When our peers are accused of heinous acts, we should be the first to demand they be given the presumption of innocence-their immutable right.

Instead, from the first day, many immediately presumed the lacrosse players' guilt and called for their punishment. Sadly, I imagine many will continue to do so.

And not only have many already convicted the lacrosse players, but they have also diffused that conviction across the entire team. Being a white, male lacrosse player was all it took.

Protesters and community leaders have claimed the alleged rape speaks to the larger ingrained prejudice of Duke students and the University's administration.

But in reality, the only widespread prejudice we have seen is the prejudice that has allowed a single unproven allegation to condemn and defame an entire community.

How many times in the last several weeks have you heard that the only reason the lacrosse players haven't been charged, the only reason the University has not disciplined them, the only reason they're still walking the streets as free citizens is because they are white and their victim is black? One of our own professors, Houston Baker, said as much in a tirade he recently penned.

If the treatment of the lacrosse players represents the protection of so-called "white privilege," I think it's a benefit all the team members would gladly relinquish.

Regardless of the players' guilt or innocence, the manner in which this situation has been handled reaffirms a horrifying precedent. You will be hung in the gallows of public opinion regardless of, or even in spite of the facts, if the alleged crime can be converted into a case for institutional racism.

Apostle John Bennett, who led a protest in front of the lacrosse house Sunday, summed up my grave concerns perfectly when he said:

"Why do we allow the accused to roam our streets freely?"

I knew the answer to that question when I was four.

A member of Bennett's church echoed these frustrations, "If it was another ethnicity, they would be in jail seeing time."

Apparently, the lack of evidence was not a factor.

Friday, a full-page ad ran in the paper repeating the charge that the situation would be handled differently were the accused not a bunch of white lacrosse players. This absurd ad, which levied the untrue and indefensible charge that Duke is filled with racists, was officially endorsed by 20 of our academic departments and institutes and about 90 individual professors.

To understand this behavior, one must realize that for many members of the political left, the belief in a racist society is an article of faith-beyond all reason, question or rational discussion.

This is why I can promise you that if the players are cleared, a large number of people-instead of rejoicing at our peers' innocence-will insist it is a conspiracy of white privilege.

So, as profoundly disturbing as this entire situation has been, I hope it will at least illustrate for many the frightening lengths, against any and all evidence to the contrary, to which people are willing to go to confirm and propel their own worldview.

Unfortunately, the growing realization that is sure to come from the more sensible members of the community that there was a tragic rush to judgment will do little to erase the damage.

Take the student who authored the infamous e-mail about murdering strippers for sexual gratification. This student, now suspended, was quickly held up to be crucified in the public hysteria.

Even though his e-mail was a private communication that in all likelihood was an indignant joke, his reputation is now ruined, and he will suffer the consequences for years to come.

That, slightly altered, the content of his letter could easily find its way into a joke on Family Guy, Saturday Night Live or in a conversation at the Great Hall, did not stop the sanctimonious hordes from trampling him in a merciless stampede.

It is the hope of many activists, protesters and condemners to make a case not only for the excoriation of the lacrosse team, but also for sweeping social reform to address what they see as profound racial inequity.

Instead, they make a very different case-one for protecting, at all costs, our system of justice from the passions and prejudices of the people.

Stephen Miller is a Trinity junior. This is his final column.


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