Prosecutorial Pandering Prevails


If there were any doubt before, the election of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong proves conclusively that pandering works, and that it works even better if you can exploit racial divisions to harm rather than heal. Nifong, of course is the prosecutor who has been hounding the Duke University lacrosse team despite mounting evidence that the case is actually another Tawana Brawley debacle. Ignoring an airtight alibi, persuasive photographic and documentary evidence and the absence of DNA, Nifong has continued to pursue a case he should have dropped before the complainant's criminal record, alcohol issues and prior claims of being gang-raped came to light. He didn't of course, because in a three way election in a community that is nearly 40 percent African American, he decided that hounding defendants was politically expedient. Sadly, it seems he was right about that.

The truth is that the Duke case, better than most any other one in recent memory illustrates in stark relief how political the criminal justice system has become and how the politics of prosecution have supplanted the quest for justice in courts around the country. It's sad, of course, that it takes the misalliance of innocent privileged white kids to be lined up against a shaky african american complainant to make this case so appealing to the general public. But it would be a terrible tragedy if the public went away without understanding the larger lesson here: that while dramatic, this isn't an isolated incident--it is standard operating procedure in a system whose ire is normally pointed at poor black kids, not privileged white ones. The Duke case merely illustrates just how hard it is for anyone--black or white to get a fair shake in the criminal justice system, once an accusation has been made.

Of course, because of the racial makeup of the case, there will be a tendency to see this as an isolated case to be understood in it's own term rather than as an object lesson in criminal justice. White people would be wise to look beyond the guilt or innocence of these defendants and understand just how often poor black defendants are treated just as badly or worse in our system of justice, and black people might take a moment to question the wisdom of lining up behind the same prosecutors who are driving a racially unbalanced criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates their children.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This seems like a really rational and balanced point of view. It's sad though. I would think that most people want to believe the poor victim because you just know she's had a hard time. She's probably not lying about her entire experience. And she probably doesn't think that her version of events is a lie. The fact that compassion for victims often outweighs compassion for accused people in our zeitgeist is sad, too. Well, of course, it's doubtful if Nifong is motivated by compassion at all, but maybe he justifies it to himself that way.