Tawana Brawley, Redux
© 2006, Ross Williams
I'm starting to lose my faith in democracy. There's the two-party histrionics which obliges adherents of one party to declare in straight-faced prevarication that anything said by someone of another party is absolutely wrong regardless. We had the Republicans' "wag the dog" whining in 1998, and now we've got the Democrats' "WMD" panty-wetting now.
Intra-party politics is also rife with delusional manipulation of the public. A party primary race for district attorney is playing in the national media to nearly unanimous unfavorable reviews. It hardly matters which political party is embarrassing itself, since neither are above or beneath local self-stupidity. But, for the record, it's the Democrats, which should be fairly obvious from the demographics about to be described.
Raleigh-Durham North Carolina is a "working class" community where nearly half the population is black. The median income is modest, to say the least. It is also the home of Duke University, a prestigious campus which draws poorly from the local community due to its high tuition, but exceedingly well among the wealthy families of the east coast.
There has been historic tension between the locals and the learners, the "towns" and the "gowns" as they've called it. They don't like each other, they've tended to segregate themselves, and that's worked reasonably well.
Until late last month. The Duke University lacrosse team held an unofficial team party with booze and strippers. The booze was drunk, at least in part, underage. Both strippers were locals. Lacrosse is a sport which originated among the Iroquois indians of upstate New York and tends to be played by the males in upper-crust New England who would, were they working-class North Carolinians, play football instead.
The Duke U lacrosse team, apart from being largely snooty children of privilege, are doubly-damned since they are too good for the Dixie state religion of football. Let's just forget about the other Dixie state religion of NASCAR.
So the hoity-toity lacrosse team hired two local bimbos to come to their party, take off their clothes, and leave. And from most accounts, including all tangible and objective documentation, that's exactly what happened. A few accounts diverge wildly from that. Those few accounts are either personal and therefore subjective, or entirely hearsay … or bought. And the only reason we in southern Illinois, and you in where ever you are, are hearing about it is because a perfect political storm of self-seeking has converged upon the incident.
One of the two strippers claims to have been raped in a bathroom at the party by three members of the lacrosse team. The other stripper said "balderdash" [or words to that effect]. The entire lacrosse team said "balderdash" [or words to that effect]. Everyone at the party, or who visited the party, said "balderdash" [or words to that effect].
Except the one stripper. Who is black. In a town where almost half the population is black. She is making her accusation at a time when the prosecuting attorney is up for re-election against two Democratic party challengers who have accused the prosecutor of being "soft".
The strippers were there for around an hour and performing for much of that time – to the degree that disrobing to music is a performance. This is verified by time-dated digital photos taken during the party, the veracity of which is not being challenged. The “raped” stripper arrived "impaired" by her own admission, as well as by implication from the photographs. Somewhere during this hour she claims to have been dragged into the bathroom and raped by three men for half an hour.
Yet nowhere in the time-dated sequence is there a half-hour gap allowing such. She's photographed performing at shortly after midnight, one of her rapists is passed out at ten minutes after midnight, she's on the back steps looking bored before 12:30, she's lying down on the back steps at 12:35 with a cut on her foot and her ass, and what appears to be blood on the porch rail, and she gets in a car and leaves at 12:40. This is from the unchallenged photographic evidence. The other rapists left the party at 12:15 in a cab, stopped at an ATM, and arrived at their dorm about the time the stripper left the party.
Cabs are time-tracked. ATM transactions are time-tracked. No one is challenging these, either.
A gap does exist in the photographic time sequence; the last photograph of the “victim” for approximately a half hour is at a few minutes after midnight. She is performing. The next photograph of her is just before 12:30. She is outside, looking bored. In between these two photographs, the strippers themselves claim to have stopped performing and left the house, only to be cajoled back inside to continue stripping. There simply isn’t a half hour available for a rape. There isn’t even 15 minutes.
She was "raped in the bathroom" after performing but before leaving. By three men, one of whom was passed out and the other two who seemed to have gotten bored and left.
As soon as the claim of rape was made, investigators took DNA samples. No DNA from anyone at the party matches anything the stripper had on her. None.
The stripper claims to have been held captive in this bathroom – unlawful restraint or kidnapping – by these three men, one of whom was passed out and the other two who had gone home.
