For whatever reason, these trolls have convinced themselves that I was deeply involved in discussions about the Duke LaCrosse Team in 2006. For those who don’t remember (or lived under a rock or in a cave with no television reception), the case centered on accusations by an African-American woman (who the team hired to strip for them) that she had been sexually assaulted by the mostly white team. After fifteen months, the students were exonerated and the district attorney of Durham, North Carolina, Michael Nifong, had been disbarred.
Investigations revealed that the police seemingly attained the accusations while the witness was under pressure; the district attorney suppressed evidence (and apparently failed to ever interview the witness himself); and the Duke campus erupted in some serious displays of bad judgment. During those long fifteen months, the media (including bloggers across the political spectrum) seized on the case as a means to debate racism, sexism, sexual violence, and economic privilege. To be certain, many of those people stepped over the students' basic rights and access to justice.
At the time, though, I wrote nothing on this blog about the case. For starters, it just isn’t the type of story that I imagine as appropriate at CoG. Why? Well, first, I try to keep up the pretense of the few journalistic ethics that I learned from high school. As I remember from my time in room A-22, assertions of guilt of an accused individual before a jury-of-their peers declares hir guilty is a big no-no (This, of course, doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to write about such cases or speculate about their larger implications. Free speech is, well, free. It does mean, however, that one must always assume innocence and write about “alleged murders," or the “individual accused of robbery,” etc. rather than “the murder” or “the highway man”).
Second, I just don’t think that it is in good taste to write about accusations of rape in a blog whose distinctive features are campy comic books and jokes about stalking celebrities. While I am happy to point out racism, sexism, and homophobia in the media, I usually stay clear of stories about specific people who are in horrific circumstances.
Finally, as a historian, I much prefer to write about the dead and buried (or, even better, the imaginary). Everything is so much more settled that way. Current events allow too many opportunities to be wrong and, as best as I remember (and that was a long time ago (and I concede I might have made mistakes that I don’t know about (I am only human and we are talking about something almost two years ago))), I did think that there were a substantial number of things that we didn’t know about this case (despite the unending press coverage).
Since I didn’t blog about it at all, and rarely commented on other blogs that did, I was somewhat surprised that individuals, like my new friend Joey7777, started showing up at CoG and demanding that I “take responsibility for my part in the Duke Case.” Hey, if people really want to know what I think about the Duke Case, who am I to deprive them?
Let me be clear: I have no problem apologizing if I implicitly or explicitly stated the guilt of the Duke students before they had a fair trial on some other blog's comments. Such actions are, indeed, unethical and contribute to the failures of the justice system. That is not something that I want to do intentionally or unintentionally. Nonetheless, I never wrote an entry on the case here or on any other blog.
I don't have a problem with right-wing bloggers forcing left-wing bloggers to eat crow when they have crossed a line and been caught at it. That is a healthy part of free speech (concerns about free speech, I suspect, is not really involved in these accusations, which I will discuss in a moment).
Too many leftist bloggers did cross the line and write about the students as guilty without first-hand knowledge of the case. We can, of course, understand why they might have been inclined to do so. This nation’s history is riddled with cases where women, especially women of color, have been deprived of justice when they have been sexually assaulted. The media also made the case into something that had to be debated. Nonetheless, we all have to be vigilant in understanding how each case develops and remembering that every individual is guaranteed some basic rights, including the presumption of innocence.
The mishandling of the Duke Case could have provided real opportunities for people who consider themselves on the right or conservative to take a moral high ground. Had they desired, they could have become leaders by building coalitions with the left to solve common problems. Without a doubt, the Duke Case exposed that many U.S. police departments and district attorney’s offices are inadequate and geared to politics rather than justice. Those are issues we all should be concerned about, regardless of our political leanings.
It also revealed that the media was not at all an agent of justice, but rather sought to capitalize on the furor around the case for their own rewards. For this and many other reasons, I no longer think that it is valid to debate whether the media has a “conservative” or a “liberal” bias. Such debates only maintain that status quo, making us part of the “info-tainmaint” that has replaced actual news in this nation. We all, on the right and left, need to recognize that the media in this nation, composed of profit-driven mega-corporations, is not serving anybody’s interests in this society.
