Durham, N.C. District Attorney Mike Nifong should do the right thing, cut his losses and drop the remaining charges of kidnapping and sexual assault against the three Duke University lacrosse players.
That would close what has to be one of the dreariest episodes in the history of rape and racial victimization cases. But Nifong has given no hint that he has learned any lesson from the fiasco. Whether it's ego, saving face, or just plain bull headedness, he's determined to charge ahead and pile more embarrassment on himself with a prosecution. But there are compelling lessons that can be learned.
One is the danger of shouting race in a rape case. Women's groups have waged a relentless and often times frustrating fight to get police, prosecutors, the courts and the media to treat rape as a serious crime, especially when the victims are poor, Black or minority women and the alleged attackers are White males. But a suspect cry of rape in an impassioned, racially charged case does great harm to that fight.
It leaves rape victims of any color and income wide open to the charge that they will falsely shout rape to cover up their sexual misdeeds. That could make police more hesitant to make arrests and prosecutors even more gun shy about vigorously prosecuting rape cases. It also makes Black leaders, who are mostly male, more reluctant to vigorously denounce genuine sexual victimization crimes.
The next lesson is that in racially charged and politically tainted rape cases the battle lines will quickly form.
The scream that the case was a bogus, racial hit by an overly ambitious district attorney, or that the case proved how badly Black women are victimized, grew louder at each new revelation in the tortured case. The confusing and contradictory statements that the alleged victim gave about the attack, the failure of DNA tests to match the alleged assailants to the alleged victim, the infamous public recant by the principal witness on "60 Minutes," and the disclosure that the alleged victim had sexual contact with others immediately prior to the alleged assault stoked public fury.
There was also a lesson for Black leaders. To their credit, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't stampede to the barricades and demand conviction and severe punishment for the accused assailants. In the past, they have done that in other hot ticket, racially tinged cases.
In the Duke case, a reflexive shout of racism would have further discredited the legitimate fight against sexual victimization.
Then there's Nifong. He was roundly denounced for rushing to judgment on the case to curry favor with Blacks and women's groups and to boost his re-election chances.
If the evidence is there, that should be the only thing to which prosecutors pay attention. When they don't, they risk a humiliating loss. That fuels public cynicism that justice is for sale and that the system is hopelessly flawed.
The Duke case bruised lives, gave the justice system a momentary black eye, stirred racial divisions on one of America's elite campuses and riled the public. The final lesson is that when politics, race and passions collide in a questionable case, caution and good sense go out the window.
BlackNews.com columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator.