April 18, 2007
Our justice standard has to apply to all Americans
Ruben Navarrette, West Central Tribune
SAN DIEGO - For months, something has nagged at me about the Duke lacrosse
rape case. Now that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has closed
the case and declared the accused - David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin
Finnerty - innocent, it's time to put my concerns on the table.
This case struck a nerve with many Americans, and understandably so. When
three young men are accused, arrested, paraded in handcuffs before the TV
cameras, vilified in the media to the point where they receive death threats
- all for a crime they didn't commit - it amounts to a travesty of justice
that can't be tolerated.
And yet more tragic stories with more severe consequences - where innocent
people aren't just wrongfully accused but tried, convicted and incarcerated
- are often greeted with a shrug. Oh, many of us may have been shocked the
first time we read about how an innocent person - usually, according to the
statistics, an African-American man - was released from prison after a
decade or two, thanks to DNA evidence. But as these cases became more
common, I dare say that many of us stopped being shocked and became immune.
But there is still much to be shocked about. Consider the case of James
Giles, an African-American who was cleared this month in Texas of a 1982
rape for which he served 10 years in prison. The New York-based Innocence
Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at
Yeshiva University, presented new evidence showing that Giles was not
guilty. In the last six years in Dallas County alone, Giles is the 13th
person proved innocent through DNA testing.
The Giles case was just another day at the office for the Innocence Project,
which used DNA evidence to exonerate 198 people in 31 states and the
District of Columbia over the last 15 years. Fourteen of the innocents were
on death row, and 70 percent were minorities.
These cases are disgraceful, and Americans should never be resigned to
accepting them. Every time we hear that an innocent person - no matter what
his station in life - was unjustly deprived of liberty, we should holler.
Now, thanks to the Duke case, a lot of folks who aren't used to thinking
about things such as prosecutorial misconduct or wrongful imprisonment have
learned to holler. Indeed, many observers - including those in the
buttoned-down conservative media who have in the past called for tougher
sentencing laws or an end to the victim culture - sound as if they're ready
to rip off their ties, file out into the streets and start chanting: "No
justice, no peace."
No one is hollering louder than right-wing columnist John Podhoretz, who
wrote a column savaging the black female accuser. Podhoretz called her a
liar and said that she had done a "monstrous thing." He also said the young
woman "should not escape the world's scorn because she is poor, or because
she is black" and insisted that "she does not deserve to lick the underside
of the shoes of hardworking and honest people of color and modest means who
somehow manage to get through life without attempting to destroy and defile
the lives of others."
Tough stuff. Some of the folks who called into radio shows in North Carolina
were just as tough, saying that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong
- who originally handled the case - should go to jail.
For white males in particular, the idea that other white males could be
arrested on bogus charges seems to be flat out unacceptable. The same goes
for middle-class parents, who fear that this sort of thing could happen to
their kids and they'd be powerless to stop it - well, maybe not completely
powerless as long as they could afford the best lawyers.
At least one of the Duke Three gets that, and - to his credit - he wants to
make sure the rest of us get it as well.
"Many people across this country, across this state, would not have the
opportunity that we did, and this could simply have been brushed underneath
the rug just as another case and some innocent person would end up in jail
for their entire life," David Evans told a news conference after the charges
were dropped. "It's just not right."
You're right, David. It's not. And neither is the double standard we apply
as we decide which injustices we will tolerate and which we won't.
Source : West Central Tribune