A Liestoppers post of a few months back brilliantly explicated how the potbangers’ activity between March 24 and March 27 helped transform what might have been a local story into a national cause. Posts today and tomorrow will look at their behavior after March 27.
The potbangers got their name from a March 26 protest outside the house rented by the lacrosse captains. Announcements of the protest said, “Dress warmly, bring your whole family and bring pots and pans and things to bang them with! We are having a 'Cacerolazo,' or a pots & pans protest, because it is a tool women all over the world use to call out sexual assaulters.” The Liestoppers post features photos of the protesters equipped with their “pots & pans.”
The potbangers were a loose coalition of three factions: a handful of professional protesters; some far-left Duke graduate students and professors (like Kim Curtis); and Trinity Park residents who disliked Duke undergraduates. They were overwhelmingly white and middle-class; indeed, one admitted that she was “just a white, middle-class, yuppy [sic], probably still dealing with all the crap I internalized growing up in the South.”
The movement proceeded through three distinct phases.
1) March 24 through March 30: Fully confident that a rape occurred, the potbangers demanded punishing the lacrosse team and a public posture that focused on the evils of rape.
2) March 31 through April 10: Recognizing that a rape might well not have occurred, the potbangers refused to abandon their denunciation of the lacrosse players, and instead began to stress the team’s alleged racism.
3) April 11 onward: In the aftermath of the DNA evidence, the potbangers shifted wholly to claims that they were never seeking punishment for the lacrosse players, but were merely addressing the broader societal issues of racism and sexism. This approach was coupled with defiant refusals to apologize for their rush to judgment and an emphasis on the drinking habits of the lacrosse players.
The one constant in this progression: having come out strongly against the players early on, the potbangers were determined to find something to justify their assault on the lacrosse players’ character.
It’s hard to remember now, but the initial thrust of the protests did not focus on denouncing 47 people because one of them used a racial slur as part of a racially charged argument with Kim Roberts. The potbangers’ initial rally approached the issue from an ultra-feminist perspective, expressing the certainty of rape through signs with such slogans as “time to confess” and “castrate.”
It’s worth keeping these slogans in mind, of course, when recalling that 11 days later, the Group of 88 said, “To the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”
The potbangers reveled in the outcome of their Saturday night vigil (March 25) and Sunday morning protest (March 26). On the 26th, a law student at NCCU called for the group to do more “in trying to understand how these kinds of brutal sexual assaults and gang rapes keep happening in the collegiate athletic context.” A male potbanger urged greater dialogue on the issue of rape, but with a politically correct caution: “IF YOU ARE A MAN: Please be mindful of the energy you bring and space you take up in the conversation. Keep in mind that assertion of male domination and violence, even in a well intended response, is part and parcel of this whole thing.”
Potbangers initially focused almost exclusively on the rape allegation. They organized campus rallies on March 27 and March 28 “geared toward educating the larger Duke community about the sexual assault that occurred two weeks ago in a house just off East Campus that is rented by Duke students.” The alert people at Liestoppers uncovered a photo of potbanger Kim Curtis, a Duke “visiting” professor of political science, at one of these events.
The main issue: rape, not racism. The targets: lacrosse players, not broader societal concerns.
- The writing on this poster from the March 27 rally: “If lacrosse players are 'innocent until proven guilty', why are survivors of sexual assault 'guilty until proven innocent'?”
- The slogan on these T-shirts, from the same date: “Men's Lacrosse? Not fine by me.”
- The refrain from this tanktop, again from March 27: “Lax Come Clean.”
The activists’ goals, likewise, were concrete and targeted at the lacrosse players, not addressing broader societal concerns: they wanted the lacrosse season canceled and Coach Mike Pressler fired.
Duke student Brianne Ehrlich—shown here with Group of 88 member Margaret Greer—proposed “a sit-in at Duke’s Lacrosse office (or right outside it). I will sit there all day, I don’t care. Maybe that would put pressure on the Coach to demand information from the team, make them quit being silent.” Potbanger organizer Rann Bar-on, a Duke graduate student who heretofore had concentrated on radical anti-Israel crusades, reported on the March 27 rally: “The demands I heard at the speakout yesterday were mostly calling for the forfeiture of the entire season and firing of the coach.”
But while the potbangers were ideologues, they weren’t fools. Two developments in late March shook their confidence that a rape occurred. Ironically, most of the media ignored both of these events; in this respect, the potbangers were actually more perceptive than most journalists covering the case.
The first event came on March 28, when a defense press conference confidently predicted that no DNA matches would be found. The second came two days later, when the Herald-Sun’s Brianne Dopart revealed, contrary to initial claims of a “wall of silence,” that “when police searched the house March 16, the three . . . lacrosse captains volunteered to go to Durham Police Substation 2 for interviews . . . [and] voluntarily agreed to provide ‘suspect test kits.’” It would not be long before the transparently pro-Nifong John Stevenson replaced Dopart as the lead H-S reporter on the case.
Some potbangers tried to rationalize the DNA news. For instance, on March 29, Kim Curtis wrote,
The self assurance in the statement issued yesterday by the team that they will be exonerated by the results of the DNA testing makes me wonder if we’ve gotten the full story about who was at the house that night. Were there others present who in fact carried out the rape and who are being protected by everyone else who was there? How do we know who was there?With that statement, a Duke professor had suggested, in writing and without any evidence at all, that two students in her own class were accomplices to rape. Curtis did not respond to multiple e-mails requesting comment.
That same day, Christina Headrick, a former N&O reporter who left the paper in 2005 to open a “scrapbook store,” speculated that “the rapists could have used condoms. Maybe the DNA probe was just a way to put pressure on the team and give them a taste of justice system.” Of course, the accuser said her alleged attackers didn’t use condoms. Headrick did not respond to e-mail requests asking if she had reconsidered her position.
Another potbanger, apparently misunderstanding the meaning of the defense attorneys’ announcement, suggested on March 29 that the real story was “consensual gang sex, rather than gang rape.” He reasoned, “The distinction between ‘innocence’ and ‘getting away with something’ needs to be made.”
Despite the defense attorneys' prediction about DNA, the potbangers spent March 29 devoting themselves to the major event of the day: blanketing the Duke campus with “wanted” posters. Indicating that “some community folks made posters that have a picture of the lacrosse team and asked for them to please come forward with an annonymous [sic] report to crime stoppers,” the protesters arrived at 4.10pm on Duke’s West Campus. By that evening, the posters were everywhere on campus.
It’s worth keeping this activity in mind, of course, when recalling that one week later, the Group of 88 said, “To the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”
There was, alas, no time to celebrate the postering campaign, since the Dopart story appeared the following morning. One potbanger, a Duke student, was stunned to discover that “apparently the residents of 610 DID cooperate with police.” The student continued,
I am starting to get a sinking suspicion that this whole “shame the team into talking” tactic is really off base—am I the only one who feels almost guilty for the action over the past few days in light of this? I participated largely on the grounds that the “culture/wall of silence” was horrific...now I am feeling almost remorseful.Moreover, the student wondered in a remarkable burst of naïveté, “If the team captains volunteered, when first approached by the police, to give DNA and statements, why wasn’t this first conveyed in the media?”
Fellow activists would provide reassurance, and the movement would continue.
Tomorrow: The movement “evolves,” and begins to airbush its past.