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Friday, March 31st 2006

Race, Class, and Making Sure Someone Pays

In case you missed it, the Duke Lacrosse team has been suspended for the season and the town of Durham thrown into a mess, following an alleged (notice I spelled that right) rape of a black exotic dancer by three white lacrosse players on March 13th.

What makes it more disturbing is the racial overtones of the attack as alleged by the victim. Included amongst her accusations are statements to the fact that racial slurs were used as she was being raped and some talk amongst the media that the players specifically asked for an African-American dancer when they called the service.

From there the picture only gets more confusing:

  • Protests against white privilege in a town more than 40% African American
  • A D.A. inciting such by talking openly to the media about how guilty the, as yet unidentified suspects are
  • Almost all members of the lacrosse team obtaining lawyers
  • The 46 white players on the lacrosse team (and there are only 47 total players) giving up DNA by court order, for some reason that isn’t clear considering the three apparent assailants were identified by name by the victim.

There is even talk of reprisal by the community against Duke students.

There are many reasons to put off writing on this topic. Amongst them, the wait for the DNA results and the fact I have exams closing in. But here I am writing. I just read one too many articles on this situation and I couldn’t stop going over in my head what was wrong with some people’s response to this alleged crime and what was wrong with the media’s coverage of it.

I love lacrosse, I’ve played through high school and college, and I love the south. I was as close as any school to attending Washington & Lee University which is a microcosm for many of criticisms lobbed at Duke since the beginning of this catastrophe – white southern affluence, racism, studgy conservatism and entitlement. It may suffer these even more, actually. Because of this, these editorials, and even the “unbiased” fact pieces, seem to irk me.

Listen to the disdain in the words of Greg Garber (his editorial can be found in the link above):

Five signs taped together to the wrought-iron work on the front landing read, “Innocent Until Proven Guilty.”

Another read, “ALLEDGED: Represented as existing or as being as described, but not so proved; supposed.”

The source for the definition was listed as www.dictionary.com, and that online source presumably wasn’t responsible for the first “D.” Apparently at Duke, where the average SAT verbal scores fall between 690 and 770, not everyone has a command of spelling.

As if to say that these white affluent kids who come to this prestigious school, especially the jocks, aren’t quite as good as they think they are. My god, Garber seems to be displaying the same self consciousness and contempt, when discussing those he views as elitists, as any Durham resident he quotes in his little masturbatory op/ed.

While recent studies show that females make up a decided majority at many colleges, 52 percent of Duke’s students are male. According to statistics furnished by the Princeton Review, Duke’s Caucasian population is 56 percent, compared to 11 percent for African Americans. Durham, by contrast, is a city of 200,000; and the 2000 Census placed the black population at 43.8 percent, narrowly behind the 45.5 percent that is white.

This is just inappropriate. I cannot sit here, no matter how many times I read the above paragraph, and convince myself Garber is merely illuminating the differences in composition between town and gown. This is a criticism. The truth, contrasting Duke’s sex ratio and ethnic breakdown as if to show its lack of diversity compared with Durham is nothing but sensationalism.

Playing up the facts for the story, for effect, is no doubt something Mr. Garber shares with his hero Tom Wolfe. Duke’s demographic of 11% African American is much closer to the national average, considering 85% of Duke undergraduates are from out of state, than the Durham average. This is a national university, Mr. Garber. It is a very reasonable rate considering the challenges faced by African American children who likely appear in underfunded schools, that do not prepare then in any way to enter college, at an extreme rate compared to whites.

Tom Wolfe saw all of this coming. Or a lot of it, anyway.

This is the beginning of the long, multi-paragraphed song of praise to Mr. Wolfe in the article.

