Monday, September 04, 2006

Nifong's Strange Bedfellows

The critics of Mike Nifong (including me) have portrayed the Durham D.A. as using the Duke lacrosse case to deliberately stoke racial tensions. It is, after all, difficult to come up with an alternative explanation for Nifong’s denying knowledge for several days in March that Kim Roberts made the first 911 call. Or for his withholding information that his investigators had dismissed allegations that Duke alumni attempted to bribe the accuser. In both instances, the D.A. seemed intent on serving not as a “minister of justice” but as a propagandist, eager to inflame sentiments in the African-American community against Duke students. Liestoppers has, correctly, termed this behavior Nifong’s “hoax within a hoax.”

Could it be, however, that his critics have rushed to judgment? Is Mike Nifong really a uniter, not a divider? His candidacy has, in fact, managed the near impossible: bringing together the Triangle’s extreme right with the region’s far left.

Representing the far right is Nifong citizens’ committee co-chair Victoria Peterson. When informed that Peterson had taken the initiative to inform the group, the D.A. replied, “I was very pleased. It made me feel good.” Not too many D.A.’s, of course, would be “very pleased” to have as their citizens’ committee co-chair someone who shared the platform with the leader of the New Black Panthers party, which both the SPLC and the ADL have branded a hate group. But then again, Nifong has done many things that few people would expect of a D.A.

It turns out, however, that Peterson has considerable experience operating on the extremist fringe. In 2003, she served as president of the short-lived Christians for Morality in Government. The group was created to oppose a Durham County measure to extend health-insurance benefits for same-sex couples. Peterson justified her position pragmatically: “Many of them are infected with diseases, and their lifestyles are very, very dangerous,” Peterson informed the county commission. “Many don’t live to be senior citizens. Who’s going to pay this expense if they get sick in their gay lifestyle?” And if “they [gays and lesbians] are not infected with diseases . . . they will be, even women.”

The long-term effects of the policy, Peterson feared, could lead to a fundamental demographic shift in Durham. “I’m not trying to be rude,” she told county commissioners shortly before the Supreme Court’s Texas v. Lawrence decision, “but approving these health benefits for sodomites ought to be illegal because the law does not recognize sodomy . . . If this is approved in Durham County, we’re going to have gays coming from all over the country. It’s going to be a burdensome expense on taxpayers.” In the end, according to Peterson, the question was a simple one: “Who is going to pay for this if they become sick in their gay lifestyle?”

This, it’s worth remembering, is the person that D.A. Nifong, his county’s “minister of justice,” is “very pleased” to have heading up his citizens’ committee.

Peterson also played a leading role in opposing a 2003 effort to add sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes. Again, she offered “common-sense” grounds for her position: “They could,” she told a North Carolina House committee, “come to work dressed one day looking like a female and two weeks later looking like a male. We do not recognize people who actively engage in a gay lifestyle.” Anyhow, the measure wasn’t needed, since “the gay community makes plenty of money. Just because of how you have sex, does not mean anyone is entitled to special rights.” The bill failed in committee by one vote. One local GLBT blogger termed Peterson, whose activism on such matters extended to opposing gay and lesbian films being shown at the Carolina Theatre, a “good representative of our local Af-AmTaliban” and “an ace homo-bigot.”

This, it’s worth remembering, is the person that D.A. Nifong, his county’s “minister of justice,” is “very pleased” to have heading up his citizens’ committee.

Peterson herself has had a few brushes with the law, making her a somewhat unusual figure to serve as citizens' committee co-chair for her county's top law enforcement official. Blogger Pam’s House Blend noted that Peterson, who has championed cheaper pistol permits, has “been arrested for trespassing while protesting at abortion clinics. Records show five second-degree trespassing charges filed against Peterson in North Carolina between 1989 and 2001. She pleaded not guilty on three of the counts, but the records indicate she was found guilty at trial.”

This, it’s worth remembering, is the person that D.A. Nifong, his county’s “minister of justice,” is “very pleased” to have heading up his citizens’ committee.

Peterson’s opposition to the 2003 county and statewide gay rights measures earned strong condemnation from the Durham People’s Alliance, which represents the Triangle’s far left. People's Alliance spokesperson Sara Terry termed opponents of the county health care measure "bigots.” She asserted that “a failure to vote in favor of domestic partner benefits, is homophobia, plain and simple. And homophobia is hate, plain and simple.”

But who does the People’s Alliance back for D.A.? The same candidate as the figure they denounced as a leader of the “bigots.” “Our general feeling was that [Nifong] is a person of high integrity and great skill. He’s a tough but fair and honest prosecutor. When you have the State’s power concentrated in one person, you want that person to be thoughtful and sober.” Nifong’s website boasts of his “long standing [sic] rapport with the People's Alliance.” I wonder what would happen if he confronts a gay-bashing case sometime in the future. Given the importance of the voters Peterson has promised to mobilize, somehow I doubt that the People’s Alliance will remain as sanguine about Nifong’s “thoughtful and sober” nature then.

Championing gay rights, meanwhile, is a cardinal principle of the contemporary academic Left. There is a touch of irony, then, for figures such as Peter Wood or the Group of 88 to see “an ace homo-bigot” serve as citizens’ committee co-chair for the district attorney whose cause they so critically assisted last spring. Some of them, no doubt, don’t care: Wood is too busy seeming to slander Reade Seligmann and making unsubstantiated charges against other lacrosse players; Alex Rosenberg said he signed the “we’re listening” ad despite every professor at Duke realizing that Nifong was exploiting the lacrosse case for political reasons; Wahneema Lubiano told ESPN that she knew full well that “some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”

But perhaps a few Group of 88 members are discomfited by the strange ideological bedfellows Nifong has attracted. They’re not so troubled, of course, as to have denounced Peterson’s position in the campaign; and certainly not so concerned as to have publicly criticized Nifong’s procedural improprieties. Group members have their priorities in who they attack in joint public statements.

The office of District Attorney, more so than most positions, requires dispassionate judgment. What does it say, then, about the incumbent that his most fervent support has come from the two ideological extremes?


Anonymous said...

Victoria Peterson is proof that Durham really is Mayberry.

She is not regarded as a bigot or a loon, she is simply regarded as a favored pet, a little bit of local color to be treasured as part of "our hometown"

That is why Nifong likes to be associated with her. He is so desperate for fame and attention that even living in Peterson's shadow is seen as a plus by him.

Anonymous said...

Giving background information on someone does not constitute an attack in my view.
Thanks for the information, KC.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! The light needs to shown on all of these individuals who contributed to the Hoax. From Nifong, Duke 88 including Houston Baker, to Peterson and et al;they all incited, inflammed, and called for a virtual lynching of the Lacrosse Team!

It is not a matter of sinking to their level, it's showing what their level is! That's a big difference!Keep it up KC!

I encourage everyone to take the gloves off and show the truth behind these "leaders" of the Hoax!

Reade & Collin are still not allowed back in School, but the creator of this Hoax is allowed back at NCCU!

Maybe its time we take the gloves off and start telling what we all know about the FA! It isn't pretty!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Mike Nifong is a good D. A. He knows something happen to that victim, We are the people in Durham, we worship God not money. I feel that those young man is not as innocent as they proclaimed. It amazes me how other people not from this area have so much to say about our community. If you do not like it here then leave.
we did not invite you. Stay out of our business with your demonic souls. Serve your father the devil and leave us alone.
Everyone involved in destroying D. A. Mike Nifong will give an account to God, So please do not tell me you are Christians, God does not have children like that.