Thursday, April 23, 2009

A report in Vincent Clark's appearance at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The publicity agent for Crystal Gail Mangum, Vincent “Ed” Clark, spoke and answered questions on Wednesday 22 April 2009 at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The program was called 
"Cracks in the Justice System: Victims of Money, Media and Misconduct, " and it was sponsored by chapters of certain campus sororities or fraternities (
). The presentation included readings from the writings of several wrongly convicted minority individuals, including Ronald Cotton, Lesly Jean, and Hector Gonzalez. In response to a question after the presentation was over, Mr. Clark implied that he was working on a case in which two retarded boys are being held on the basis of signed confessions, in spite of both individuals being illiterate.

Mr. Clark, who represents Crystal Gail Mangum, the accuser in the Duke lacrosse case, is an affable and voluble individual. Ms. Mangum has published her memoir, “Last Dance for Grace” with Mr. Clark’s assistance, and the two have attempted to tell her life story to the media for some time. He discussed having conversations with Inside Edition and HBO, among others. He says that after initial enthusiasm among creators, their bosses or their boss’s bosses quash the project. The producers say something close to “Vince, they won’t let me do it.” Mr. Clark puts at least some of the blame for this on the families of the Duke three, who have dinner with Sumner Redstone. Mr. Clark says that Ms. Mangum wants to talk about herself and the mistakes she has made. She disappoints some in the media, who would like to have her confront Mr. Cheshire or the Duke three on camera. He attributed to 60 Minutes senior producer Michael Radutzky a statement to the effect that he would put a bullet into prosecutor Michael Nifong’s head so that no one would believe Ms. Mangum.

Mr. Clark spoke about the many hours he spent interviewing Ms. Mangum and also the time he spent going to church and listening to her speak with her pastor. “My job was to listen to Crystal.” Mr. Clark said that there are blogs that have criticized Ms. Mangum every day for three years: “That is why I have an affinity for her. What if she is lying, shouldn’t she be allowed to finish college?” Mr. Clark asked rhetorically whether the members of the audience had ever done anything with which they were uncomfortable. A member of the audience asked if she were lying, should she be prosecuted. Mr. Clark said that if one accepts the Attorney General’s conclusion that the three are innocent, they have to accept his decision not to prosecute. Earlier he noted that the AG said that she believes her story.

Mr. Clark implied that attorney Joseph Cheshire didn’t want most prosecutors who were guilty of misconduct put in prison, only Mr. Nifong, who made the mistake of going up against the wrong people. He also quoted professor Angela J. Davis, professor of law at American University, as telling Mr. Cheshire “Joe, you know this is not right, what you did to her.” Professor Davis has written extensively on prosecutorial power.

He also took issue with the idea that the lacrosse case was the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct ever. He said that Mr. Nifong never should have been talking in public. He also said that the Durham police department has “some problems with other investigations.” About the Duke three, Mr. Clark contrasted their experience with those of Mr. Gonzalez and the other individuals discussed in the program, saying, “They were shown on television.” When later asked about the Newsweek cover featuring mug shots of two of the accused players, Mr. Clark said that he and Crystal both thought that it “never should have been done.” Much earlier, Mr. Clark had characterized a discussion on Nancy Grace’s show as a scream fest.

With respect to Crystal and her family, he said that some in the media doubted that Crystal was a student at North Carolina Central University, but that when they saw professors greet her, the cameras shut off. Mr. Clark asked what was wrong with photos of Crystal sitting in class or with her diploma, which he said does not occur. Mr. Clark said that Ms. Mangum’s father tried to hold the family together, but that her mother had psychological problems. The media latched on to Ms. Mangum’s cousin Jakki, to whom Crystal had not spoken in six years, because of the desire within the media to portray Crystal’s family in a freakish light. Jakki, who is a transsexual, was treated as a family spokesperson.

After the presentation an observer characterized Ms. Mangum’s comments earlier that evening by quoting Ms. Mangum, “I want to tell my story.” However the observer indicated that Ms. Mangum spoke only about her experiences with the media, not about the case itself. When this remark was overheard by a presumed event organizer, this individual said that a discussion of the case itself was not the point of the evening.

