An Open Letter to the Duke Lacrosse Families

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In writing to all of the Duke lacrosse families — both those families whose sons were wrongfully indicted and those whose sons were not — I come with very mixed emotions. First, and most important, Michael B. Nifong beginning tomorrow will be on trial to see if he is permitted to continue the practice of law in North Carolina. (One can argue about whether or not Nifong ever practiced that thing called law, but for now we will acknowledge he does hold a law license.)

Second, a number of you soon will be filing lawsuits against the various organizations and individuals who conspired to destroy your lives and the lives of your sons last year. Given where we were a year ago, few people could have imagined that this moment even could exist. For that, all of us can rejoice, or at least those of us who always knew that there had been no rape, no kidnapping, and no sexual assault. None.

Thus, as I write you, I do so as one who has been your supporter for the past year, and there was a time when you had few supporters. Nifong seemed to hold all of the cards, the judges at first seemed to be little more than an arm of the prosecution, and the press — oh, the press — was downright hostile. A year ago, you were the parents of a gang of rapists and thugs. Today, we know who the real thugs are.

Before I go farther, I first must say that it has been an honor to have communicated with so many of you, and a privilege to have met many of you in person at Duke lacrosse games. You were the classy people I had envisioned when I received your emails or spoke to you on the telephone, and after having met you, that opinion did not change a bit. And I was with you when University of Maryland fans paraded "No means No!" signs around the field, and Maryland fans and fans from Johns Hopkins University chanted that obnoxious slogan over and over again. You just had to take it, and you did, demonstrating more dignity and class than what apparently exists in the "elite" universities today.

I also know something of what you and your sons experienced, especially in that very dark month after the charges first surfaced in the press. There were the "Castrate!" signs, the wanted posters, the emails, the threats, the insults from professors, and the Duke administration giving you the back of its hand. There was the New York Times in all its authority declaring your sons to be guilty, and Duke Professor William Chafe comparing your sons to the murderers of Emmett Till.

It was so bad that many of your boys, after Duke cancelled the lacrosse team’s season, could not go onto campus in fear of their own safety, and some of them even lived in their cars. Duke University broke contract with you — but still demanded your tuition and fees in return. Your sons were falsely accused; they knew they were falsely accused, but few at Duke, save the heroic women’s lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimel and her players, would support you. It was that sense of being all alone, or to paraphrase the former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, there were 50 people who knew the truth, and 50 million who thought they knew it — or really did not want to know the truth if it got in the way of a good story.

Thus, even to be at this moment in which Nifong is in the dock and other individuals are getting ready to cower behind their lawyers and deny any wrongdoing, is a triumph of right over wrong. Yet, even in this moment, you will have to remember that you never will receive the justice you and your sons are owed.

Yes, many of you will receive large sums of money, and there will be some (but not enough) apologies, but that still will not change the fact of what the State of North Carolina, the City of Durham, the Durham Police Department, Duke University, and Duke University Medical Center did to you. It will not change the fact of what the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, the Durham Herald-Sun, and the Raleigh News & Observer did to you and your families. It will not change what Nancy Grace did to you from her CNN perch, and it does not change what a thousand bloggers wrote, or Wendy Murphy’s hateful and dishonest statements.

You simply will have to live with that fact, as hard as it is. Many people committed real crimes against your sons, including Nifong, a number of police officers, the "rape nurse" at DUMC, and others. I do not mean bad acts; I mean crimes for which there should be prison terms, and lengthy ones at that. At the present time, no authoritative body from the State of North Carolina or the U.S. Attorney’s office in Greensboro has shown even a passing interest in investigating and prosecuting these harmful violations of the law — and violations of outright human decency. That alone is an injustice, but apparently it is an injustice with which you must live.

Unfortunately, you lost something else that was dear to you, and that was your relationship with Duke University. Duke was special to you in a way that most college graduates simply do not understand, especially those that were graduated from large state-run institutions, as was my case.

Almost all of you were financial contributors, and others served the university in fund-raising or other capacities. Most of all, you were loyal to Duke, not just loyal to the basketball and lacrosse teams. Duke University was in your blood; it was your university, the place where many of you met your spouses, and the place where you most felt at home.

Your memories of Duke were not just about parties and sororities and fraternities and sports events, but something much deeper, something that one cannot easily explain. You did not change, but, unfortunately, Duke did.

