Anyone who's followed the reaction to the Duke lacrosse rape case in the blogosphere knows that it's occasionally brought out the worst in human nature: racism, misogyny, classism, and a general viciousness, all aided and abetted by people's ability to speak their piece without revealing their identity.
Apparently that's not going to change any time soon, as is evident from the comments being left here on Facing South in response to our posts about the case. The comments raise the question as to whether some of these would-be pundits even bother to read the news coverage we point to before offering responses that at best can be described as uninformed.
For example, a poster who so courageously identifies him- or herself as "Anonymous" charges the accuser with being an opportunistic liar -- even though Attorney General Roy Cooper's investigation found that the woman apparently believes many of the stories she's been telling. Cooper's decision not to press charges against the accuser was based on a review of sealed court files, including records of the woman's mental health history -- a decision that the defense attorneys say they agree with.
Clearly, Cooper and the defense attorneys know what they're talking about. What makes Anonymous thinks he or she knows better?
Anonymous further writes:
If she was deserving of sympathy then she would be in a mental hospital which she was not [and] is not, therefore spare me your tears.
Actually, the woman was hospitalized for a mental breakdown the year before the fateful lacrosse party took place. She also sought treatment for bipolar disorder and took anti-psychotic medication. Given the general shambles that North Carolina's mental health system finds itself in, it's no wonder that people in need of services sometimes go without.
The fact is, police officers and district attorneys occasionally face psychologically unstable accusing witnesses. That's why it's part of their duties to carefully evaluate witnesses before moving forward with a case. If they fail to do that, it is their failure -- not that of the mentally impaired accuser.
Then we have the comments of one "Robert," who charges that calling the accuser a "victim" of Nifong as we did is "pandering" to the African-American community.
Let's begin by examining the dictionary definition of the word "pander":
1. To act as a go-between or liaison in sexual intrigues; function as a procurer.
2. To cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses: "He refused to pander to nostalgia and escapism" (New York Times).
It seems to us that the "pandering" that occurred in this case was done by Nifong. It was he who exploited the weaknesses of a mentally unstable young woman to build a case that furthered his political ambitions.
Furthermore, we clearly implied in the post to which Robert refers that the three exonerated players were also Nifong's victims. By doing that, are we "pandering" to the white community?
Nifong's malfeasance and incompetence wrecked the lives of four young people. Three of them happened to be white and affluent and mentally healthy. One of them happened to be black and poor and mentally unhealthy. While there are many things that divide the accused and the accuser in this case, at least one thing unites them: their unconscionable treatment by a rogue prosecutor.
Then we have the incendiary and ill-informed comment of yet another brave "Anonymous" who uses the Duke rape case as an occasion to excoriate civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for "screaming about their 'beautiful black ladies' being raped by 'massa.'"
In fact, Sharpton was not personally involved in the Duke rape case at all -- unless you count the charge by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh that Sharpton was "trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team supposedly, you know, raped some, uh, hos." Limbaugh apologized for that remark after being taken to task by his own listeners.
Jackson's only involvement in the case was to offer the woman a scholarship so she wouldn't be forced to work as a stripper and escort to continue her education at N.C. Central -- an offer reportedly made unnecessary by the fact that the woman earned a scholarship on her own with a 3.0 grade-point average.
Perhaps this Anonymous is confusing Sharpton and Jackson with the leaders of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a militant black nationalist group that in the spring of 2006 held an angry rally outside Duke's gates at which participants demanded the players' convictions.
To those of us who take a more skeptical view of prosecutorial claims based on a long history of attempts to railroad innocent suspects, it was apparent that the New Black Panthers were yet one more party rushing to judgment in a case fraught with complexity. It's a shame the NBPP's actions played into the hands of white reactionaries who would use the outcome of this case to cast doubt on our nation's long and tragic history of sexualized violence against black women in the service of white supremacy.
And make no mistake about it: African-American women do have a long and not-so-distant history of suffering rape and sexual abuse by "massa" -- and it's necessary to understand that in order to understand the reaction to the Duke rape charges by some in the black and progressive communities. As historian Danielle L. McGuire wrote in her article "'It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped': Sexual Violence, Community Mobilization, and the African-American Freedom Struggle," which was named one of the best American history essays of 2006:
Rape, like lynching and murder, served as a tool of psychological and physical intimidation that expressed white male domination and buttressed white supremacy. During the Jim Crow era, women's bodies served as signposts of the social order, and white men used rape and rumors of rape not only to justify violence against black men but to remind black women that their bodies were not their own.
Given that ugly and very real history, the least whites could do is show some forgiveness to those who still bear its scars and are consequently sensitive to fresh insults, real or perceived. Especially since white racism was a factor in the case, with lacrosse party-goers hurling racial epithets and a comment -- "Thank your grandfather for my white cotton shirt" -- designed to remind the black women dancers that their ancestors were enslaved.
The claims of some white reactionaries aside, the party who bears responsibility for the miscarriage of justice in the Duke lacrosse rape scandal is not a mentally unstable accuser. Nor is it the New Black Panthers or other black freedom advocates who mistakenly saw in this case historically well-grounded fears brought to life.
It's Mike Nifong.