Most prosecutors would compile this objective evidence – the time-dated documentation from the digital photographs, the taxi dispatcher, the ATM, all of which corroborate each other – and match it up against the objective lack of DNA evidence and implausible course of events, and tell the woman, "Um, miss, that's an interesting story, but we're going to need something more to go on, here..."
Not this prosecutor at this time in this community.
This prosecutor, Mike Nifong, polluted the airwaves with around 70 press conferences in the days after the "rape" claiming first that it occurred and DNA would prove it, then claiming that DNA is unnecessary to prove it, that the lack of opportunity shown during the photo sequence is meaningless ... an entire laundry list of excuses why this rape at this time doesn't need to have evidence. His actual presence in the media, his media saturation, effectively tried the case in the press in a jurisdiction predisposed to bias against the putative rapists.
Can you say "prosecutorial misconduct"?
The challengers for his job are remaining silent. They cannot risk prejudicing themselves in the event that charges are upheld and they win the job and have to prosecute the case. One challenger is a deputy prosecutor and may get the case even if she doesn’t win the election. The townies seem to be in favor of prosecution – it is, after all, one of their own against three of the outsiders they don’t like and never have. And the townies got to listen to Nifong go on and on and on about how they don't need DNA to prove rape, how they don't even need to have time for the rape to occur to commit rape. He ought to know, he's a loyyer with a degree, and everything.
Now we hear that the second stripper at this party, Kim Roberts, also black, the one who said "balderdash" about the first stripper's claim of rape, and who is being separately prosecuted by Nifong for an unrelated embezzlement charge, was given a ... let's say "unusual" ... quid pro quo. In her embezzlement case the requirement for bond was suddenly and mysteriously dropped. Miss Roberts is now saying "why yes indeedy, a rape is definitely most likely."
I.e., eye-witness testimony bought and paid for.
Can you say "witness tampering"?
Let's add, in no particular order, the remaining inconsistencies – and let's be polite to Mr Nifong and only use the term "inconsistency" to describe them:
The stripper claims to have been injured during the course of the rape, to include bruises and cuts and losing artificial fingernails. Yet photographic evidence demonstrates that she arrived bruised and with missing fingernails, and didn't seem to get cut until sitting on the back porch railing a few minutes before she left;
Artificial fingernails were found in the bathroom, but it would require a time machine to have put them there after a rape subsequent to her performance during which she was missing those same artificial fingernails;
Only two of the three rapists have been formally charged because there doesn't appear to be enough evidence, in this evidence-less crime, to support charging a third;
The stripper claims to have been raped between performing and leaving; two of the putative rapists left before she did and during the middle of this rape. Yet both strippers admit to having returned to the party where one of them had just been raped, apparently to partake of the party;
It was after this second visit to the party – when the putative rapists were no longer there – that a cab driver overheard a black girl threatening to call police;
Kim Roberts called the police because she had been called a "damn nigger" at the party during the second visit. No one called the cops about a rape, no one even called the police about threatened broomstick sodomy – name-calling? “HELP!! Police!!”;
Kim Roberts paid no attention to any of the players at the party except "the little skinny one" who – and you can take my word for this – will be conspicuous in any crowd of typically-built male athletes;
Kim Roberts contacted a New York City public relations firm by email to learn "how to spin this to my advantage" and signed the email "the 2nd dancer".
This bizarre episode ought to have everyone's head reeling – on the assumption that one's head is filled with more than air. The stripper who was "raped" – while legally anonymous – is rumored far and wide to have had many, many brushes with the law, including auto theft and vehicular assault upon a cop. She is also rumored to have told acquaintances that “this is her chance”. She has children, and could easily lose those children to the state if caught leaving them unattended late at night while she was performing "indecent" acts and while "impaired".
Personally, I find stripping to be a noble undertaking, but then I might be prejudiced. Others, though, are quick to call it "indecent" and child welfare agencies are particularly tight-assed about that sorta thing. One of the cops arriving at the party after being called by Miss Roberts – who called the cops for being called a "damn nigger" – described the "victim" as being "a passed-out drunk". That’s a motherly image, ainnit?
...and her kids were ... where? She's got legal anonymity, so we are prevented from investigating her. We are left with speculation about her motivations for making a false allegation.
