In my previous articles on the Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault case, I have addressed the facts of the case itself, the conduct of D.A. (not for long) Michael B. Nifong and the police, or the policies of government that have led to this massive perfect storm of a legal injustice. Today, I want to speak directly to the young men who were coldly and cruelly framed by Nifong and the police.
Collin, David, and Reade, I cannot imagine what you and your families experienced. To know you were innocent and yet to have to watch a powerful state injustice apparatus try to railroad you into prison must have been a horror that few can imagine. As one prosecutor told me, this was a "cold-blooded frame," and you can see just how hard it is to dislodge lies, especially when they are being told by the state.
But the nightmare is over, or at least the possibility of being thrown into prison for something that never occurred. There are things, however, that very well might come your way, and I want you to be prepared for them.
First, and most important, I am not giving you advice. You are not my children, and I do not give advice to people who don’t ask — unless they are prosecutors like Nifong or an attorney general for a state.
Second, I will not tell you what to do, who to sue, or where to go to college next year. Third, I will not tell you to be more appreciative of your families; you already learned what they mean to you, and that is something I doubt any of you will forget as long as you live.
There are a few things I want to say to you. First, you were great. You underwent stress that can drive some people insane or destroy the health of others. I would not be surprised to see you or some of your family members develop some health problems down the road because of the tremendous stress brought on by the State of North Carolina, and you need to be aware of that situation.
Second, it will not be long before you are old news. You already have disappeared from the Drudge Report and now the country is fixated on the mass killings at Virginia Tech. Your time in the spotlight will be over, and while that is great at one level, there also will be some "withdrawal" symptoms as you go back to being young men in college again.
Third, be prepared for the fact that a lot of people wanted you to be found guilty. You see, the charges validated the worldviews of people who simply hate you for what you are — white male athletes. That is why you were forced to endure an everlasting hatefest at Duke University, and there was nothing you could do about it. Once it became clear that you were victims of a frame, many people could not transfer their anger to the abusive state apparatus of justice.
For example, one of my colleagues in another department (political science) told me that you were able to "get off because you could afford good lawyers." I looked at him hard and replied, "Scott, they got off because of the truth. Unfortunately, it took good lawyers to dislodge the truth from the lies." He had to agree, albeit reluctantly.
None of you "got off." The attorney general of North Carolina, after being part of an exhaustive investigation, declared you "innocent." That is not a word you hear prosecutors use, as their inclination when they take a case is to treat it the way a dog treats a bone. You were not lucky; you were innocent. There is a difference.
Furthermore, there are always those people who will say that because we "were not at the party that night," we will "never know what happened." Of course, those same people have been telling us for the past year what "really happened," and when people who actually were there have been saying that "nothing happened," well, the eternal pot bangers declare those witnesses are liars. So, there is no way to win such a game of semantics. Their viewpoints are reprehensible, but reprehensible is not illegal, just evil.
Then there are the Terry Morans of the world. They will say something to the effect of: "Yes, the three men did not rape anyone, but they were Duke lacrosse players, and everyone knows that the LAX players are bad actors." That was the secondary defense that Duke University was using in order to justify treating you as badly as they did. I include Moran’s comments because you are going to have to get used to hearing something like them:
But perhaps the outpouring of sympathy for Reade Seligman, Collin Finnerty and David Evans is just a bit misplaced. They got special treatment in the justice system — both negative and positive. The conduct of the lacrosse team of which they were members was not admirable on the night of the incident, to say the least. And there are so many other victims of prosecutorial misconduct in this country who never get the high-priced legal representation and the high-profile, high-minded vindication that it strikes me as just a bit unseemly to heap praise and sympathy on these particular men.
So as we rightly cover the vindication of these young men and focus on the genuine ordeal they have endured, let us also remember a few other things:
- They were part of a team that collected $800 to purchase the time of two strippers.
- Their team specifically requested at least one white stripper.
- During the incident, racial epithets were hurled at the strippers.
- Colin Finnerty was charged with assault in Washington, DC, in 2005.
- The young men were able to retain a battery of top-flight attorneys, investigators and media strategists.
As students of Duke University or other elite institutions, these young men will get on with their privileged lives. There is a very large cushion under them — the one that softens the blows of life for most of those who go to Duke or similar places, and have connections through family, friends and school to all kinds of prospects for success. They are very differently situated in life from, say, the young women of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.
And, MOST IMPORTANT, there are many, many cases of prosecutorial misconduct across our country every year. The media covers few, if any, of these cases. Most of the victims in these cases are poor or minority Americans — or both. I would hate to say the color of their skin is one reason journalists do not focus on these victims of injustices perpetrated by police and prosecutors, but I am afraid if we ask ourselves the question honestly, we would likely find that it is. Look for a moment at what James Giles endured:
I hope we all keep him and others in mind, as we cover the celebrated exoneration of well-heeled, well-connected, well-publicized young men whose conduct, while not illegal, was not entirely admirable, either. They aren’t heroes. They aren’t boys. They are young men who were victimized by a reckless prosecutor — and had the resources the fight him off.
