The Duke Lacrosse Matter

James Duke statue. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Like many others, I lost track of the Duke lacrosse scandals once it became clear that the district attorney and the accuser were either not telling the truth or were deeply confused as to what that truth was. Last I heard of the matter, the state had dropped the charges and the students were starting to repair their reputations. I think I vaguely knew that civil suits were contemplated. Beyond that, I wasn't sure what happened.

The entire affair, however, is returning to the news thanks to William D. Cohan's The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Univerisites. Reviewing Cohan's book for the New York Times, Susannah Meadows recalls:

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When the story broke, it had plenty of salacious aspects. An African-American stripper had accused three white Duke lacrosse players of raping her at a party at which she and another woman had been hired to perform . . .

But the story turned out to be much more complex, a drama made rich by the characters’ apparent refusal to play their assigned roles. At the start, we heard that some of the lacrosse players (though not the ones who would be indicted) had yelled racial slurs at the two women that night and made threatening remarks . . . The accuser was a struggling single mother and a student at the historically black college across the tracks from Duke, a $44,000-a-year institution known as the gothic wonderland. But, in the end, there was no credible evidence of an assault: Did that make the privileged athletes the victims?

Meadows also notes the sad, unsettling fate of two of the main characters. Mike B. Nifong, the district attorney who originally brought the charges, was disbarred because of his misconduct in the case and (according to other reports) has filed for bankruptcy. The accuser, Crystal Mangum, was last year "found guilty of murdering her boyfriend and is serving a minimum of 14 years in prison."

Reflecting on those ominous facts and the aftermath of the entire matter, it's easy to find something to question or lament, some social or political angle to debate or criticize. It's a bizarre case, a toxic mix of some of the worst elements of human nature. I assume Cohan's book will dig through many of those points of contention. But as I sit here now and recall what happened, I can think only of a question onced posed by Wordsworth: "Have I not reason to lament / What man has made of man?"

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