Today is the 15th anniversary of Duke University’s suspension of its Lacrosse team in response to false allegations that members of the team committed a racist gang-rape of a black stripper. The gang rape turned out to be a hoax. But long after DNA evidence and cell phone records showed it was a hoax, the district attorney persisted in prosecuting team members. Progressive journalists and many self-styled “criminal justice reformers” defended the prosecutor, including the executive director of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.
As History.com notes, on this day in 2006:
Duke University officials suspend the men’s lacrosse team for two games following allegations that team members sexually assaulted a stripper hired to perform at a party. Three players were later charged with rape. The case became a national scandal, impacted by issues of race, politics and class. In April 2007, all charges against the young men were dropped due to lack of credible evidence and the district attorney was eventually disbarred for his mishandling of the case.
On March 13, 2006, the Duke lacrosse team held a party at an off-campus house and hired two strippers to perform. The following day, one of the dancers, Crystal Mangum, told police in Durham, North Carolina, that three white lacrosse players forced her into a bathroom and raped her. On March 23, the team’s 46 white members provided police with DNA samples and were photographed. On March 28, Duke suspended the team for two games; soon after, their coach was forced to resign and the school’s president cancelled the rest of the lacrosse season. On April 10, defense attorneys revealed that DNA test results showed no match between the players and the accuser. Nevertheless, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, who labeled the players “hooligans,” vowed to continue investigating the case. On April 17, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were charged with rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. On May 12, defense attorneys announced a second round of tests found no evidence of any player’s DNA on the accuser’s body or clothing on the night of the party. On May 15, a third lacrosse player, David Evans, the team captain, was indicted on charges of rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. All three players maintained their innocence and had cell phone records and time-stamped photographs to demonstrate they couldn’t have committed the crimes.
But leading journalists peddled the Duke Lacrosse rape hoax, long after it was disproven by concrete evidence. The defendants in the Duke lacrosse case, charged with an interracial rape, were vindicated by DNA evidence and declared innocent by North Carolina’s state attorney general. But even after the prosecutor was disbarred for misconduct and trying to frame the defendants, left-leaning journalists sought to rehabilitate him. When he faced disbarment, he was defended by self-styled criminal-justice “reformers” and “racial-justice” activists.
Amanda Marcotte, who has written for Slate, the Guardian, and other leading progressive publications, defended the hoax and the baseless prosecution even after ethics charges were brought against the prosecutor. She wrote that “people who defended the wrongly accused Duke students were ‘rape-loving scum.’” She complained about the charges being “thrown out,” sarcastically asking, “Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it?” There was never any real evidence of the alleged offense, but the New York Times’ Duff Wilson falsely claimed there was a considerable “body of evidence” against the accused players.
The woman who falsely accused the lacrosse players of rape — Crystal Mangum — later stabbed her boyfriend to death, and was convicted of murder for doing so.
In May 2006, the Durham Herald-Sun published an article by the NAACP’s Julius Chambers and former Princeton President William Bowen. Far from recognizing the falsity of the allegations, which had already been debunked by DNA test results, the article argued that Duke had not taken the allegations seriously enough. It made the pernicious, racially-prejudiced claim that the accuser’s claim should be given special weight because she was black and the accused were white. The Herald-Sun later published a May 12 letter from me taking issue with that claim, titled, “Leave Race Out of It.” But the paper removed most of my explanation for why the allegations were false. And neither it nor any of the other newspapers that implied that the accused were guilty ever apologized for leaving a misleading impression or jumping to conclusions.
Many “racial justice” activists and criminal-justice “reformers” never acknowledged that the prosecutor did anything wrong in continuing to bring an obviously baseless prosecution. That’s because the false accuser was a black woman, and the men she falsely accused were white and thus benefited from white privilege in the eyes of progressives. When I sent emails to progressive reporters warning them about weaknesses in the prosecution and citing evidence of the players’ innocence, they either ignored what I said or told me that I lacked racial sensitivity.
When the prosecutor, Mike Nifong, was about to be disbarred for his misconduct and utter dishonesty, the executive director of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, testified in his behalf. Nifong had “an excellent reputation for honesty and truthfulness in the community,” she claimed. It was his “duty” to try such cases, she said. Professor KC Johnson wrote that “the idea that the head of the executive director of the Innocence Commission” was “testifying for Nifong is extraordinary.” But her mindset was all too typical among racial-justice activists and criminal-justice “reformers.”