Duke Case Requires Patience, Not Rhetoric

Commentator John Ridley is critical of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson's offer to pay the college tuition of a woman who has accused several members of the Duke University lacrosse team of rape. The case has taken on strong racial overtones because the accuser is black, and almost all the members of the team are white. Ridley says Jackson should wait until the facts of the case are clear.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's an update on a story we've been following this morning. Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested today, and charged with rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. These charges come just over a month after woman who performed as a stripper alleged that she was attacked and raped at a teen party. NPR's Adam Hochberg has been covering this story, and joins us now.

And Adam, who are these suspects?

ADAM HOCHBERG reporting:

Well, we know a bit about them. We know that they are both 20 years old, and their names are Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. Mr. Seligmann is a sophomore at Duke. He's from Essex Falls, New Jersey. Mr. Finnerty, also a sophomore, from Garden City, New York. We know a little bit more about Finnerty. He has a previous run-in with the law. He was charged with assault in Washington, D.C. last year. And for that, he was ordered to perform community service work. Of course, the penalty for these alleged defenses could be much more serious.

INSKEEP: Adam, is it also correct that both of these young men are people who gave DNA samples, and authorities found that there was no DNA match with the victim?

HOCHBERG: That's correct. Every member of the team save one gave DNA samples. And as you say, the information from the state crime lab is that the DNA tests were, indeed, negative. But the district attorney in this case--the prosecutor, Mike Nifong in Durham County, North Carolina--says that that's not going to deter him from prosecuting this case vigorously. He says 75 percent of rape cases do not have DNA evidence, and he says he'll prosecute it, in his words, "the old fashioned way"--putting witnesses up on the stand, putting the victim, the alleged victim, up on the stand, and letting the jury decide what happened.

INSKEEP: What evidence is there?

HOCHBERG: We're getting very conflicting reports from both the prosecution and the defense about what the evidence is in this case. One thing that we know exists is a rape kit test that was performed at Duke University Hospital, in the hours after the alleged attack took place, and that test was performed by a nurse. It was looked at by a doctor, and it concluded that, indeed, this woman was sexually abused. The prosecutor has not spoken much more about other evidence that might exist in the case. Of course, we have the testimony from the alleged victim, who says that she was attacked in a bathroom at a house where a party was taking place. She says that three people attacked her. And, in fact, the district attorney is saying today that his investigation is not complete, and that there is still a chance that we will see another indictment for a third lacrosse player.

INSKEEP: Adam, thanks very much.

HOCHBERG: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Adam Hochberg, reporting this morning from Chappell Hill, North Carolina.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Duke campus and the house where the lacrosse team party took place have been the scene of almost daily protests. The accuser is black. The team members she says attacked her attacked her are white, and over the weekend, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson defended the woman and said that the group he leads would pay for her college tuition. In the first of two commentaries on the case, John Ridley says it might be a little early for Jackson to make such a pledge.

Mr. JOHN RIDLEY (Commentator): So through his Rainbow Push Organization, Jesse Jackson wants to front tuition money for the woman who was allegedly raped at a party thrown by the Duke University lacrosse team. That's admirable. Except with DNA tests returning negative, we don't really know yet if the woman was raped at the party, or if she just made up the whole thing. So offering to pay the woman's tuition, that's kind of premature.

Exactly what kind of statement is Jackson making by offering up money to an individual, who could at this point be the perpetrator of a crime, as much as the victim? In the lurid world of he said/she said, Jackson has a right to believe whomever he chooses. But does he have a right to attempt to sway public opinion with money donated to his charitable organization?

Jesse's action don't serve the case any better than Rush Limbaugh referring to the vic as a ho. The woman might be a stripper, but your 20 bucks a dance doesn't entitle you to do whatever you please. Still, I wonder if the accused players had been black and the victim white, would Jesse make the same offer? And when asked if he would pay the tuition money even if the woman story proved false, Jesse said he would. Well, there's some typically ham-fisted liberalism in action.

What exactly does paying off an extorter say? Ladies, have you had a hard life? Haven't gotten all you feel you deserve. Then just accuse some people of rape, kickback, and get paid. Has this woman had a hard life? Clearly, she's got kids. She has to take off her clothes for a living just to make money to go to a school. But it wasn't the victim's life and lifestyle that led Jackson to his decision, but rather the very public allegations of rape. So shouldn't the crime be proved before the offer of financial support is made?

How about this, Jesse? How about we wait? How about we cool it until all the facts are out there and the case is actually tried in court, before we start making uneducated, public assumptions about guilt or innocence?

You'd think Jesse might have learned something from Al Sharpton and his far too early, uninformed, and unequivocal defense of Tawana Brawley; who back in 1987 claimed of being raped by six white men, including cops. Only to have a grand jury find her claims unfounded. But as Al Sharpton himself hasn't learned anything from Tawana Brawley, that incident clearly wasn't educational for old school leaders, who are desperate to remain relevant.

MONTAGNE: Commentator John Ridley is a writer and director. And his latest novel is called The Drift. We'll hear another point of view on the Duke lacrosse case later in the week.

This is NPR News.

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