Friday, April 28, 2006

Duke's Tawana Brawley

Everyone remembers the story of New York teen Tawana Brawley who made racially charged accusations that she was raped by six cops and left for dead. And she made good money off of the story, per the linked article. But the legal system didn't believe her. The story didn't add up, and the political angle just added that extra taint to make the story incredible.

Fast-forward to 2006. Three Duke lacrosse players have been charged with raping a stripper at a party. They were accused of hurling racial epithets at her, beating her and robbing her. From the other side of things, there are reports that she agreed to have sex with one of the players, who offered her $300 to do it, but when she didn't follow through and the player demanded his money back, she refused and demanded $1,500 or she would report a rape. Two separate sets of allegations--neither compatible with the other.

In the practice of law, there is an old saying: There are three sides to every story--your side, my side, and the truth. And I think that among these allegations, there exists some scintilla of the truth, but I think that most of it is sensationalized stupidity.

The rape claim is beginning to unravel just like the Brawley case. From allegations of inconsistent statements/unmade accusations by the accuser at critical junctures to independent accounts (HT RealClearPolitics on both) that several of the accuseds were nowhere near the scene at the time of the alleged act, the accusations seem more and more curious. Add to that the fact that this accuser made a similar accusation 10 years ago, and has a recent criminal past.

The past allegations may tend to show that this person is a chronic wolf-crier, which might have a small impact on the strength of her claims. But the issue of past crimes is highly relevant. If one has a history of committing what are known in the practice as "infamous crimes" which involve theft, fraud, embezzlement, perjury, conspiracy to commit crimes, etc., what I like to call "crimes of sneakiness", that person's testimony in court can be impeached by showing that they have a history of untrustworthy behavior.

And speaking of trustworthiness, the validity of this woman's claims has not been helped in the court of public opinion by the presence of the near automatic credibility-destroying involvement of Jesse Jackson. Upon entering any kind of fray like this with an black alleged victim and white alleged perpetrators, the sympathy for the accuser is almost always immediately diminished, as the Rev. Jackson is the king of the racial shakedown. He is not interested in justice, but rather, money. And it often takes a big check--payable to him or one of his charity fronts--to make that guy go away, lowering the "justness" of the accuser's cause to that of Jackson's.

And if that was where the problems ended for the accuser, that would be enough, but one of the biggest problems for the case is the guy prosecuting it. Michael Nifong is the local state's attorney, and is in the re-election race of his life. He looked to be dead before this scandal, but now is pushing this case in the most indiscreet manner possible in order to generate support among the people of Durham. For a bit of perspective, Duke is not loved in Durham. So any effort to make life more difficult for it plays well among the locals. Nifong is simply stirring the voters in his direction. But to vigorously and belligerently push a prosecution based on questionable facts simply because race is involved and because the Defendants are part of a disfavored organization in a transparent attempt to get votes on the eve of a tight election calls into question the prosecutor's ethics and sullies whatever remaining image of justice this whole proceeding may have had.

And while we are on the topic of ulterior motives and ethics, the other stripper has had a recent epiphany when it comes to what she believes took place on that night. She initially did not take the story seriously. But given that she has an open issue or two of her own with the Durham prosecutors, she offered to help, and even e-mailed a PR firm in New York to ask how she can best spin this for her own self interests. She openly states that she intends to profit from it. Take from that what you will.

And while I find the accusations against the lacrosse players increasingly suspect with each new report, to the point that I now believe that the charges are probably bogus, I am not going to argue that the students are angels either.

Throwing an out-of-control party with strippers and alcohol flowing freely is not the behavior of responsible or moral individuals. And it had been a matter of concern for some time that the Duke lacrosse team partied a little harder than they should. It was the responsibility of the coach to get his players under control and to establish consequences for poor conduct. He didn't, and the school now has this as the fallout. They lost their lacrosse season--the whole reason some of these kids chose Duke as their college. Which means that because the actions of a few, the many are punished. And it will be a very expensive lesson for Duke and other institutions that the party scene needs to be brought under control.

And with respect to the individuals involved, Collin Finnerty one of the accused lacrosse players is now facing older charges in D.C. for assault. So he is also not the kind that a mother wants her daughter bringing home.

I think the net is that a group of morally and ethically challenged people willingly met together in an environment conducive to debauchery and misogyny with one or both groups taking full advantage of the opportunities for selfish gain that were presented. The only problem is that one party is suffering because of the political nature of the other's charges, and because prosecuting such charges, regardless of merit, work to the benefit of an opportunistic local politician.

And if these charges are false, Duke has learned its lesson for failure to control its students' behavior, and a group of youths with execrable moral standards have learned that they cannot control their conseqences when they make dumb choices. But for the accuser and her witness who have made very serious and specific charges about which there really can't be much ambiguity, and for the politician who advanced them in order to survive an election, there needs to be a similar consequence.

Because the age of the Tawana Brawley racial shakedown needs to end, and there need to be consequences for those who make such socially devastating false accusations which follow people all their lives.


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