[Update, Tuesday, 10.28am: Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People-endorsed candidate Solomon Burnette writes in: "Many folks have seemingly problematic histories. perhaps you should ask where myself [sic] and Ms. Peterson stand on the issues critical to this election, doing yourself and your readers a service. issues relating to education, immigration, affordable housing, and unemployment are important in this election and i, for one, have a history of engaging these issues in Durham as an artist, activist, and an academic. Ad hominim [sic] attacks are often a way to avoid critical questions. Cheque [sic] out my platform at www.solomonburnette.com."
It seems to me that a conviction for robbing Duke students, plus a written call for race-based vigilante justice, goes well beyond a "seemingly problematic histor[y]"; indeed, as I pointed out in the post, such a "history" would be disqualifying for any political committee with a rudimentary sense of ethics. Nor am I clear how pointing out such a candidate's "problematic" background constitutes an "ad hominim [sic]" attack.
That said, if I were in Endorsee Burnette's shoes, I too would want to speak about immigration (a topic, obviously, on which the Durham City Council has no policy role) rather than my background of written vigilante threats against innocent people and criminal activity against members of the Durham community.]
The N&O continues its detailed—and deeply disturbing—explication of how “justice” is practiced by Durham County “minister of justice” Tracey Cline. Andy Curliss’ articles today reveal a district attorney abusing her office through over-charging (in the hopes of pressuring defendants to accept plea bargains) and taking exceedingly weak cases to court (in apparent fidelity to Cline’s conception of her job as a “victims’ rights” advocate).
Prosecutors around the country over-charge to obtain plea bargains, but the N&O’s reporting indicates that Cline has employed the practice in an unusually blatant (and ethically dubious) fashion. And regarding the idea of bringing people to trial whose cases long before should have been dismissed, Cline’s conduct has been even less defensible. An analysis by N&O reporters found that Durham’s conviction rate on felony trials is the lowest of the state’s ten largest counties. Perhaps that’s because of cases like the below:
Torico Edwards . . . was acquitted by a jury after 30 minutes of deliberation on charges he broke into a home and stole a necklace.
Jurors said it was clear Edwards was at a shopping mall at the time of the crime
"The prosecutor," said juror Jade Russell of Durham, "really didn't prove anything."
Forcing likely innocent defendants to go through the expense and emotional punishment of a trial to give the “victim” a sense of justice is not an appropriate use of the judicial system. But in Tracey Cline’s office, it’s par for the course.
Cline doesn’t come up for re-election till next year, but despite the record of unethical behavior laid bare by the N&O, she would seem to have little to worry regarding an endorsement from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. As demonstrated in the committee’s recent City Council endorsements, skin color appears to be the committee’s sole criterion. Indeed, by the standards of the Durham Committee’s 2011 endorsements for City Council, Tracey Cline is a paragon of reasonableness and justice.
In this year’s City Council races, even Durham’s resident savant of political correctness, (white) Council member Diane (Nifong ’06!) Catotti, couldn’t snatch the Committee on the Affairs of Black People’s endorsement. But two of the three choices distinguished themselves as extremists even among the ranks of extremists in the Durham of 2006-7.
Victoria Peterson, co-chair of Mike Nifong’s citizens’ committee, distinguished herself during the lacrosse case by (a) participating in a march organized by an ADL/SPLC-designated hate group, the New Black Panthers Party; (b) urging participants at this march to burn down the lacrosse captains’ house; and (c) personally threatening Mary Ellen Finnerty during Nifong’s ethics trial, resulting in Peterson’s ejection from the proceedings.
But those events only constituted Peterson’s highlights. She began the case by insinuating that Duke Hospital had conspired to produce false DNA results and ended it by marching with Nifong to jail, carrying a sign testifying to Nifong’s “goodness” and “integrity.” Peterson also crusaded for accused murderer Crystal Mangum, rudely interrupting the judge at pretrial hearings on Mangum’s arson charges.
(Peterson, I should note, spreads her hate around: talking about gays and lesbians, who she suggested are all cross-dressers, the Durham Committee’s endorsee claimed that as a result of the “gay lifestyle,” “many of them are infected with diseases,” and if “they are not infected with diseases . . . they will be, even women.” Despite the typically anti-gay views of North Carolina’s African-American community, these views are extreme.)
Imagine if, after an allegation of black-on-white crime prompted a visit from the KKK, a future City Council candidate had shared the platform with the KKK Grand Dragon. How, we might speculate, would the Durham Committee have reacted to one off its rival committees endorsing such a candidate?
Then there’s the Committee’s endorsement of Solomon Burnette, NCCU Class of 2007. That name should ring a bell to people who followed the case closely. Burnette came to NCCU after experience with the other side of the criminal justice system—he spent more than a year in jail, following a conviction for robbing two Duke students at gunpoint.
After the attorney general exonerated the three falsely accused players, an enraged Burnette took to the pages of the NCCU paper. In “Death to All Rapists,” Burnette issued an ill-concealed call for vigilante justice. “The ‘facts’ of the case,” proclaimed the Durham Committee endorsee, “should not matter to us because even if we are unsure of sexual assault, these supremacists have admitted to sexually, racially and politically denigrating these women.” Burnette’s analysis of the case: “White people still rape us and get away with it. The only deterrent to these legally, socially and economically validated supremacist actions is the fear of physical retribution.” The column subsequently vanished from the paper’s website, but remains available through the Wayback Machine.
Again, imagine the Durham Committee’s reaction if a political committee endorsed a white convicted robber who then had written an op-ed recommending vigilante justice against two black people?
Burnette and Peterson seem unlikely to win seats on the Council; even in Durham, the bigot vote doesn’t seem quite large enough to bring their candidacies over the top. But the fact that the Durham Committee endorsed them should permanently discredit the organization.