Because Duke is seen as an elite university — and, indeed, it truly is — it has followed the very regrettable path that many other elite American universities have gone — the way of postmodern thinking. I remember when Stanley Fish came to Duke in the mid-1980s, and how he changed the English department. Before Fish, it was a place where good literature was prized, and where things like Eternal Truths that were manifest in literature mattered. Shakespeare and Faulkner and Dostoevsky and others were studied because their works unveiled the conflicting patterns and currents of life.

After Fish, the academic emphasis was dominated by postmodernism. It emphasized feminism. It emphasized racism, or how all whites were hopelessly racist. It was based on sexual identities and orientation. Literature was "deconstructed" and now students were told of the latent racism and sexism and homophobia and the like which supposedly permeated the "great books." Students read the works of Zane Grey as literature, and professors concentrated their publications toward the cacophonous postmodern journals. Other departments and areas of "study" were added, including women’s studies, and the various ethnic and racial identity "studies" that were now in vogue in academe.

You took that in stride. Yes, some of the professors tended to harangue their students — and especially those White Male Lacrosse Players Who Were The Bastions Of White Privilege — but everyone put up with it, since Duke was more than its radical faculty. They were like the crazy aunt in the closet as opposed to the one-ton beast sitting in the corner; or, at least that is what you thought was the case.

Then came the rape charges. Suddenly, you found that the most radical faculty members — the people who despised your sons (whom Prof. Wahneema Lubiano called the "perfect" suspects) and were overjoyed to think they could be charged with gang-raping a black female (whom Lubiano called the "perfect victim") — became the Real Voice of Duke University. To this day, Duke President Richard Brodhead has not uttered one word against these faculty members who openly trashed your sons and encouraged a horrible rush to judgment.

These faculty members were not just the one-ton beast in the living room; they were the one-ton beast that devoured what was good and decent about Duke. Here was their moment, and they immediately ran to the barricades, and the leadership of the university went with them. Furthermore, a black student, Chauncey Nartey, sent two threatening emails to Coach Pressler (before Pressler was forced to resign) and for that he was rewarded by being placed on prestigious campus committees and Brodhead himself championed this "student" as being a "star" at Duke. Oh, yes, when advised of the threatening emails, the Duke administration told Nartey not to do it again and suggested he send a letter of apology. Compare the treatment given Nartey with that of Ryan McFadyen, who threatened no one and who still has to endure repercussions for his sophomoric email.

You knew these things. You knew what Nartey did and how Duke handled it, and then it hit you; the leadership at Duke had written you off. They did not care what you thought of how they handled the situation, for you were less than dirt to them. They really did not care what happened to your sons that terrible month of April, 2006. Nor did they care when the legal bills started piling up. In fact, they decided that your sons had caused the whole thing, and Vice President John Burness made it a point in his off-the-record comments to reporters to say the lacrosse players were very bad kids, a bunch of bad actors.

They hired strippers! Never mind that the team quickly apologized and that Duke’s vaunted basketball team just two weeks before had a party for which the team members hired strippers. For that matter, two years ago, feminists at Bucknell University, in "celebrating sex workers," brought male and female strippers to campus for them to show their wares — and other things. There were no objections from anywhere in academe.

There were racial slurs! Actually, according to Jason Bissey, the next door neighbor, the only thing that came close to a "racial slur" came after one of the strippers, Kim called one of the players a "limp-d*** white boy," and he answered with, "Tell your grandfather thank you for my nice cotton shirt," which is a line from an act by Chris Rock, who is a black entertainer. Your sons did not "bark racial slurs" at the "dancers" while they performed, which is what the N&O told its readers in its March 25, 2006, article, an account that became increasingly magnified, as journalists raced to the bottom.

There never was any evidence that somehow your sons were the next thing to a secret Ku Klux Klan Klavern on campus, despite what Prof. Grant Farred wrote in the Herald-Sun about the "secret racism" of the lacrosse team. In fact, the evidence was quite to the contrary, but no one at Duke wanted to hear that. After all, the original story worked just fine with them, as it gave them the ammunition they needed to claim that Duke was being overrun by sexists and racists and rapists and that the university needed to cleanse itself of this evil.

You had to endure lies and half-truths for more than a year, and they still are being told. No matter the contrary evidence that is trotted out, people have made up their minds and in their own self-righteousness, including one of the deans at Duke, Sally Deutsch, who still maintains that your sons are rapists.

