Duke Lacrosse: A 'Meaning' in Search of a Scandal

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The Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum — who, for the most part, tends to be much more thoughtful than most writers on the national scene — once tried to put the entire lacrosse affair at Duke University into perspective in her April 26 column by labeling it a "scandal in search of meaning." Alas, she is far too generous with the accusers and those who have been the driving force of what is unmistakably a case of prosecutorial misconduct and lies by police and District Attorney Michael Nifong.

Indeed, if there is a scandal here, it is a scandal of justice, as lawyers and investigators are uncovering (using police reports and other "official" documents) the web of deceit that has become the bedrock of the rape charges against the three Duke athletes. Yet, there is also a secondary scandal, that being the actions of a number of Duke faculty members and the black leaders of Durham, North Carolina, and the NAACP. Without the feminist-black alliance driving the politics of this case, there most likely would have been no indictments, as the evidence clearly demonstrates that Crystal Gail Mangum was not raped by the Duke athletes or anyone else.

(One needs to read all of the documents to understand how police and prosecutors willfully sought indictments that they knew were false, covered up exculpatory evidence, and engaged in criminal behavior in their pursuit of this case. Lest anyone think that the prosecutorial situation in the United States is one in which prosecutors actually seek justice, read the Duke material in all its horror, and realize that prosecutors across the United States have closed ranks in defense of Nifong. Thus, the official "justice" system in this country perpetuates lies and more lies.)

Yet, there is an even more disturbing aspect to what has happened in Durham, and that is the laying bare of the real agenda of the left: the destruction of all individual rights and the imposition of what the left calls "collective rights," which are nothing more than a sham. If the left continues to gain power, and if the statements of the demonstrators in Durham are an indication of the mindset of leftists, then people charged with crimes of "political incorrectness" will not be permitted to defend themselves, publicly or in a court of law. Once upon a time, leftists were the ones who were most vocal in defense of individual rights, at least where the courts were concerned, but that is no longer the situation. Between the "conservatives" who call for more police power and "leftists/liberals" who also call for more police power — at the expense of individual rights — there are few people left to defend what rights remain.

That is why I call the Duke affair a "meaning in search of a scandal." Feminists and those who consider themselves to be "civil rights" advocates already have a certain view of the world, one that holds that white males are the source of all oppression, and that all relationships are nothing more than the manifestation of white male power. Thus, incidents like what supposedly happened at the off-campus party at Duke are "proof" of the veracity of the feminist worldview.

There is no denying that feminists and other such leftists abhor individual rights. For example, the Seattle City Schools website, until recently, declared that one aspect of "cultural racism" was promoting individual rights instead of "collective rights." (Protests have led to the abandonment of that site, and an attempt to change it. One anxiously awaits the next wave of nonsense from officials from the leftist government schools of Seattle.)

Furthermore, attacks on Candice E. Jackson and Wendy McElroy for promotion of an individualist view of feminism further demonstrate that modern feminism and the present-day "civil rights" movement cannot ideologically coexist with a view of individual rights. And from what I can see what is going on in Durham, North Carolina, it is clear that individual rights are on the losing end.

Reaction of Duke Faculty and Local Activists

The following account from the Marxist Workers World gives a good picture of the aftermath of when the first charges against the players were leveled:

When the violently racist nature of the attack was finally revealed to the public on March 24, community outrage was swift and immediate. Durham residents quickly set up listserves and message boards in order to coordinate community response and planning. On March 25, a silent demonstration was held in front of the lacrosse field to protest Duke’s match against Georgetown, holding signs bearing strong messages such as "Don’t be a Fan of Rapists." As it turned out, Duke forfeited the Georgetown match at the last minute, in anticipation of mounting public anger. Later that night, community members held a candlelight vigil in front of the house at 610 North Buchanan to express support for the victim. The very next morning, activists from across the Triangle gathered in front of the house and staged a "Cacerolazo "wake-up callu2014a traditional form of protest used by women in Latin America to publicly shame rapists and batterers. The participants banged on pots and pans while powerfully chanting calls for justice and solidarity.

Afterward 88 members of the Duke faculty, representing 13 departments, ran an advertisement condemning players and calling for them to confess. One of their leaders, Houston Baker of the English Department and the holder of an endowed chair, wrote the following in a letter to the Duke Administration:

There can be no confidence in an administration that believes suspending a lacrosse season and removing pictures of Duke lacrosse players from a web page is a dutifully moral response to abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us.

How many mandates concerning safe, responsible campus citizenship must be transgressed by white athletes’ violent racism before our university’s offices of administration, athletics, security, and publicity courageously declare: enough!

How many more people of color must fall victim to violent, white, male, athletic privilege before coaches who make Chevrolet and American Express commercials, athletic directors who engage in Miss Ophelia-styled “perfectly horrible” rhetoric, higher administrators who are salaried at least in part to keep us safe, and publicists who are supposed not to praise Caesar but to damn the unconscionable … how many? Before they demonstrate that they don’t just write books, pay lip service, or boast of safe citizenship … but actually do step up morally, intellectually, and bravely to assume responsibilities of leadership for such citizenship. How many?

