Christine Flowers, 3/18/2016 [Archive]

A Miscarriage of Justice at Duke

By Christine Flowers

The Scottsboro Nine, the 1931 story of black teens wrongfully convicted of rape because of their skin color, was the single greatest miscarriage of justice of the first half of the last century.

Which makes it ironic that, arguably, the single greatest miscarriage of justice of the new millennium again involved young men falsely accused of rape and shoved through the legal system by a wildly swinging political pendulum. I call them the Durham Three.

Ten years ago this week, three Duke lacrosse players were falsely accused of raping a woman they had paid to perform at an off-campus party. These were not choirboys. These were testosterone-saturated youths, eager to stick dollar bills into the G-string of a hired stripper.

But what they got in exchange for their efforts was a hellish trip into a world where prosecutors twist the truth for professional laurels, where professors defile their credentials and dishonor their alleged pursuit of "knowledge," where rape advocates see the phrase "due process" as an obscenity, and where the media don't care whom they destroy, as long as it fits into 3 1/2-minute soundbites.

The details of the Duke lacrosse scandal, which was triggered by that ill-fated beer party on March 13, 2006, in Durham, are now the stuff of legend. There is no doubt about what happened, no suspicions of lingering guilt or innocence, no unanswered questions. Those students were innocent of rape, "actually innocent" as the North Carolina attorney general later decreed.

The guilt lay with a prosecutor named Mike Nifong, who ignored evidence in his pursuit of a verdict against three affluent white boys. He was playing to an audience that was hungry for payback, could re-elect him to office and resented white kids with the shiny bank accounts.

The guilt also lay with academic leftists who sold their souls to a politically correct narrative of the oppressed minority woman, a black stripper now imprisoned for killing her boyfriend. This woman was, for them, a symbol of oppression, a precursor to the "Black Lives Matter" meme that has become ubiquitous. But besides race, what really fanned the flames in this whole debacle was a desire for payback.

I see Duke as much a function of the warped rape culture as I do a problem with race. I recently participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association called "From O.J. to Cosby: Race, Law and Media in the 21st Century." While I definitely think the Simpson case was all about race, I don't think it has the same sort of relevance in Bill Cosby's situation. To me, Cosby is more like Duke, where the overriding engine of the debacle is gender and the sense of getting justice for women by destroying men.

Sure, that might be an oversimplification. But Cosby is being accused by dozens of women of having raped them. The women are white, black, rich, poor, educated, and uneducated. The only thing they have in common is their accusation. And in this society, the accusation of rape is the one thing from which you can never recover, even if you are exonerated.

It is considered the most heinous of crimes, worse in some cases than murder. My good friend Sayde Ladov, a former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association who appeared with me on the panel discussion, made that point when she argued against statutes of limitations, saying some crimes, such as war crimes, are so horrific, there should be no statute of limitations. To Sayde, society and the system should always be open to hearing accusations of assault.

I respect her point, but disagree, because, unlike murder, rape is often subjective. It is he-said, she-said, and while in the past we have been unfair to women by not believing their stories, we have now come full circle to the other side - believing, often without nothing but a desire that it be true, that a man is a rapist.

That's what happened in Durham. Three young men who were white, rich and not exactly humble were labeled criminals. They were made into scapegoats for reasons similar to the reason those nine black boys in Alabama had their lives upended, destroyed and barely pieced together again: the suspension of the truth to advance an advantageous lie.

In the case of the Scottsboro Nine, it was the lie that poor itinerant black boys are animals.

In the case of the Durham Three, it was the lie that rich white college boys are animals.

And the pendulum keeps swinging.


©2016 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at

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