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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The other shoe

The other shoe finally dropped on Mike Nifong last week when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all remaining criminal charges against three Duke University lacrosse team members resulting from a team party last year in the Trinity Park neighborhood of Durham.

Durham DA Nifong is taking most of the heat as a result of his poor, possibly criminal decision making in the early days of the case. I feel personally let down by Mr. Nifong, whose handling of the case i defended numerous times in comments on this and other blogs.

If Nifong's got a case, he's obligated to pursue it. Since he's pursuing it, he must have a case, and we're obligated to allow justice to be done. At least that was my line of reasoning up until very recently, when it became apparent that our DA was pursuing charges that simply couldn't be made.

But unlike so many other commentators, i'm not quite willing to make the Duke University men's lacrosse team of 2006 out to be a bunch of heroes and martyrs for men's rights and other favorite conservative causes. (And no, i'm not going to give you a bunch of links to show what i'm saying. You've got google. Use it.)

What so many people seem to forget, is that based on the undisputed facts of the case, as well as the history of the Duke men's lacrosse team, we're not exactly dealing with a group of heroic young men.

Who can forget, for example, Ryan McFadyen's email, sent shortly after the stripper party, on a university email account:

"Tomorrow night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over," the message read. "However there will be no nudity. i plan on killing bitches as soon as the walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off."

The message goes on to read that he would find the act sexually gratifying.

McFadyen was allowed to continue pursuing his education at Duke. As i noted at the time, there isn't a corporation in the US that would have kept someone on the payroll if they used company email to post a message with such language. And i'm pretty sure that if someone were to write something like that on Facebook or MySpace, and high school or university administrators learned about it, they'd be forced to take disciplinary action, if only to protect their own sorry asses from the inevitable lawsuits they'd be exposing themselves to. (Discerning readers will recall that it was the publication of McFadyen's email that was the precipitating event in both Coach Pressler's "resignation" and the cancelling of the 2006 Duke lacrosse season.)

A lot of people tried to make the case stand for larger issues of racial, gender, and class politics that the United States has, to be honest, never fully confronted. At least in my lifetime. Generally, i've argued against that interpretation, and i still believe that, in its essence, this was a case about one woman and a small group of men. But to the extent we're going to use it as a jumping off point for discussions about gender and privilege, i think that McFadyen's email, and Duke University's subsequent response, marks the point at which social privilege becomes more than an abstract concept.

Throughout last April, i criticized University President Brodhead for what struck me as double dealing, saying one group of platitudes to the Durham community, and another to his alumni supporters and financial contributors. Now, those supporters are criticizing Brodhead and his administration heavily for abandoning his student-athletes and caving to unwarranted community pressure.

Frankly, although i think Brodhead's actions last year were always a day late and a dollar short, i'm happy to see him try to justify himself to this particular group. As i mentioned earlier, the undisputed facts of the case (the Duke lacrosse team, living in a house off-campus, had a late night team party featuring strippers and alcohol served to underage team members) required a certain amount of action which Brodhead was reluctant to take. Instead, he continually referred to himself as being on a par with "other Durham leaders" such as Mayor Bell and NCCU Chancellor Ammons, thanking them for their actions in maintaining calm and restraint.

On one Duke related listserv, several posters react to a comment by Duke adminstrators that the 3 exonerated defendants were "not choirboys" by asking why should Duke be in the habit of recruiting choirboys for its male student-athletes?

As a Durham community member, something which i suspect most of the folks posting to these listservs are not, let me tell you what i think.

Nobody expects Duke to recruit 19 year old choirboys. In fact, if you're going to keep your student athletes on campus (along with the rest of their cash, the spending of which in the community seems to be such a difficult concept for Duke to endorse) none of us really give a fuck who they are or how they behave. Once they move into town, even if it's only on Buchanan St. just a couple of dozen feet from the mortared stones that metaphorically separate Duke from the real world, there's a bit of awareness about responsibility to the community we expect them to have acquired. But in case they haven't, here's a few behavioral tips for getting along with your new neighbors.

First, don't piss in the neighbors bushes at 3 am when you're stumbling up the block after a party. Whether you hired strippers to perform there or not.

Pick up your empties. We have recycling trucks and trash pickup in town. They come by once a week.

Your neighbors' lawn furniture and outdoor lights belong to them. Leave them where they are.

Drive the speed limit.

Baby oil is for diaper rash. Mud is for wrestling.

Durham is full of Duke alumni who fell in love with this town during their college years and figured out a way to stay here after graduation and earn a living. There's even more students who have managed to contribute, via any number of programs, to raising the quality of life in Durham by giving of their time and talents. Moronic members of the Duke community who view Durham as their litterbox, and their supporters both online and in the real world, do more damage to their university's reputation than even the most bull-headed administrators.

I'm glad this case is over, frankly. The only good thing we can say about is that we'll be spared the crushing spectacle of a Court-TV summer with daily commentary by Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck.

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  • Nice epilogue, or at least I hope it's an epilogue. If the Duke players start suing, we'll start seeing Nancy Grace again.

    ABC's Terry Moran blogs some sentiments similar to yours

    By Blogger toastie, at 1:24 PM  

  • thanks, t.

    some of those commenters over at Moran's place must have spent the last 13 months on another planet.

    i certainly don't recall Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson coming to Durham to lead the cause.

    i think we did a commendable job of dealing with this as a Durham problem. Wrapping it up, and that includes figuring out what to do about Mike Nifong, is a Durham problem as well. Not a racial or class problem, although it's impossible to understand this case without a complete understanding of what racial, gender, and class politics actually are in this country, but Durham's problem to solve.

    And we will.

    And God help Dick Brodhead the next time he claims to be a Durham leader.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 2:09 PM  

  • I'm not getting the swipe at Brodhead, Barry. What do you mean?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:49 PM  

  • Brodhead said a number of idiotic things last year, which showed to me that he was indecisive, unclear on his responsibilities, and otherwise lacking in qualities we'd expect to see in a leader.

    Ultimately, he made what i thought was the right decision to fire Coach Pressler, who appeared to have lost control of his team (well, coach P. "resigned", but i think you know what i mean) and cancel the lacrosse season. My point all along was that having a team party involving underage drinking and sexual entertainment were serious enough breaches of university policy to merit that decision, regardless of whether or not a sexual assault had taken place.

    I had a particularly nasty reaction to a public statement that Brodhead made at one point in the case. See my posts from 18 April and 19 April of last year.

    Brodhead made a condescending remark thanking "other Durham leaders," notably Mayor Bell and NCCU Chancellor Ammons, for their roles in keeping tensions low.

    I did some research, and as it turns out, of the 36 Duke University trustees who elect the University President, exactly one has a residence in Durham.Brodhead is not a de facto leader of Durham, although his position gives him the ability to become one. In my opinion, however, he's not much of a leader of anything. And if he has to squirm because the conservatives who make up much of Duke's financial base are unhappy with the way he handled the case, i don't feel the least bit sorry for him, even if i think their position is ultimately mistaken.

    And like i say, if he makes a public pronouncement again where he claims membership in the group of "Durham leaders," i intend to call him on it, loudly and in as many venues as i can find. The man has less of a relationship with Durham than do most of his incoming freshman.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 10:14 PM  

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