Nifong disbarred, but has justice been done?
After a dramatic ethics hearing featuring emotional testimony from one of the three Duke University students wrongly accused of rape last year, Durham North Carolina district attorney was disbarred this weekend. Nifong's critics are celebrating, and everyone is looking to the larger lessons of the incident. But a round-up of blog posts on the story make it clear that there is no consensus on just what those larger lessons are.
Michele Alexandre at Blackprof.com expressed "utter bewilderment":
Defense Attorneys are constantly combating the manipulative actions of prosecutors and police officials in cases involving non-white accused. One can collect a seemingly incessant stream of narratives from defense attorneys describing the deliberate use of planted evidence or false testimonies by prosecutors against poor defendants of color. Where is the massive, rich conglomerate that will stand up against those manipulating forces and disbar those prosecutors?
Many of the blogs Iâ€™ve read make this a conservative versus a liberal issue. I donâ€™t understand that. It has to do with justice, honesty, decency and the integrity of our judicial system. I would think all Americans would want our system to work for equal justice for all. It SHOULDNâ€™T be a race issue - either way.
Jeralyn also points out that a lot of other people are victims of prosecutorial misconduct too:
While many, and perhaps most prosecutors don't cheat and lie, Nifong is not the only one. This happens to many defendants all over the country who don't have the resources for top-flight lawyers who will fight for them to the end.
She also points to this chart which features an overview of the problem on a national level.
I was glad to see Jeralyn's post, because one of the things I wondered is how often a prosecutor is punished when people are found to have been wrongfully accused or convicted. I think that would make for a very interesting piece of investigative journalism.
While many expect Nifong to have further legal troubles, others are attacking the 88 Duke faculty members who circulated a flyer last year saying that the incident highlighted a social disaster at the university. The flyer features quotes from students talking about the racial climate on campus. It said,in part:
"We are listening to our students. We're also listening to the Durham community, to Duke staff, and to each other. Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment's extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday...."
Although the flyer makes no claims either way, Dr. Melissa Clouthier thinks that it promoted a presumption that the accused lacrosse players were guilty of rape:
Who knew that urbane writers like Duff Wilson and elite educators like the Duke 88 could be made to look so foolish. The self-deception Mike Nifong indulged, the media and most of the academy indulged in, too. And still, like Nifong, no humility, no grace--not even from Nancy Grace the supposed champion of victims.
However, the flyer itself and interviews with those faculty members who have spoken out publicly make it clear that they did not presume either way about the guilt or innocence of the accused players.
Rather, they were trying to draw attention to larger issues surrounding race, rape and masculinist culture. It's an effort that Duke faculty members such as Mark Anthony Neal have been engaged in for years. If you read Neal's work, what you find is a concern for creating a culture in which men and women treated each other with mutual respect.
Given the outcome of this incident, that larger conversation seems likely to be derailed for some time.