Anyone who thinks I Am Charlotte Simmons is an accurate representation of the southern “white” university and its fraternity life and varsity sports really has no idea of the situation. I read it a while ago, and nearly choked on Mr. Wolfe’s attempts to recreate what he clearly does not understand. The New York Times. took the time to point out the flaws in Wolfe’s attempt to recreate college life, calling his characters “cartoons” and pointing to…

…some unintentional comedy as Wolfe meticulously delineates a drinking game he has discovered called ”quarters,” [and] attempts to imitate vulgar rap lyrics…

As the only book of the accomplished Mr. Wolfe that I read I’m sure as the Times say that I merely got unlucky as “it is by far the weakest of his novels.”

Despite its unreliability, I Am Charlotte Simmons seems to be Greg Garber’s only source in declaring the flaws of the southern university in his editorial.

If Garber didn’t graduate from some liberal arts college tucked away in the northeast or the west coast during the 1980s then I don’t know anyone who did.

Greg Garber drew my ire only for the date of publication and extensiveness of his own rant. It was the “last straw” that pushed me into putting my own thoughts, on the situation and on the drivel coming from the media, down into print. That is what this blog is for, right?

In anycase, he certainly isn’t the only writerto have already judged the accused or cheered on the outrage of the citizens of Durham. I think it should be pointed out however, that it appears the more verbal displays have come not from the townies alone but from the lacrosse team’s fellow students. Not all of them are so judgemental of course.

For those near to burning effigies and memorizing the faces of the lacrosse team members from posters (lest they fall victim themselves) I suppose we have the joys of liberalism in higher education to thank. Yet here we have a crusade making 40 some odd men, not yet guilty, scapegoats for years of social and racial tensions and problems. How truly liberal are such judgments?

The most disgusting commentary of all is the District Attorney inflaming the situation.

“If it’s not the way it’s been reported, then why are they so unwilling to tell us what, in their words, did take place that night?” [the District Attorney] told Smith on Thursday. “And one would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong.”

Yes, I wonder why the hell I would get a lawyer when I’m a person of interest in an investigation that will lead to charges that carry a minimum of 16 to 20 years (quote above taken from this link).

The fact he already has enough evidence to apparently convince him what happened and make a case sans DNA does raise an eyebrow. Where are the charges then? And why the hell did he even get DNA? And from all 46 players? It seems like he doesn’t even know who to charge.

His words are incitive and contradictory to his role as a public servant. There is no free speech issue here. If he doesn’t want to shut up he shouldn’t run for reelection (and it is coming up soon…what a coincidence). Then he can blab about any case he wants to as a private citizen.

All his talking and early exclamations may have the D.A. back posturing a bit. He now says that after the DNA evidence comes back it may take some time for charges to be filed. Nor is he sure that he’ll make the DNA results public, which is a little peculiar considering how much he’s been talking so far…the results would just be one more thing out of his mouth. The entire case, the entire story of the night seems somewhat fishy so far.

If Mr. Nifong’s big mouth has done anything it is to provide anyone willing to pay attention with a sense of just how weak the case seems to be so far. Mr. Nifong is stacking up his cards in a very public display and I for one am concerned with how weak the foundation appears so far. Still, we need to give victims their due…especially when it comes to alleged sexual violence.

Me and the District Attorney do agree on one thing however, if this report is true:

The Herald-Sun also reported that some lacrosse players gave accounts of what transpired on the night of the alleged attack to university administrators. Nifong told the newspaper that he would ask the school to disclose those accounts voluntarily. If the university withholds the information, Nifong would seek a court order to obtain the testimonials.

If you don’t want to talk to investigators then don’t talk to anyone but your lawyer. That being said, I don’t know my law very well, but how much are such statements worth unless they were made to campus police? What type of hearsay rules apply to these things?

Something terrible probably happened at that party on March 13. If it did someone should pay the price. But, probably is not certainly and innocent until proven guilty. This case should never be tried in Durham if it comes to that, not with this D.A. and the media basically calling for protests. Let who did this rot in prison but realize this is apparently only the last incident in a boiling tense situation between town and gown. A tense situation which may have as much to do with those who watch Duke from the outside as any part of the student body, who the media apparently want to demonize.