African American perspectives on the Duke case
Religion & Liberty Online

African American perspectives on the Duke case

The Duke Lacrosse case seems to have stirred tensions in America on issues regarding race and class. Many blacks writing about this case seem to have reactions that highlight these tensions. This raises many questions in my mind: Is this case about race and/or class? Where is the national conversation about the morality of stripping? What are we to make of the perspectives below? Does this case do damage to our confidence in the rule of law? Thoughts, anyone?

Christopher Bracey, Professor of Law and Associate Professor of African & African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis offers these thoughts at

A couple of thoughts. First, I cannot help but make the connection to the Brawley affair. Did a sexual assault occur, or was this yet another sister crying out for help? Is this justice delayed for blacks, or justice denied for the whites? Sadly, we will never know the full story.

Second, and on a similar note, I wonder how the local black Durham community is feeling right now. Do they feel victimized by the Attorney General, who dismissed the charged? Do they feel duped by the local District Attorney, Nifong, used this case to secure re-election?

Third, I wonder about the impact of the dismissal of the charges. Will rape survivors be less inclined to report incidents? Will the public be more skeptical of claims of racial discrimination? What sort of expectations will there be for potential claimants of racial insults?

Gregory Kane,, however, takes a different approach. He confesses that he feels no sympathy what so ever for the three Duke lacrosse players because being falsely accused is something that blacks have has to deal with in America for centuries. Admittedly, this approach is disturbing. Kane writes:

As expected, the cadre of right-wing commentators defending the three have gone into overdrive. And, once again, I’m compelled to write about how I’m so not feeling any sympathy for these guys. I say again, they got off easy. Why do I day that?

Four reasons: Calvin Crawford Johnson Jr.

Twenty-three years ago, Johnson found himself in the same boat those Duke players say they’re in: falsely accused of rape. The similarity in their situations ends there. Let’s look at how they differ, shall we?

The three players are white. Johnson is black. The three players were accused of raping a black woman. Johnson was accused of raping two white women. The three Duke guys were arrested, charged, arraigned, posted bail and walked out of jail. Johnson didn’t get bail. He went to court every day with his hands and feet shackled.

The lacrosse players have had conservative media pundits rushing to their defense, taking to the airwaves and publishing columns listing every reason the trio couldn’t possibly be guilty.

Johnson had no one in the media to tell people that one of his supposed victims picked not him, but another guy, as her assailant during a line-up and then admitted her identification was a deliberate lie. He had no one to write that he had a full beard at the time of the attack, but that the victim said her assailant had no beard.

There were no media commentators to tell the public that the woman admitted on the witness stand that she “knew” Johnson was her attacker and lied about it because she “couldn’t bear to look at him.”

This is what an all-white Georgia jury in 1983 considered a credible witness. Oh, it gets better.

A lab technician for the state of Georgia testified that hairs found on the victim’s bed did come from a black man, but that the black man wasn’t Johnson. The ONLY physical evidence in the trial exonerated Johnson. Johnson’s mother and father — whose credibility was never challenged — testified he was home when the victim was raped.

Think he got acquitted? Now, there’s a “do Rockefellers eat welfare cheese?” question if ever there was one. Of course he wasn’t. That all-white jury in Clayton County convicted Johnson of rape. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.

In 1999, DNA evidence proved exactly what the state lab tech testified to in 1983: Johnson wasn’t the man who committed the rape. Johnson was freed.

He recounts his experience in the 2003 book “Exit To Freedom.” There is one passage in his book that explains why Johnson spent 16 years in prison — part of it spent working in putrid, vermin-infested Georgia swamps on sweltering summer days — while those poor, oppressed Duke lacrosse players have been walking around free on bail.

“I need people on the outside to be convinced of my cause,” Johnson wrote, “to have faith in justice and to find the answers to vague questions of law and science.”

Johnson actually had two trials. The second was for a rape that occurred in Fulton County, Ga., at about the same time as the rape in Clayton County. The rapist in both cases had the same modus operandi and was believed to be the same guy. A jury with blacks on it acquitted Johnson of rape, but it had no impact on the Clayton County conviction. By the end of the second trial, Johnson said his family’s financial resources “were depleted.”

So, Johnson wasted 16 years of his life in a Georgia prison until he hooked up with some folks from the Innocence Project. By 1999, DNA science had developed to the point where Johnson could prove — for, in essence, the second time — that he was innocent.

Think of what may have happened if Johnson’s family had been able to afford the best lawyers after his second trial. Think what may have happened if Johnson had the benefit of prominent newspaper columnists and radio and television talk-show hosts proclaiming his innocence at every opportunity.

Think, in other words, what may have happened if Johnson had the benefits and advantages of those three Duke lacrosse players. They’re out on bail and will never do time. Compared to Johnson, they’ve gotten off damned easy.

Those who continue to defend them can holla at me after they’ve done 16 years on a jive humble charge.

Again, what are we to make of comments like these?

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.