The problem is not just that this mentality rules Duke University, despite the fact that there are many faculty members there who do not subscribe to this nonsense, including many who contacted me to support what I was doing. However, many of them were silent not out of cowardice, but rather because they knew they would be targets for retaliation.

For example, when 17 members of the economics department penned a letter last January calling for Nifong to be investigated, and condemned Duke’s rush to judgment, it did not take long for the signers to start receiving nasty emails from the campus radicals. Given that their dean is Deutsch, I would not be surprised of some of those who signed the letter affirming their students are denied raises and promotions in the future. Radical academics have ways of making their "enemies" pay, and pay dearly.

The real problem is that this "postmodernism," better known as Political Correctness, has seeped into the law itself, and the first thing that is destroyed is due process. Indeed, from the first order by Judge Ronald Stephens that all white members of Duke’s lacrosse team be forced to give up DNA samples, to the bogus ID "lineup" on April 4, 2006, to Nifong’s hiding of the exculpatory evidence, your boys were denied due process at every turn.

Furthermore, the denial of due process was wildly popular among Duke faculty members and much of Durham’s population. The "rape crisis" industry went into high gear across the country, demanding arrests even though there was no evidence, and no one in authority seemed to care. They just wanted arrests and convictions without having to bother proving their case. After all, your sons were white and supposedly "privileged;" thus, what more proof was needed that they committed a gang rape?

I wish that this were simply a legal lesson in which everyone “learned” something, and then nothing like it would happen again. Unfortunately, the reason your sons were targeted had nothing to do with the law or evidence; the law was nothing more than a weapon used by very cynical people to accomplish goals that benefited themselves. Evidence was something to be fabricated on the spot in order to place a fig leaf on the entire sordid process.

No, American higher education and American law have undergone sea changes since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. That decade did not just produce the Beatles and free sex; no, it was a time when radicals overturned what was left of a classical liberal order that had under-girded law for centuries in Great Britain and here. You saw this "new legal order" in all its evil this past year, but just because it was exposed once does not mean someone else will not try to promote a cause worthy enough to dispense with due process and other foundations of what was once called law.

As for higher education, you have seen the future and it is Wahneema Lubiano, Houston Baker, Karla F.C. Holloway, Sally Deutsch, and Grant Farred. It is a world in which knowledge does not matter, and there is no truth except that "truth" that comes at the barrel of a gun. As I said before, the alleged gatekeepers of our civilization have become the barbarians at the gate, and you saw firsthand the destruction the Goths and Visigoths can do when they control the keys to the process of formal education.

I wish I had better news for you on that front. There still is a strong remnant of real academics left in higher education — and at Duke — and many of them are determined to stand against the barbarian hordes. They will hold out for a long time, although we can see which way the tide is running.

As for Nifong, you might pity him as he sits sullen and arrogant in the dock, but never feel sorry for him. Nifong, as Don Yaeger in It’s Not About the Truth pointed out, is a bully, someone who throughout his career has reveled in making other people miserable. He enjoyed putting you and your families through hell. He enjoyed the fact that you spent Easter weekend of 2006 in misery, waiting to see who Crystal Gail Mangum had identified as her imaginary rapists.

This was great fun for him — while it lasted. He was a television star, a former nobody who suddenly could command a huge audience simply by showing up and telling a few more lies, and there were plenty of people eager to believe every word of every lie. But now he is disgraced, the word "Nifonged" having become a modern verb to describe the wrongful prosecution of an individual.

At some time, people will call on you to "forgive" Michael Byron Nifong, and that is your choice. Nifong, I can assure you, will give you no grounds by which to seek forgiveness, so if you choose to do so, it will be your own choice and a matter of your own heart. But even if you do choose to forgive, Nifong owes a huge debt, and there needs to be payment.

In reality, however, there can be no repayment for what he and Durham and Duke did to you and your families. It was vicious, it was dishonest, and it was wrong. Most of the worst actors never will admit their guilt, and you will have to live with that, too.

But there is one thing that you can do. You can take the best revenge of all: living well. While Nifong and his beloved pension and perhaps the future of his freedom are tied up in court, you will be living well and this sorry episode will be in your rearview mirror. That will be the best thing of all.

June 11, 2007

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. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.

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