But the prosecutor, who knows who she is and her legal status, has an obligation under the law to prevent the law from being maliciously and fraudulently used by those who might wish to divert attention from themselves to another. A woman seeking to protect herself from having her children taken by the state might use the first opportunity to do exactly that.
A prosecutor who does not look into all possibilities isn't doing his job well, and may even be doing it wrong to the point of criminality himself. The bugaboos of prosecutorial misconduct, malicious prosecution and witness tampering remain visible.
So here's the most plausible explanation of the uncontested events:
Two strippers show up, strip, leave, figure out they may as well party with some guys who have free beer, and go back. They can ignore being threatened with sodomy by a broomstick; it was obviously a stupid frat-house joke, but when rich, white outsiders call them "nigger" a stripper calls the cops. The cops show up to break up the party and shoo everyone off home, and the first stripper gets spooked: "I've got a record; what if they ask about my kids?" and she cries "rape". She makes what are, at the time and on the surface, plausible claims: missing fingernails, bruises, cuts. She claims three rapists and identifies the three she can recall – including the "the little skinny one". Unfortunately, the three identified either left before the fictitious incident or were in no condition to perform the fictitious incident, but this doesn't surface until later.
Meanwhile, the claim hits the DA's desk in the morning; he is behind in the polls for the imminent primary election. He sees in this a serendipitous convergence of forces: he can make a name for himself among a large voting bloc without alienating many of the remaining voters. All he's got to do is prosecute the "rape" of a local black girl against her three out of town rapists. So he talks to the local media about it, and talks and talks and talks. Free political advertising.
One problem: Duke University isn't Bubba's College of Cosmetology. The university cancels the lacrosse season drawing national attention to what might otherwise fly under the radar. This attention is spurred on by Duke’s president issuing a mewling, simpering apology to the community for running a university that has tuition so high that only “privileged” rich kids can afford it. Yes, Mr Brodhead, you are forgiven for existing… now dry your eyes.
The DA sticks his neck out further and further by counting votes before they’re cast, and so makes incredible claim after incredible claim about the case. First, DNA evidence will support the case; then when none exists, it isn't necessary. Then the injuries support the case, and when they are found to pre-exist any “attack” they become irrelevant. Then the opportunity for a half-hour rape was there and when a half-hour can’t be found in the time-stamped photographs, it’s not needed to commit this gang rape. But through it all, he believes the stripper's story. Too bad it's only him and the stripper who do. Never mind, "the 2nd stripper" can be bought by dropping bond in her embezzlement case. There's now three.
And Jesse Jackson makes four; Jackson – like clockwork – has arrived in full armor upon his rainbow steed to denounce the objectification of women who must use their bodies in such a way just to put themselves through school. He has vowed to support the "rape" "victim" even if – and what are the odds of this? – her claim should prove false.
The second stripper, for her part, found herself playing the role of the fifth wheel on this out-of-control car wreck, and is going along with whatever she needs to in order to grab whatever she can out of it. Basking in the glow of reflected glory is better than not basking at all. Just ask Homer Simpson.
I have no prediction on the outcome of the prosecutor’s election. My feeling is that if Nifong loses, his successor will look at the evidence in the case and conclude that only a jury of imbeciles could return with a guilty. Nifong’s successor will drop the charges. But my feeling is that Nifong played enough race cards that he stands a good shot at winning. Apparently, the area is known as a death valley for Republicans – they can only be found hiding under rocks – and the winner of the Democratic primary is de facto winner in the general election. If Nifong wins, he’ll probably prosecute the case to save face.
And lose. Badly. Even money, he’ll lose on procedural games: “Yeronner, the defense moves to dismiss charges on the ground that they’re ludicrous…” “The court agrees; case dismissed.”
He’s sufficiently poisoned the local community with his free political advertising press conferences; no untainted jury could be found within a hundred miles. Put this case with this evidence before a jury of unbiased North Carolinians, …
The individual citizens involved in this amorality play might be forgiven their self-service, most humans rarely lift their noses above their own circumstances long enough to notice anything going on around them. But Nifong is supposed to know better. He is supposed to be impartial until presented with all the evidence; he is supposed to apply healthy skepticism to any claims made – if he has to bend himself into pretzels to rationalize the objective evidence, then what is any jury going to think? Is a re-election that important to him that he is willing to prostitute his office and ruin several lives in order to get it?