Alas, though, most people on the right passed on such opportunities for real change. Instead, they have decided to use the Duke case as a means to distract, or even to try to silence and intimidate people. Indeed, they don’t bother with details like whether I really wrote about the Duke Case on this blog or not. Instead, they have presumed that I must have done so because of their own assumptions about who they imagine I am as a person. I have constantly pointed out to my new buddy Joey7777, for instance, that I never had an entry on this topic, but that did not satisfy him.
After many empty statements lacking any real evidence about my supposed deep investment in this case and support of the District Attorney (whose name I had to actually look up), the only thing that he could point to was a comment by me that I allegedly wrote on Angry Black Bitch. After reviewing the past files on the topic on her blog (which, by the way, maintained its own strict journalistic standards when talking about the accused players as far as I can tell), I found only one statement from me on the topic (and I spent most of it discussing the media coverage rather than the “alleged rapists”). Why bother with little things like how much I wrote when you can just make shit up because you think it must be true anyway? Joey7777 has written much more about my supposed writings on the case than I ever actually wrote myself. The Alanis-Morisette-level of irony of making facile accusations about a case centered on false accusations seems to be lost on Joey7777 (Who has time for irony when you are certain that you are right?). Perhaps his next step will be to falsify some entries under my name.
I am not interested in these accusations because of what they say or don’t say about me and my supposed culpability in the case. Trust me, this post’s mere subject is likely to generate an unending rant of hate mail and hasty comments (Thank the goddess this blog is almost dead). I try to keep a sense of humor about such things. To paraphrase the immortal words of Kylie Minogue: Regardless of the hand that is dealt, the joker is always smiling in every deck of cards.
Instead, I am interested in how individuals like Joey7777 are attempting to use the Duke Case to simply get people on the left to shut up while pretending like they care about "justice."
Indeed, some are even deploying a guilty-by-association strategy. Such things can be seen in a discussion in another blog about gays and race (one that I don’t normally read, but there was mention of me, so I was vain enough to look it up). To be honest, in that comment section, I would say neither the left nor the right were really engaged in a productive discussion. However, a telling moment came when somebody dismissed all potential participation by one blogger by stating:
- “YOU shouldn't be criticizing anyone if you're friends with that GayProf comic book doofus. Referring to the Duke case, again: Gay Prof was all over the place saying the guys were guilty and how it represented "racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, misogyny…blah blah…" (all the b.s. these academics play around with), and then when the guys turned out innocent GayProf skulked away and hid from the story. So don't go knocking other guys if you're buds with that racist weasel.”
Aren’t they sweet and ever so respectful? That's Professor Comic Book Weasel to you.
We can again set aside the fact that I did not actually blog about the case and rarely even commented on other blogger’s posts about the case (hardly constituting me writing about it “all over the place”). Instead , there is a telling rhetorical strategy at play here. According to this person, if you even knew somebody who once blogged about the case (or, in this instance, seemed like they might have blogged about the case), you are apparently forever robbed from talking about race, racism, shaking up the status quo, or possibly saying anything ever again. Hmm, that's a free society in the making.
My special buddy Joey7777 fancies himself as “doing his part not to let academic sneaks and bullies get away with trying to hurt innocent people.” That’s cool with me. We/I make lots of mistakes. He can look forward to pointing out each and every one if he so desires. It's unlikely that I will respond. He has also invited me to e-mail him. I think I'll pass on that, too.
I would suggest, though, that if he was really invested in questions about social justice in this nation that he could focus his efforts on people and circumstances that matter a lot more than a random prof with a blog and a Wonder-Woman kink. He might, for instance, take an interest in the racial and economic disparity that exists in our prison system. There are many innocent people who did not have the resources that permitted the Duke students to fight the system.
Or he might consider what it means that the International Court of Justice has ruled that the U.S. has violated the rights of over fifty Mexican nationals currently on death row under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In August of the past year, a ruling from the ICJ concluded that Texas authorities had mishandled one of those death-penalty cases resulting in a prisoner being deprived his basic rights, thus necessitating a stay of execution. The state of Texas ignored both the ICJ ruling and appeals from the UN and Mexico City, moving ahead with his murder. Every comment written here could be time spent saving people's lives and reforming our justice system. To each his own, though.
Indeed, my beloved trolls would do well to follow the statements of one of the actual Duke students involved in the case. In a statement to the press, this student reminded us that it was their status and access to financial resources that helped them to attain their release. “This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed,” he said, “If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it.” I tend to agree.
In the meantime, I wonder how long before GayProf is linked to the Weather Underground. . .