defeat. Citing the plurality vote received by the district attorney, Saunders chose “to paraphrase Tricky Dick,” and observe that “all Nifong needed was one vote more than his opponent.”
The comparison is, of course, apt, though Saunders’ ideological blinders prevented him from detecting the obvious connection. Both Nifong and Nixon are men who committed the ultimate sin against democracy—corrupting the government process for personal political gain.
It seems, indeed, that the district attorney even has his own version of Tricky Dick’s “enemies’ list.” After the election results, he told the N&O, “I don’t know if I’ve learned who my friends are, but I have learned who my friends aren’t. Which in some ways is more valuable.”
As the N&O correctly noted,
Remember that Nifong is the same guy who said he would quit
’s Animal Control advisory committee after spotting the names of some fellow board members among the more than 10,000 signatures on the petition to put lawyer Lewis Cheek on the ballot. Supporters of Cheek and write-in hopeful Steve Monks might want to drive the speed limit for the next four years. Durham County
While this advice is well-taken for those who voted, in good faith, for Monks, I doubt that anyone in Monks’ immediate circle has anything to worry about from the “minister of justice.”
Duke Basketball Report’s lacrosse message board has featured a fascinating, and passionate, dialogue over
On the one side were a number of passionate posts similar to that of Stray Gator, who wrote, “The voters of
The other side was reflected by Durhamatologist, who asserted that Nifong voters “may not have followed the Duke case nearly as closely as we all have and truly don’t know just how corrupt Nifong is.”
I am inclined to share Stray Gator’s interpretation—but either way, the result testifies to the failure of the Brodhead administration’s strategy in handling this crisis. For the last seven months, the administration, despite repeated chances for doing so, has refused to protest the decision by Nifong and the Durham Police Department to establish a “separate-but-equal” legal system for Duke students and Duke students only.
In the most charitable interpretation for its approach, the administration feared that speaking up for Duke students’ rights could have provoked a backlash in
Moreover, Duke’s speaking up as an institution—perhaps along the lines of James Coleman’s individual comments as a professor—might have educated those
So, for now, Duke has the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, it confronts a situation unlike, to my knowledge, any other university in the country: the school’s students are treated according to different legal procedures than those granted both to all other residents of the city and even to all students of other colleges in the city, such as NCCU. On the other hand, it confronts an anti-Duke bloc vote stimulated by the actions and remarks of a local demagogue.
Brodhead’s passive approach, in short, has failed. It’s time for Duke, as an institution, to follow the advice that Kristin Butler gave Duke students, and assert, “We are owed some basic fairness under the law.”