How soon will confidence be restored to our university as a place where minds, souls, and bodies can feel safe from agents, perpetrators, and abettors of white privilege, irresponsibility, debauchery and violence?

Surely the answer to the question must come in the form of immediate dismissals of those principally responsible for the horrors of this spring moment at Duke. Coaches of the lacrosse team, the team itself and its players, and any other agents who silenced or lied about the real nature of events at 610 Buchanan on the evening of March 13, 2006. A day that, not even in a clichéd sense, will, indeed, always live in infamy for this university.

A responsible, and in many instances appalled — and yes, frightened — citizenry of Duke University is waiting … and certainly more than willing to join considered actions by bold leaders to restore confidence in a great institution and its mission. Today I polled my class whose enrollment is predominantly women and white. All said that nothing had happened in terms of this university’s response that had left them anything but afraid. The shame of this is unconscionable. Still, these women will surely sleep better this evening than the black woman injured at 610 Buchanan Boulevard by the white lacrosse team’s out-of-control violent partying will ever again rest in her life.

Indeed, according to Baker and his fellow Duke faculty members, mad rapists were running amok on campus, apparently terrorizing fellow students. In other words, the charges being made simply had to be true; there was to be no dissent. (Not all Duke faculty members have been so slavish in their adherence to the Gospel of Houston Baker and Mike Nifong; I have received one email from the wife of a Duke faculty member who believes that Mangum’s charges are nonsense, but it seems that the sane and reasoned voices at Duke have pretty much been silenced by those who believe that charges, no matter how ridiculous, always are true, at least if the people being charged fall into a "politically incorrect" category.)

Writer K.C. Johnson in Inside Higher Education, wrote in criticizing the Duke faculty:

More disturbingly, the group of 88 (faculty members) committed themselves to "turning up the volume." They told campus protesters, "Thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard." These demonstrators needed no encouragement: They were already vocal, and had already judged the lacrosse players were guilty. One student group produced a "wanted" poster containing photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players. At an event outside a house rented by several lacrosse team members, organized by a visiting instructor in English Department, protesters held signs reading, "It’s Sunday morning, time to confess." They demanded that the university force the players to testify or dismiss them from school.

To put it another way, they wanted confessions without proof of guilt. I suspect that many, if not all, of the signers of the advertisement say they are against the war in Iraq and are abhorred by the allegations of torture committed by U.S. interrogators to gain information from captured "insurgents." However, in seeing how they reacted to the charges against the lacrosse players, I also believe that they would have supported the use of torture or any means necessary to gain "confessions" from these young men.

Economist Thomas Sowell has written that leftists — and especially leftist academics — view the world in abstract fashions that cause them to demand a certain order be imposed upon an unwilling world. Thus, the American university was the citadel of support for communist regimes that were murdering people by the millions because those academics believed somehow that if communist authorities murdered, imprisoned, and tortured enough people, that communism would suddenly bloom into full flower.

Now that the rape allegations are imploding and the prosecution’s case has become an obvious con job, one would hope that the Duke faculty members, the feminists, and the civil rights advocates who have been pushing for arrests and convictions will take another look at their position. Unfortunately, the early results are not encouraging.

For example, the local NAACP — which never complained when Nifong gave 71 interviews to news outlets and regularly was making public statements calling the lacrosse players "rapists" — suddenly became advocates of limiting the rights of defendants when the players’ lawyers became vocal. After the defense began to lay out documentation questioning the charges, the NAACP demanded that lawyers be gagged from making further statements. (However, it turned out that the NAACP did not have the legal standing necessary to ask a judge for a gag order.) In other words, the local activists suddenly decided that a person’s right to mount a vigorous defense should be denied. Like the feminists on the Duke faculty, they are selective in their view of "rights." Local activists also have maintained a website which "supports" the "victim" in this case; in other words, the facts be damned. The woman made allegations, and that is all that is needed. (Yes, I believe in free speech and they are free to say what they like, but this also is a case in which three young men face life in prison for crimes they did not commit. At some point, that should be taken into consideration.)

I would like to be able to say that the revelations by defense attorneys are enough to sink the case, and if anyone in authority in North Carolina actually were interested in justice, that would be the case. However, as I have previously written, North Carolina is a state where prosecutors rule and the rights of defendants are systematically crushed. One can hope, but I have no confidence in the State of North Carolina to do what is right.

In the Duke case, we have witnessed a number of crimes, but all of them have been committed by the police and prosecutors, as well as by Mangum herself. These crimes cry out for justice, yet from this vantage point, Nifong and his cohorts very well may be able to obtain wrongful convictions, given the state of justice in the state where they practice that entity once known as law. One always can hope to the contrary, but Nifong already knows that he is invulnerable. The "justice system" of North Carolina will protect him, and the press will adore him as another "prosecutor as hero."

June 13, 2006

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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