Monday, March 14, 2016

Minimization of Blame and the Duke LAX Fiasco

Fantastic Lies, an extended treatment of the Duke Lacrosse (LAX) rape allegation, debuted Friday, March 11, 2016 at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin. It aired on ESPN last night, Sunday, March 13, 2016. The film was recently reviewed by Christina Cauterucci at Slate. Her review, and point of view on the case itself demonstrate the minimization which provided cover for the false accusation, and the eerily similar accusation later made at the University of Virginia (UVA).

Cauteruccci does not attempt to mask her distain for the Duke Lacrosse players:
Even so, it’s a bizarre experience to watch a documentary that expects the viewer to root for a bunch of accused rapists.
                                                        *   *   *   *   *
But the underdogs who eke out a well-deserved win in this sports flick are actually a bunch of wealthy white guys who ended up with multimillion-dollar settlements from Duke and jobs in investment banking.
Cauterucci must have forgotten these men suffered the modern equivalent of being publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered before a live audience. They were abandoned by their school, their criminal justice system and a judgmental public unwilling to give them any sort of benefit of doubt.

That they were white athletes enrolled at a exclusive university is what MADE the story newsworthy. They deserved every penny they leveraged from a university that could not be bothered with any semblance of due process in shunning them like lepers in a pell mell expulsion from Duke.

Additionally, Cauterncci cannot bring herself to point a finger of blame at the person, more so than Nifong, who deserves it most: The accuser, Crystal Mangum. Instead Cauterncci writes Mangum "still maintains she was assaulted." hyperlinking to another story dated March 10, 2016 by Jessica Luther in Vocativ entitled "'I'm Broken': The Duke Lacrosse Rape Accuser 10 years Later.

In that piece, Luther writes:
Mangum also doesn’t believe she is to blame for the second degree murder of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, for which she was convicted in 2013. The state, she said, has 'not [been] sympathetic to my experience of violence and the things that I’ve been through.'
That is possible given her past relationship with the law. It’s also possible that she’s in prison for defending herself against an abuser—a phenomenon that disproportionately affects women of color. It’s also possible that the jury simply believed the evidence against her was worthy of a conviction. 
If Mangum has taught us nothing else about the judicial system, she has taught us how murky it can be.
The criminal justice system CAN be murky. These three paragraphs, however, are breathtaking bunk. There IS murkiness inhabiting the criminal justice system, but this is not an example of it. Instead, this case is stark: Magnum lied. Nifong abused power. The media rushed to judgment.

Neither are Luther, the documentary, or Cauterncci willing to unleash their collective fury at the most culpable person in the entire sorry affair: Mangum. Instead, writers like Cauterncci are complicit in minimizing Mangum's blameworthiness by wallowing in red herrings:
One [non-accused Duke Lacrosse player] did write an email less than an hour after the alleged attack that said, at the next party with strippers, “I plan on killing the bitches as soon as the[y] walk in and proceding to cut their skin off while cumming in my duke issue spandex.” Nifong and his enablers did the three indicted players a grave injustice, but it’s hard to muster a full 90 minutes of righteous anger on their behalf.
The email of which she writes has nothing to do with Magnums false accusation. Nifong did the three men accused a grave injustice. Mangum did a greater one. She knew it was false. She accused innocents of raping in an attempt to cover up her own sorted behavior And yes, Ms. Cauterncci, I can muster righteous anger for anyone publicly drug through the sewerage of being wrongly accused of rape.

Cauternc cannot help but quote directly from Luther's piece, which essentially argues the case has resulted in the tar and feathering of sexual violence victims:
Today, someone need only say the word 'Duke' in a discussion about sexual violence and for all listening it invokes the specter of a false accuser who cries rape and ruins the lives of innocent men. The case is mentioned during sexual assault trials by defense attorneys whenever they can manage to work it in; a mere mention of 'Duke Lacrosse,' even if ultimately objected and sustained, plants a seed of doubt in the jury’s mind about the victim’s credibility. 
Magnum's accusation was not about "sexual violence." It was instead about false accusation. More important, any good criminal defense lawyer will use the Duke Lacrosse case for reasons having nothing to do with sexual assault. I use it, for example, to illustrate to jury panels how the Presumption of Innocence is easy in the abstract, but much more difficult to follow in practice.

Cauterncci's story ends ironically, without realization that her ilk's minimization of Magnum's misdeeds is just the kind of thing that lead to the erroneous Rolling Stone story "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Erdely, concerning a false accusation of a gang rape at UVA a decade later.
Instead, the case should be a reminder of the danger of hanging all hopes for race, gender, and class restitution on a perfect story that might not hold up. “Every person with every agenda wanted it to be true,” says the mother of indicted player Reade Seligmann in the film. Thanks to the bungled misdeeds of a media-happy district attorney with an eye on his own reelection campaign, they got no catharsis—they got scammed.
Instead, false accusations of rape will happen again in no small part due to the minimization illustrated by Cauterncci and Luther. It will happen again in a context that will illustrate not  the murkiness of the criminal justice system, but the murkiness of university disciplinary due process.

No comments:

Post a Comment