Duke Lacrosse and the Presumption of Guilt

By now everyone knows about the Duke lacrosse rape case. In fact, I don’t think most people can hear or say the words without immediately being brought back in time to 2007 and the turmoil that surrounded that time. I was brought back to that nightmare scene the other night by virtue of watching the Duke 30 for 30 on ESPN “Fantastic Lies.”

Fantastic Lies were indeed what the case consisted of, many of them from prosecuting D.A. Mike Nifong. Nifong withheld DNA evidence exonerating the players on trial, and did innumerable other things equally sickening. He was eventually disbarred but he was just one of many to have their life turned upside down by this case. The Durham police were equally egregious in their idiocy, giving accuser Cristal Mangum a photo lineup containing only Duke lacrosse players, among other things. This is illegal, by the way. Two Durham police detectives also had wildly inconsistent notes regarding the case. One of which, Mark Gottlieb, who had a history of targeting Duke students and arresting them for ridiculously inane things, later committed suicide possibly proving he had a conscience.

Of all the facts and speculation in the case, I’m the most surprised about what didn’t happen. I rarely caught myself thinking about the case over the years, but when I did, it was jarring and always left me in a funk. The thought of college students having their lives and reputations irreparably damaged at such a young and vulnerable age always built up a rage inside of me. Sure, they were rich and privileged lacrosse players at an elite university. And sure, lacrosse players can kind of be total dicks (around the time I was in college UMass lacrosse players took a liking to assaulting partygoers with beer bottles and their lacrosse sticks). But above all else, they were people. Perhaps more importantly they were kids. Kids caught in a whirlwind of race and class, unbeknownst to them. In hindsight, their worst move wasn’t throwing the party itself. It was in bringing someone outside of their social class (the escorts) to their party, thus inviting the opportunity to be exploited.

They had their lives temporarily destroyed. The vast majority transferred. One player changed his name. But then something really interesting happened. Nothing. In the years since the scandal, I’ve often wondered what happened to the three accused. Sure, their names were cleared but that doesn’t change the fact that their names will still always be associated with the word rape. Specifically, I was curious about their job prospects, and for one reason or another I had never found anything. Until the documentary. Lo and behold, they’re all working in investment management or similar exclusive fields. I was shocked and maybe I shouldn’t have been. However graduating around the great recession with a rape charge associated with you? I don’t think I was that naïve. They very easily could’ve gotten lost in the shuffle.

Enough about that. The real story in this is more relevant now than ever. In the ultra “PC” culture we now live in, people get fired all the time because the public and not the employer, demand it. The media has more power than it ever has and now it’s even easier to see the Duke rape case happen again. It’d be far worse in the social media age. The case was at the dawn of online journalism being taken seriously. The most important lesson the 30 for 30 will teach you is to never let the media shape your ultimate opinion on any matter, from politics to a rape case. As can happen when we pay too much attention to the media’s opinion, the public made up their mind before the facts of the case came out. Oh, and for some reason, things tend to go awry when we decide people who we’ve never met committed heinous crimes.

And don’t let this sway your opinion of rape accusers. Roughly 8% lie about this sort of thing and it just so happens that every girl that has ever made a false rape claim gets a fair amount of attention while so many other rapes go unnoticed. In this case, the accuser was a single mother of two with a documented history of mental illness and a rap sheet. She is now in jail for murdering her husband.

You can take my word for it, or you can just watch it. Just watch it.



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