Sunday, November 28, 2010

Island of Misfit Toys

In what was a horrific midterm election for Democrats, one of the party’s few bright spots came in Nevada, where Senate majority leader Harry Reid won re-election. The result was perhaps the biggest upset of the year: Reid’s favorability ratings were terrible, and Nevada’s economy was worse. Reid won because first, the Republicans nominated an extremist, Sharon Angle; and second, Angle eschewed guidance from national GOP operatives, instead listening to a handful of long-time associates, many of whom had either dubious backgrounds or bizarre beliefs. Knowledgeable Republicans lamented that Angle’s advisors belonged on the “island of misfit toys.”

In today’s N&O, Jesse James Deconto profiles Durham’s own version of the island of misfit toys—those who populate the interlocking committees devoted to defending disgraced rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong and serial false accuser Crystal Mangum.

Most of the committee members are the sort of cranks you’d expect to champion disreputable figures like Mangum and Nifong. Even the Group of 88, after all, has essentially abandoned Mangum, even though each and every member of the Group has never repudiated their guilt-presuming public assertion that something “happened” to Mangum at the lacrosse party.

Deconto tells the story of such activists as Douglas Register, who says he joined the pro-Mangum committee because he, like Mangum, suffers from mental illness. This problem perhaps explains Register’s bizarre analysis of the criminal case against Mangum, which he suggests is a conspiracy to improve the city’s position in the civil case filed by the falsely accused players. (If anything, Mangum’s alleged criminal activity would harm the city’s position, since it would further undermine the credibility of the figure to which the leadership of the Durham Police Department chose to attach their fate.)

And then there’s Durham’s resident race-baiting homophobe, Victoria Peterson, who Deconto observes has repeatedly interrupted the judge in Mangum’s pre-trial hearings. But speaking out of turn is nothing new from Peterson, who was ejected from the Nifong disciplinary hearing and then hijacked a WRAL live shot after her expulsion from the courtroom.

The Nifong and Mangum committees, however, don’t consist solely of cranks. Ideologues also were attracted to the dual causes. Some members, like Myra Kinderknecht, were virtual caricatures. Describing a case in which Mangum’s accuser and the chief prosecutor are black, Kinderknecht hypothesized: “It’s almost like a form of lynching, what’s happened to her. Everything that has happened to her screams white power, black oppression.”

Other committee members, however, represent more mainstream perspectives. Take, for instance, Steven Matherly, a member of the pro-Mangum committee who also belongs to the People’s Alliance, the most left-wing of Durham’s three major political committees.

The Durham political left’s consistent support for Mike Nifong’s crusade—and its turning of a blind eye to the type of police and prosecutorial misconduct left-wing activists usually denounce—is one of the darkest aspects of the entire lacrosse case. The People’s Alliance endorsed Nifong’s 2006 re-election, even though it was clear at that point Nifong had, at the least, charged one innocent person (Reade Seligmann) and violated ethics guidelines regarding pre-trial publicity. In a statement from the time, the Alliance noted, “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.” (Thoughtful and sober are two adjectives few objective observers would apply to Mike Nifong.)

Then there was the curious case of city council member Diane Catotti, the PA’s favorite Durham politician. Catotti strongly backed Nifong in 2006, and then did everything in her power first to block and then to undermine an investigation of the Police Department’s handling of the lacrosse case.

And, courtesy of today’s article, now there’s PA spokesman and political action committee co-chair Milo Pyne. Pyne said that he had declined to join either the Mangum or Nifong committees, but added, “I have sympathy for Ms. Mangum and Mr. Nifong.” I e-mailed the People’s Alliance spokesman to ask if he’d care to explain his sympathy for Nifong. As regular DIW readers know, I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I've never considered multi-faceted prosecutorial misconduct compatible with liberal political principles, nor have I ever believed that the perpetrators of such misconduct are deserving of sympathy.

Pyne’s response? “I am not interested in having this discussion with you.”

Durham, it seems, remains the only place in the United States where “progressives” see themselves as defenders of prosecutorial misconduct—at least when the victims of that misconduct are white males.