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And Now, The Beginning Of The End

While we won't totally believe it until we hear it with our own ears, everyone is reporting that all charges will be dropped in the Duke lacrosse case this afternoon.

There are some specifics which likely won't come out until the Attorney General faces the microphones on Wednesday, but some (but not all) of the questions we'd like to have answers for are here:

  • does the Attorney General (and hence the state of North Carolina) have issues with the behavior of Mike Nifong in this case?
  • Was his behavior lawful?
  • did the alleged victim (AV) cooperate with the state?
  • If so, what are the specific reasons for dropping the charges?
  • If not, what are the ramifications for the AV?
  • What are the Attorney General's suggestions for reform in this state in the aftermath of this "case"?

There's going to be a lot to chew over for the next few days, but the main thing is that the case, which from the beginning appeared to be vindictive and contrived, is over, and that three innocent men will have their lives given back to them.

On the other hand, while they will no longer have a cloud over them, they will be marked by this forever. Their parents have gone heavily into debt to pay for their defenses (don't buy the argument that being "rich people," they can afford it - even rich people, so called, have limits, and in any event, not all of the families are as rich as their opponents would have you believe - and secondly, when did injustice become okay simply because the accused are from supposedly wealthy families?), their education has been significantly disrupted, they've lost friendships and had their lives basically fractured.

They bear some responsibility for the situation, but they have paid, and will continue to pay, an outrageous price for this near miscarriage of justice. For the rest of their lives, even into their graves, the word rape will follow them. Over the courses of their careers, they may lose substantial income over charges that were never substantiated. And why?

Because an out-of-control prosecutor wanted to use them to win an election? Is that really possible? Because the racial politics of their day would offer them up to satisfy the bloodlust of the mob? Make no mistake - in America, we no longer burn people at the stake, nor do we yank them out of their jail cells and hang them from the nearest tree, posing proudly beside the still-swinging corpse. But the mob lives, even though it has been sanitized and dispersed electronically.

A large element of what happened in Durham bore the unmistakable elements of mob justice: marchers with signs demanding the cruel and unusual punishment of castration without even the benefit of trial, an N.C. Central student demanding that the lacrosse players be punished to make up for past racial injustices, the NAACP demanding a trial in spite of a sharp lack of meaningful evidence and continuing to do so even when strong evidence of conspiracy involving the prosecutor emerged in an open courtroom, and many members of Duke's own faculty rushed to judgment, condemning their students in the most extraordinary terms, and, according to some members of the lacrosse team anyway, some members of the faculty persecuting them academically.

Even after the charges are dropped, those who demand their pound of flesh will continue to peddle their worn arguments. Let them.

Those of us who continue to believe in a fair society, who continue to believe that the courts can and should discern between the truly innocent and the guilty, and who would not support railroading anyone, we can take some grim satisfaction in the dismissal of charges. But the mob lives and will have to be dealt with again.

That the soon-to-be former defendants and their families get their lives back is wonderful news indeed. But the mob, even (especially) when they feature cheerleaders who are on the state's payroll, must be rebuked in the strongest possible terms and in ways that speak to them most meaningfully. A good place to start would be in finding a way to file a civil suit against Mike Nifong.