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Innocence and 'innocence'

Prosecution should occur] whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past." -NCCU Student Government Senator Chan Hall, Newsweek

"I do know the following items about the case that would lead one to hesitate before throwing out the case.. The Duke lacrosse players were not angels-they had a previously established history of rowdiness tarnished with racial comments, and one of the accused had previously been arrested for anti-gay comments while drunk."

-Duke Geology Professor Thomas Crowley, the Herald-Sun

"Much of this emphasis on 'innocence' has ignored the gender and racial prejudice of the March 13 party.. A rape may not have occurred on March 13, but as a woman on Duke's campus, as a Women's Studies major, and as an activist for survivors of sexual assault, I assure [defense attorney Joseph] Cheshire that these men are not innocent, nor are they upstanding citizens of Duke or Durham law.. Nifong might not be in the right, legally, but that doesn't mean he's not doing the right thing."

-Duke senior Shadee Malaklou, the Herald-Sun

What's a more frightening concept: being railroaded by an overzealous, obstinate, politically ambitious district attorney; or having members of your own community applaud him despite overwhelming evidence of both his malfeasance and your innocence?

It's hard for me to imagine either of these scenarios, but for lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans, they have been a part of daily life for months.

These three are being condemned by professors and other students, not based on factual evidence or even individual character, but on nebulous accounts of an entire team's history of being less than "angels."

They have become the scapegoats of a radical segment of academia that believes, as English Professor Karla Holloway wrote, that, "The appropriate presumption of innocence that follows the players, however the legal case is determined, is neither the critical social indicator of the event, nor the final measure of its cultural facts."

These "cultural facts" represent the altar at which some seek to sacrifice three men, regardless of their factual-in the real sense-actions. That doing so implies a perversion of traditional and constitutional methods of administering justice is a secondary concern, judging from Malaklou's quip about the legality of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's actions.

Such voices do more than express an understandable level of schadenfreude at seeing misfortune befall formerly preeminent members of Duke's elitist (and, depending on whom you ask, sexist and racist) ethos. They indicate a malicious and irrational desire to get even with an entire class of white male oppressors through three individuals who may be "innocent" (quotations, I gather, are used to represent the apparent irrelevance of the term).

Nifong seems to adhere to this interpretation of our legal system's function, musing that to dismiss the case would "[do] nothing to address the underlying divisions that have been revealed. My personal feeling is the first step to addressing those divisions is addressing this case.. The future of Durham's in the balance."

This might explain why 49 percent of voters in the recent election voiced approval of Nifong's record. But I doubt it provides any comfort to the three men whose lives have been placed on hold in order to "address" the resentment of Durham residents for Duke students.

More important than identifying the motives of one group of professors and students-those who cling to the notion that a faulty prosecution could possibly lead to justice-is for the rest of us to realize that it is a minority and dismiss such thinking.

Thankfully, I'd guess that from the evidence made public in the case, a majority of the Duke community believes in the innocence of the indicted three-maybe not in a sense of the word that would convince Malaklou, but one that will hopefully satisfy a jury-and is quietly waiting for justice to take its course. Although others on this page have rightly chided us for allowing Nifong's reelection through such complacency.

But an even greater proportion would shudder (and I hope the quotes that begin this column make them do so) at the idea of seeing anyone punished for something they didn't do in order to serve the agenda of a vocal, radical minority.

David Kleban is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. He would like to thank the "Durham-in-Wonderland" and "Liestoppers" blogs for their aggregation of literature on the lacrosse case, from which the included quotations were drawn.

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