I could refute his reprehensible statements point-by-point, but there will be more, and you cannot spend all of your time answering every ignorant and evil set of comments from people who are upset that you are innocent. Furthermore, the fact that your families could hire good counsel does not make you bad, and the fact that you were not railroaded into prison on false charges does not make you responsible for other dishonest prosecutors railroading other people into prison for things that they did not do.
Wherever you are enrolled next year, be prepared for some snide remarks and you also might want to make sure that you are not set up by vindictive students or faculty members. Remember, it was your very innocence that has most enraged people like the infamous G88 at Duke and radical leftist feminists like Wendy Murphy. They wanted you to be guilty, and when it became obvious that you were not, they could not deal with that fact, so they declared you "guilty" anyway.
Also remember that you will be living in a glass house for many, many years. If you ever are stopped and charged with DUI in the relative near future, that simple arrest will be on the front page of every newspaper and the lead story on the news broadcasts, and it will be "proof" that you are louts and bad actors. I know that it is no fun to be on "double-secret probation," but that is where you stand in life and you have to understand those forces that would seek to bring you down. Collin, you saw just how that ridiculous case in Georgetown was morphed into your being something short of an axe murderer, so you can understand just how the media will treat any of you should you have any brush with the law.
I want you to know that the three young men who spoke so forcefully and eloquently before the large ballroom crowd last Wednesday are three young men who most any father would be proud to have as sons. You did not put your parents through this difficult time; that decision was made by Michael B. Nifong and his cohorts; in a very real sense, you had nothing to do with it.
As you know, there are many, many people who took part in this hatefest who should meet the bar of justice. I write "should" because many of them won’t. We know that Nifong will pay dearly for what he has done, and you can hope that one day he will give the kind of heartfelt apology to you that really will present the hard choice to you of whether or not you should forgive him. Right now, he still is being self-serving and is not serious about addressing what he did.
There are many other people who need to pay, but I suspect that little will happen. Certainly the police officers who took part in this fraud will come under scrutiny, but others like the tenured thugs on the Duke faculty who used these false charges to push their own pathetic agendas will face no sanctions at all. Yes, I know that what Karla Holloway, Houston Baker, Peter Wood, Kim Curtis, and many others did was wrong. None of those who signed the infamous April 6 Duke Chronicle advertisement — and did not apologize later — should be permitted to be part of any college faculty, but many of them will continue their careers at Duke as though they were blameless.
No, not everyone will meet that bar of justice, but we can take heart that at least a few people will have to answer for what they did. As for the Duke University that turned its back upon you and helped to make your lives and the lives of your family members a living hell, remember that it was Duke that was in the wrong, not you. Whatever Duke University and President Richard Brodhead did was bad enough — bad enough that there should be many resignations on the table.
Finally, while Duke turned its back on you, thousands of people who you never knew existed decided to do something about it. The blogosphere that rose up was something that none of us planned, yet once the level of public outrage reached a certain level, there were talented people who decided they had had enough of Nifong and Duke and the talking heads on television and would do something about it themselves.
Before the Age of the Internet, none of this would have happened. This case would have gone to trial, and an enraged Durham jury very well might have convicted you, although I cannot imagine your talented legal team actually losing a trial, especially given they had innocent clients. Instead, you had a large crowd of people who came from seemingly nowhere to influence people from your attorneys all the way to North Carolina’s top politicians, and ultimately those people had to listen and act.
You already have publicly thanked K.C. Johnson, and well you should have. He took on the Durham machine, and K.C. won. Here is a guy who is used to the bare-knuckles street brawls that sometime happen (intellectually speaking, of course) in academe, and he already knew that he could outfight Nifong and anyone else who was trying to bring you down. But there were others, too, and you know who they are. There are Philip Wood, who gave us Liestoppers, and Joan Foster and Beth Brewer, Kathleen Eckelt, Kethra, and Stuart Taylor, and even a few (emphasis on few) journalists like Joe Neff and Susannah Meadows and Evan Thomas.
These were people who went to the mat for you because they believed they were doing the right thing. Do not forget them, and I know you won’t.
Finally, let me say that the articles I wrote on this case during the past year were a labor of the love of justice and the slow burn that one feels when the authorities engage in unjust behavior and laugh in your face while doing it. I may be a harsh critic of the state, but I still unwaveringly expect people in positions of authority at all time to do what is right. Anything less is not good enough.
I do hope for the opportunity to meet you and your families in person some day. I have met David and his parents and perhaps in the future I will be privileged to meet all of you. But even if that does not happen, I want you to know that I hope you have a wonderful rest of your life.
The Chinese have a saying, "May you live in interesting times," which is said when one wishes to place a bit of a curse on a rival. Indeed, you have lived in "interesting times," and I do hope with all of my heart that your lives in the future will not be as "interesting" as they were this past year. I hope you are prosperous and happy, and that is all I want for you.
April 17, 2007