In the early weeks of the case, we frequently heard that—despite all evidence of Mike Nifong’s improper public statements—the lacrosse players were receiving special treatment because of their race.
- The Group of 88 ad quoted an anonymous student allegedly saying, “I can’t help but think about the different attention given to what has happened from what it would have been if the guys had been not just black but participating in a different sport, like football, something that’s not so upscale.”
- Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote, “Imagine if the woman were white and reported being raped by three black members of the basketball team. You’d have to call out the National Guard.”
- In the (
) Independent, a student at NCCU said, “If the tables had been turned and two white women had been raped by the [NCCU] football team, the whole team would be in jail. They would not be walking around.” London
- Another NCCU student, Spirit Mitchell, told CBS, “If it was a Duke student and it was Central’s football team, the situation would have been handled totally differently.”
Given the political needs that Nifong faced in spring 2006, the situation probably would have been handled differently had the alleged perpetrators been minority football players. But the reflexive assumption by both the Group of 88 and their ideological allies seems off-base (and perhaps, as this perceptive Liestoppers post suggested, wholly wrong). Four recent cases involving allegations of sexual assault against minority football players suggest what could have happened in the Duke case—with an ethical prosecutor and absent racial rush to judgments by the media or faculty activists.
The first case, which occurred just down the road from
Everything has been mishandled from the start. You had a district attorney coming out and making potentially unethical statements, saying he believed a crime occurred, which he should not do. He should not be commenting on the evidence. He took an adversarial position from the start.
We had a situation recently in
Winston-Salemthat could have been racially divisive—[four] Wake Forest, black football players, white female student. If the D.A. who was actually a former Duke lacrosse player himself, Jim O'Neill, had taken the position and come out strong like Mr. Nifong had that something definitely occurred and sort of played the race card, it would have been very racially divisive.
Instead, he listened to the evidence. He let everyone be interviewed. We were all able to meet in a more congenial fashion and after a careful determination they determined that there was no charges that needed to be brought. Nobody was hurt. Nobody's face was plastered all over the front of
Articles from the
While the investigation was proceeding, football coach Jim Grobe suspended the players from games (though he allowed them to practice), since “we’re going to try to do the right thing; basically, we’re going to try to make decisions that are fair to the kids, that are right for our football team and for Wake Forest.” The players were not suspended from school.
Contrast Grobe’s general attitude to that demonstrated by the Group of 88: “I want to support these kids, but I want the right result and I want things to come out the way they should, and I don't know what that is right now. I only hear one side. You hear a million things. ... I know that you've got to be careful that you don't make decisions too quickly. You’ve got to wait and see how things work out.”
D.A. O’Neill, meanwhile, refrained from racially divisive public comments, or, indeed, from any public comments that suggested guilt of the accused. After several weeks, the police and prosecutor decided that evidence for rape didn’t exist, and they declined to file charges. Grobe reinstated the African-American players to the team; all four played on this year’s ACC champion
The second case occurred a bit to the north of
In May 2006, four students at historically black Virginia Union (annual tuition of between $13,000 and $19,000) were indicted for raping a white, out-of-state student from the
The case received relatively little media attention. The major
When attorneys representing two of the players were asked about some of the racialist assumptions that black athletes are demonized to a much greater extent than white college athletes in sexual assault cases, they scoffed. “That hyperbole isn’t born out by the facts,” said one. Another noted that the Duke and VUU “cases are being treated differently, that’s for sure.”
The third case occurred last spring, not too long after Mike Nifong obtained indictments in
Sanchez was shown on tape entering a bar with a fake ID; two witnesses who saw him enter his apartment building later that night said he was drunk. The USC team had a history of brushes with the law and Sanchez himself had been investigated for underage drinking and breaking a window at a fraternity party.
But through the story received considerable short-term play in the
The fourth case, which was just in the news, involved allegations of sexual assault against former University of California running back Marshawn Lynch, who recently announced his decision to turn pro. Lynch is African-American; no articles I have seen mentioned the race of his accuser.Alameda County senior deputy district attorney Kim Hunter told reporters that the accuser had offered contradictory versions of events, that she had no visible injuries or photographs of injuries, and that another witness (the "Kim Roberts" of this case) contradicted the accuser in every way.
"No one is saying that the victim isn't entitled to the feelings she's having, but I have an ethical obligation," Hunter remarked. "If I don't believe I can prove it to 12 jurors, then I can't ethically charge the case.
Cal-Berkeley is an institution well-known for its left-of-center faculty; to my knowledge not one professor, much less 88, issued a public statement condemning Lynch or expressing support for the keeping the accuser central to the situation.
Yet in none of these cases did the D.A. throw the entire football team in jail. Or engage in race-baiting rhetoric. Or pander to the white community. In fact, in all three cases, the D.A. did his job and conducted an impartial investigation. And in none of these cases did the students' own professors engage in a rush-to-judgment public denunciation.
Looking at the case in his backyard, Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Mark Holmberg correctly concluded, “The Duke/VUU cases may show that columnist Pitts has it backward—that we’re more alert for white-on-black, rich-on-poor crime.” Indeed, it would seem as if the rush-to-judgment crowd was wrong on this assumption as well.