Duke Lacrosse case; charges dropped but "Not Innocent"

Guest post by Kathleen A. Bergin, first appeared on Feminist Law Professors.

The disconnect between legal culpability and social responsibility simmers just below the surface of reporting on the Duke sex scandal. In The Duke Assault Case: A Question of Race, CNN's January 16 special on Duke, co-hosts Paula Zahn and Howard Kurtz reminded viewers of the evidence that will be offered to exonerate the defendants if prosecutors take the case to trial: inconsistent victim statements regarding the number of assailants and nature of the assault; an alibi offered by one of the players that places him away from the scene of the crime; the lack of a DNA match to any of the players on the team. For Kurtz, this evidence sealed the case against the "accuser" whose racial identity he implied seduced reporters towards an interpretation of events that fit a familiar historical narrative - that of White men sexually exploiting Black women. Subsequent facts contradicted that script, and Kurtz offered these remarks in defense of the real "victims" marred by the scandal:
The Duke story was impossible for the media to ignore, but there was clearly a rush to judgment, which turned one woman's shaky allegations into a racially charged morality tale. By the time journalists woke up to the fact that there was little evidence against these three young men, their reputations had been blackened.
Kurtz's pitiful attempt to demonize the victim in this case - and through her all Black women - obscures the significance of other facts conspicuously left out of CNN's broadcast: (1) that team members called the two women "niggers" and "bitches"; (2) one threatened to rape them with a broomstick; (3) another spoke of hiring strippers in an e-mail sent the same night that threatened to kill "the bitches" and cut off their skin while he ejaculated in his "Duke-issued spandex;" and (4) one shouted to the victim as she left the team's big house, "Hey bitch, thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt." These facts are undisputed and highlight the sick and wretched depravity of this racialized episode. The parallels between present and past are simply too numerous to ignore in the perverted claim these pampered and privileged White elites laid to the body of a Black female sex-worker. Yet if history is our guide, Kurtz is probably right - the evidence will ultimately stack against the "accuser" in favor of the accused and culpable or not, these boys will be exonerated. If brought to trial, my bet is they will be found "not guilty." And yet, they are so far from "innocent." Linda Martin Alcoff offers more insight into the importance of narratives surrounding the Duke case here.

Hat tip to Amanda Marcotte.

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