Monday, April 6, 2009

O’Neil’s Analysis of Duke’s Group of 88: Casuistry Triumphs Over Common Sense

Robert M. O’Neil authored the chapter “Faculty Reactions, Contentious Debate, and Academic Freedom,” in the book Race to Injustice. KC Johnson has already reviewed this article ( I would go further than Professor Johnson does, however, who writes “In a few other areas, however, O’Neil seems excessively willing to give the Group the benefit of the doubt.” The chapter is solicitous about the woes of the Group of 88 and nearly silent about its faults to the point that its objectivity is hopelessly compromised. The problems with his article are as often sins of omission as sins of commission.

O’Neil’s article is weakest in its analysis of chemistry professor Steven Baldwin’s interactions with the Group of 88. O’Neil has nothing to say about Baldwin’s main point, that a university and its faculty should use the principle of in loco parentis to guide its actions toward students ( Indeed, O’Neil spends little if any time on the fact that the Group of 88 and its allies upbraided the lacrosse players and their families in public.

Baldwin closed:

“On the other hand I do not believe that a faculty member publicly describing any student in pejorative terms is ever justified. To do so is mean-spirited, petty and unprofessional, at the very least. The faculty who publicly savaged the character and reputations of specific men’s lacrosse players last spring should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy. Their comments were despicable.”

I discussed the Duke lacrosse case with a very highly esteemed professor at Wabash College, my alma mater. He said that he did not think that Wabash would treat its students this way. He thought and hoped that they would be defended against the outside world and raked over the coals in private (presumably for the boorish behavior of some of the players). Baldwin made clear that acting in loco parentis did not mean forswearing accountability. Yet he also indicated that the Group of 88 and/or the faculty had dispensed with the presumption of innocence. Those casually following the case in the spring of 2006 might have concluded that the lacrosse players were a rotten bunch, given that their professors’ comments seemed to buttress those of District Attorney Michael Nifong.

However, it is Baldwin’s pentultimate comment that draws O’Neil’s fire. Baldwin’s desire to remove the offending faculty is “starkly uncollegial (p. 46). In ascending order of seriousness, there are a number of problems with O’Neil’s analysis. First, Baldwin was not literally calling for their removal any more than he was planning to buy feathers and warm up a vat of tar. Second, Robyn Wiegman claimed that tarring and feathering was the language of lynching (something that she and the rest of the group must have known was untrue), implying that Baldwin was a racist. As Johnson remarked, this is hardly collegial. At least Baldwin’s essay was based in what the Group of 88 and its allies had actually done. Third, members of the Group of 88 met with President Broadhead and asked him to fire Baldwin, literally to remove him from the academy. O’Neil does not even mention the latter two points, which seem far more uncollegial. It was Baldwin who defused the situation (with the encouragement of the provost) by apologizing for saying that the errant faculty should be “tarred and feathered,” though Harvey Silverglate opined that Baldwin surrendered the moral high ground by doing so. Fourth, Houston Baker called for Duke to fire Coach Pressler and to dismiss the players ( O’Neil fails to address any of these behaviors.

It is pertinent that Karla Holloway publicly criticized the women’s lacrosse team (Until Proven Innocent, p. 234) for “the team-inspired and morally slender protestations of loyalty that brought the ethic from the field of play onto the field of legal and cultural and gendered battle as well.” The women’s lacrosse team had worn armbands in support of the three indicted players. The hypocrisy of criticizing women (including at least one woman of mixed racial heritage) for speaking out when the Group of 88 had thanked protestors for their demonstrations against the supposed racism and sexism of the men’s team is obvious. It also makes risible the Group of 88’s opening claim that “We are listening to our students.”

O’Neil quotes the policy of the American Association of University Professors, which states that professors “should show respect for the opinions of others,” but he points out that this policy was modified in 1970. Even in diluted form, the AAUP’s policy would seem contrary to Houston Baker’s December 2006 response to a polite email from a lacrosse parent. The parent had asked Baker to reconsider his views in the light of recent evidence. Baker called the players “farm animals,” among other obnoxious comments.

It is legitimate to ask whether criticism of students falls within a faculty member’s academic freedom or does it constitute a violation of the university’s or the AAUP’s code of faculty conduct. Yet, one has to look at all the facts, not select only the criticisms of the Group of 88 that one thinks one can rebut. Moreover, if we conclude that the faculty had the right to shame the student-athletes and even to ask that they be kicked out, but fail to ask should they have done so, we are missing the more critical issue. Baldwin said that the impact of the ad was devastating, swinging the pendulum against the players ( O’Neil gives little consideration to this viewpoint, just as he ignores Wiegman’s, Holloway’s, and Baker’s incivility, preferring casuistry to common sense.