Friday, July 20, 2007

Whichard Committee Expectations (Post 1)

The twelve member committee the Durham City Council has asked to examine police conduct in the Duke lacrosse case and make recommendations for avoiding the travesties that occurred held its first meeting today. KC Johnson covered it.

Former NC Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard chairs the committee which includes three current and one retired police chief, an Asst. DA, a former Durham Mayor, a former Durham County Sheriff, a prominent, politically-connected Durham attorney and a “rape victims” advocate.

Wade Barber, a former DA and Judge now in private law practice will serve as the committee's legal counsel.

Expectations for what the committee will accomplish are low.

The committee is underfunded. It’s been given $50,000 for its work.

That’s not sufficient to examine in depth a frame-up and subsequent cover-up that played out for thirteen months, and involved, besides the Durham Police, the DA’s office, Duke University administrators, a private DNA analysis firm and very likely others.

The committee’s size is a concern. Will various members have different focuses so that it looks at matters in a disorganized, “gee whiz, when I was a kid a cop …” manner?

There’s also a worry that the committee will be fractious and special interest group oriented. It’s possible some committee members will feel at least part of their task is to represent certain “constituencies” rather than fulfilling the committee’s investigative and recommendation mandate.

Concerns have been openly expressed that the committee’s police chiefs and former sheriff will “look out for the cops.”

Others worry some committee members will seek to avoid offending Durham’s political establishment.

It’s no secret the leaders of Durham’s two most politically powerful organizations – The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance – didn’t want an investigation.

During last November’s election, both organizations strongly endorsed then DA Mike Nifong’s candidacy at a time when it was obvious to civic-minded people that the Duke lacrosse “investigation” Nifong was heading involved gross police travesties and possibly crimes.

Finally, there’s the likelihood that at least some committee members will excuse some police misconduct by invoking “they believed the woman,” which in Durham and the rest of America now serves to excuse police, prosecutorial and press mistreatment of men accused of sexual offenses.

All those concerns have led many intelligent people here in Durham to conclude the Whichard Committee will not accomplish much, and may even do harm by giving DPD a pass and in effect telling the public: “Nothing to see here, folks. You can all go home.”

While I share some of the concerns of those who feel that way, it's very unlikely the committee will give DPD a “nothing to see here” pass.

I'm betting the committee’s work will turn out to be a significant step forward in the journey to justice for those mistreated by DPD. But I’m much less certain the committee’s work will result in long-term, systematic improvements in the way DPD functions.

I’ll put consideration of DPD improvements aside for another time.

Here and now I’ll tell you why I don’t think the committee will give DPD a pass; and why its work will very likely turn out to be a step forward for justice.

The Whichard Committee knows DPD already has already been given a “nothing to see here” pass. Remember the Baker/Chalmers “report?”

And remember how Baker/Chalmers was received back in April? It was greeted with more hoots and less respect than Nixon’s “I am not a crook” claim.

There’s no chance the committee will give DPD a pass. It knows it would be laughed at and ridiculed just as Deputy Chief Ron Hodge was when he told a public meeting he couldn’t see any significant mistakes DPD had made in the last five years.

Sure, there may be some on the committee who won’t worry about general public ridicule as long as their biases and constituencies are satisfied. Those members can make the committee less effective. Perhaps they might even issue some sort of loosely focused, “activist” driven minority report. But they won’t dominate the committee.

So there's no need to fear the committee will “issue a pass.”

That leaves two questions:

1) How good a job will it do exposing what certain DPD officers and their supervisors did, and why they did it?

2) Will the committee make recommendations that will make it less likely the kinds of travesties and very possibly crimes that occurred will occur again?

I’ll answer question 2 first.

There’ll be recommendations for new procedures as there always are in these kinds of situations.

I feel certain the recommendations will be very good ones. Among the committee, Whichard, Barber, the police chiefs, the ADA (a former DA, by the way), and the former sheriff all have considerable experience working with and directing police departments. They’re experts with plenty of “hands on” experience.

But the Whichard Committee’s work will expose what many of you already know: what went wrong wasn’t really a matter of not having the proper laws and procedures in place.

On March 14, 2006, there were already in place all laws and police procedures necessary for the fair treatment of the accusser and the accused; for honest police statements to the public; and for an investigation that sought to advance justice by seeking truth.

But those laws and procedures were violated because of what are sometimes called “the problems of the human heart.”

Those human heart problems are the hardest to legislate against and block with procedures.

Yes, I know we have to try. I’m for that. We’ll see what happens.

Now, about question 1: How good a job will the committee do exposing what certain DPD officers and their supervisors did and why they did it?

I really want to answer that question tomorrow. This post is already long and I’m running out of time.

But here’s the short answer: The committee will make some progress on the who, what, why and how questions.

But at the end of its work we’ll still be well short of having the knowledge we need to fairly judge and punish all those who broke the law; to acknowledge and reward those who worked to do right; and to do what Duke and Durham so urgently need to do in the next few years: identify and put in place new leaders.

The primary reason for the massive injustices that followed upon Crystal Mangum's lies was not Mike Nifong’s mendacity, great as that is. It was the near total failure of Duke and Durham’s leaders to do what were so evidently their duties.

However good a job the Whichard Committee does, the victims of the Duke lacrosse case - and that includes most of us in this community of town and gown - should still call for state and federal investigations of what went wrong. Only then will we be able to say we’ve done all we can to make sure another such tragedy as the one Crystal Mangum’s lies set in motion doesn’t happen again.

One of my strongest hopes for the Whichard Committee is that it will issue a call for state and federal investigations.

My fingers are crossed.

I hope you’re back tomorrow when I'll give my answer to question



Anonymous said...

most definitely, a call for both state and federal investigation is needed ... as you said, JinC, who has the courage ?

very disappointed in committee today .... do they not have any principles , or do they wish to continue to cover up the illicit actions of DPD (and Duk admin.)?