Sunday, July 08, 2007

INNOCENT: About Race & Opportunity

"... these three individuals [David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann,] are innocent of these charges."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007

Folks, Below is a letter that appears in today’s Durham Herald Sun. If you haven’t already read it, I hope you do.

I don’t agree with a lot of what the letter writer, Odessa Shaw Jr., says, but he also says some things I agree with.

I decided to respond to Mr. Shaw with a letter and send copies to journalists John McCann of the Durham Herald Sun and Cash Michaels of the Wilmington Journal. Both are African-Americans who’ve written often on aspects of the Duke Hoax. I’m going to invite them to respond as well as you.

Shaw’s letter appears under the head: "The race factor"

Rodney Turner, in his letter of July 5, stated that the "Duke LAX 3", were railroaded because of their "wealth, race and sex, by Durham's black leaders, Durham police, Mike Nifong, Duke professors, (and I love this one) feminists gone wild," and that if the LAX players were not "white and rich" we would never have heard of the Duke LAX case.

That, in a way, makes the point that so many have made about the case. If this had been three young men of color from N.C. Central University, you wouldn't have had any of this mess. The chances are that with no hotshot lawyers in their corners, they would still be in jail waiting for a trial date.

So my question to Turner is this: Using the same amount of evidence, which was shaky, which is more racist, the fact that the young men accused were rich, white and from Duke and got all this attention, or three young men who are not white and from lower income families and no influence, getting no attention at all under similar circumstances?

Odessa Shaw Jr.

Dear Mr. Shaw:

With regard to the treatment the Duke students on the lacrosse team received, we can agree that 46 of them were declared suspect by Durham police and court ordered to submit to DNA testing and mug and torso photographing based on no other physical description than the students’ race.

We can also agree that an angry crowd gathered outside the house where three of the students lived and waved large “CASTRATE” and “GIVE THEM EQUAL MEASURE” banners; that the Durham Police Department said a “brutal rape” had been committed when there was no evidence it had; and that almost no black or white leaders criticized the crowd or the police.

We can agree that our major daily newspapers - the N&O and The H-S – never condemned anything I’ve just described. They editorially supported most of it and reported sympathetically on the angry crowd waving the banners.

We didn’t hear any criticism of the “CASTRATE” crowd or of the police DNA and photographing order based solely on race from the NC NAACP or the NC ACLU.

Surely whatever you, I or anyone else might think of our newspapers, Duke’s leaders and the rest, we don’t think they’d ever let the same thing happen to black students at Duke or Central.

And remember the threats, including death threats, that racists shouted at Reade Seligmann outside the Durham County Courthouse and within the courtroom on May 18?

That kind of terrible thing used to happen to blacks and no one did anything about it. Now it's happened to Seligmann and nobody's done anything about it.

So there’s bias at work against whites just as there’s bias at work against blacks and Hispanics. It just rears itself in different circumstances.

You’re absolutely right about the criminal investigative and prosecutorial systems being stacked against low-income people and minorities.

So what can we do about changing that?

The injustices of the Duke Hoax have drawn more attention to criminal investigative and prosecutorial failings than any recent North Carolina case. That attention provides an opportunity to bring public pressure to bear to improve the criminal justice system.

We need to take a close look at the State Bar which licenses attorneys. Except in the Nifong case, the Bar has generally gone easy on prosecutors who violated defendants’ rights.

It may surprise people to learn the Bar is not a state agency. It’s a professional organization that has the privilege of licensing by authority of legislation.

The argument for such an arrangement is that the profession can do a better job of licensing and “policing” its members than the state can.

But given what we’ve learned about the Bar’s “go easy” treatment of prosecutors, it may be time for the people to consider adding to the legislation authorizing the Bar a sunset provision, so that every 5 years, for example, there’s a public review of the Bar’s functioning before its privileges are renewed.

Many NC district attorneys want to weaken open discovery legislation. People ought to oppose that. From what we’ve learned about how the system typically works, it’s clear we need more, not less, open discovery.

Those are examples of the kinds of things I wish people of both races in North Carolina were talking about and working together on to improve the justice system for all.

What do you think?


John in Carolina

Cc: John McCann
Cash Michaels


Anonymous said...

JinC, your response was measured and appropriate. I would add this: Mr. Odessa Shaw, Jr.'s analogy is fatally flawed. The flaw is prominent in his last sentence which ends thusly:

"... and getting no attention at all under similar circumstances."

The "circumstances" in the Duke Rape Hoax necessarily included NATIONAL media attention, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek Magazine, etc.

The "circumstances" in the Duke Rape Hoax necessarily included public declarations from prominent citizens and groups such as Jesse Jackson, Richard Brodhead, Nancy Grace, the NAACP, the NBPP, Duke faculty members, Durham government employees, and, of course, Mike Nifong.

If, for example, a race-baiting district attorney had wrongly indicted three black students by playing the race card, thereby inducing the presence of the KKK, speeches by David Duke, Nancy Grace, reporting by the Christian Science Monitor, FOX, all the local media, then we may have an analogous situation.

For any Durham citizen to try to get on the pulpit at this late date and talk about Justice, apparently trying to make this a teachable moment, well, to me, it smacks of "too little, too late" mixed in with a dab of "two wrongs don't make a right."

Keep up the well-reasoned posts, JinC! Gregory

P.S. I would also like to see the statistics (or an actual case study) to back up "similar circumstances" occurring before in Durham. Floyd wants to know!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add that the analogy is flawed because this was community-sponsored and nationally-approved racism of a magnitude not seen since Jim Crow.

In Mr. Shaw's supposed analogous situation, you have one or two bad actors. Not the same.


P.S. JinC, this Churchill guy seems pretty cool! What's he been up to? Does he have a website?