As someone who leans in the liberal direction, I might have been put off by the inflammatory subtitle of this book (“Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case”), but since a good friend recommended it, I decided to pick it up. On the one hand, I’m glad I did. On the other hand, the story is so disturbing that I almost want to cancel my subscription to the New York Times.
If you didn’t follow the Duke lacrosse rape case as it was ongoing in 2006-7—or even if you did—you probably were not aware of the facts of the case. I say, “even if you did” because although District Attorney Mike Nifong spent considerable time on TV talking about the case, it turns out that most of what he said was untrue. It was true that the boys hosted a stripper party (which of course was a bad idea and contributed to the narrative that they were “hooligans”), but other than that, Nifong told numerous lies and fanned racial tensions in Durham, where he hoped to win black votes in his upcoming election by supporting the fraudulent claims of an African-American woman (I say “claims” because she repeatedly changed her story and in fact only said she’d been raped when threatened with being involuntarily institutionalized). In the end, Nifong was disbarred and removed from office for his unethical actions.
If, like me, you’re inclined to trust prosecutors (thinking, Why would they bother if they didn’t have a case, when there are so many other crimes to deal with? They must have enough evidence if they’re going to spend all of this time and money…), and if you’re inclined to be sympathetic to women who are brave enough to assert that they have been raped, then when you heard what Nifong said, you probably believed that these three lacrosse players were guilty. And the biased, inaccurate coverage in the New York Times (among other newspapers) would have led you to that same conclusion.
This book examines the rush to judgment, abuse of power, and toxic academic culture that milked the story for ideological purposes, and it is quite unsettling. Reade Seligmann, one of the accused players, said, “If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they would do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to step back from this case and learn from it.”
Indeed. We cannot undo the past. But we ought to at least learn from it.