2006 was a year of many positive developments for our community. But it was also painfully dominated by the "Duke lacrosse case." What’s painful is not what others, outside this county and outside this state, have said about us. What’s painful is what the circumstances surrounding that case and our reactions to those circumstances say about us and about what we have not yet learned.
Emotion dominated the campaign for the election of District Attorney. Issues became lost in rhetoric. The election’s over. Let’s put aside rhetoric, examine the issues, and see what they say
about us and how we deal with each other.
- State in an interview before receiving results of DNA testing that a rape had occurred at the party;
- Give more than fifty interviews contributing to a continuing dialogue in the media about "the rape which had occurred" and presuming guilt of one or more of the players at the party;
- Characterize the party-goers as hooligans while an investigation into whether any crime had been committed was on-going;
- Seek indictments at a time when two photographic line-ups had failed to produce a positive identification of anyone as the perpetrator of a crime;
- Suggest that a line-up procedure be used which violated police department protocols;
- Seek an indictment of an individual when the identification was based upon "It looks like him, but without the moustache," when there never had been amoustache;
- Refuse to meet with defense attorneys to consider evidence tending to show one or more of those accused were not present at the time of the alleged crime;
- Never personally interview the complaining witness, the only eye-witness, to personally to assess believeability and credibility;
- Enter into an agreement with the director of a laboratory that potentially damaging information revealed by DNA testing be left out of the official report of the laboratory findings;
- And more.
Be honest. If those things had happened, under those circumstances, would the Committee on the Affairs of Black People have supported ANYONE BUT'S actions? Would the People’s Alliance have supported ANYONE BUT’S candidacy because "though he had made those mistakes, he was otherwise running the D.A.’s office well"? Would the Friends of Durham have stood by silently and taken no position on who should become the next elected District Attorney? The issue is not the lacrosse case. It’s the words and the action. The fact that it was Duke, that it was lacrosse, that the dancers were African-American are facts which, in fact, are not the issues which impact everyone in Durham.
The District Attorney’s responsibility is to search for justice. True justice is the same for everyone, regardless of race, sex, nationality, socioeconomic status and every other characteristic or trait which makes one human being different from another. I have heard people say that the "system" is different depending on who you are and where you come from. Is that just the way it’s going to be in Durham? We have a right to demand more. Shouldn’t we demand more? Aren’t we entitled to honesty, integrity, fairness and good judgment? Shouldn’t we demand a search for truth and not just a search for convictions?
If you care about Durham and the people who live here, demand more. Listen to what "persons in power" say. Watch what they do. Judge every word. Judge every action. One case or one thousand cases, it doesn’t matter. If there is no fairness, no justice, for one segment of our population, then we have no reason to believe that there will be fairness or justice for any other segment of our population. In fact, those who are most vulnerable should be most concerned. This isn’t just about judging the words and actions of the District Attorney. This is about judging the words and actions of every single person with any role in government who is in a position to affect your life.
How should we judge in Durham? The answer to that question is really not difficult. The real question, though, is will we ever learn how to judge in Durham? I hope so, but it won’t happen until we get beyond artificial racial issues and attitudes, demand fairness and justice for all and judge based upon the color of one’s blood rather than the color of one’s skin.