It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the 2006 version of the Scottsboro Nine. About a decade ago, I had occasion to knock out a column about them every few months, both during and after the investigation. The case, like Nosferatu, refused to die.
But then, other things began to push the memory of that travesty of justice farther back into the morning mist of North Carolina, and we went on with our lives.
That is until the next rape accusation reared its head, and suspicions started swirling about truth, vengeance, and the intersection of political correctness and justice.
If you haven’t followed my writing over the past decade, you might be scratching your head at this point. Scottsboro 2006? Isn’t Scottsboro the story of those young black men wrongfully convicted, although ultimately exonerated, of rape because of their skin color and the raging prejudice of the Jim Crow era?
It is, and it was the single greatest miscarriage of justice of the first half of the last century.
Which makes it ironic that, arguably, the single greatest miscarriage of justice of the new millennium again involved young men falsely accused of rape and shoved through the legal system by a wildly swinging political pendulum. I call them the Durham Three.
Ten years ago, three lacrosse players at Duke University were falsely accused of raping a woman they had paid to perform at an off-campus party. The boys were on hiatus from school and decided to do what college boys generally do when there are no classes and lots of beer: get raunchy.
These were not choir boys or Eagle Scouts. There were no little old ladies waiting to be helped across the street. These were testosterone-saturated youth, eager to stick dollar bills into the G-string of a hired stripper.
But what they got in exchange for their efforts was a hellish trip into a world where prosecutors twist the truth for professional laurels, where professors defile their credentials and dishonor their alleged pursuit of “knowledge,” where rape advocates see the phrase “due process” as an obscenity, and where the media don’t care who they destroy, as long as it fits into three and a half minute soundbites.
The details of the Duke lacrosse scandal, which was triggered by that ill-fated beer party on March 13, 2006, in Durham, are now the stuff of legend. There is no doubt about what happened, no suspicions of lingering guilt or innocence, no unanswered questions. Those boys were innocent of rape, “actually innocent” as the North Carolina attorney general later decreed.
The guilt lies with a prosecutor named Mike Nifong, who ignored some evidence and essentially manufactured some more in his pursuit of a verdict against three affluent white boys. He was playing to an audience that was hungry for payback, an audience that could re-elect him to office, an audience that resented the white kids with the shiny bank accounts.
The guilt also lies with academic leftists, liberal mercenaries who sold their souls to a politically correct narrative of the oppressed minority woman, a black stripper who is now serving a prison sentence for murdering her boyfriend. This woman was for them a symbol of oppression, a precursor to the BlackLivesMatter movement that has now become ubiquitous in this society. But in addition to race, the thing that really fanned the flames in this whole debacle was a desire for payback.
I see Duke as much a function of the warped rape culture as I do a problem with race. I recently participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association called “From O.J. to Cosby: Race, Law and Media in the 21st Century.” While I definitely believe the Simpson case was all about race, I don’t think it has the same sort of relevance in Cosby’s situation. To me, Cosby is more like Duke, where the overriding engine of the debacle is gender and the sense of getting justice for women by destroying men.
Sure, that might be an oversimplification. But Cosby is being accused by dozens of women of having “date raped” them. The women are white, they are black, they are rich, they are poor, they are educated, some are not. The only thing they have in common is their accusation. And in this society, the accusation of rape is the one thing from which you can never recover, even if you are exonerated.
It is considered the most heinous of crimes, worse in some cases than murder. My good friend Sayde Ladov, a former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association who appeared with me on the panel discussion, made that point when she argued against statutes of limitations. According to Sayde, there are some crimes so horrific, like war crimes, for which there should be no statute of limitations. To Sayde, society and the system should always be open to hearing accusations of assault.
I respect her point, but I don’t agree. The reason I don’t is because unlike murder, rape is often subjective. It is a he said, she said, and while in the past we have been unfair to women by not believing their stories of abuse, we have now come full circle to the other side believing often without anything other than a desire that it be true that a man is a rapist.
That’s exactly what happened 10 years ago in Durham. Three boys who were white, rich and not exactly humble were labeled criminals. The reason they were made into scapegoats is similar to the reason those nine black boys in Alabama had their lives upended, destroyed and barely pieced together again: the suspension of the truth to advance an advantageous lie.
In the case of the Scottsboro Nine it was the lie that poor itinerant black boys are animals.
In the case of the Durham Three it was the lie that rich white college boys are animals.
And the pendulum keeps swinging.
Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News