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Column: Jumping the gun on campus — again

By John Hood

John Locke Foundation

RALEIGH — Here we go again.

It’s not been a year since the emergence of the now-infamous Duke University lacrosse case, when a woman alleged that a group of players at a party sexually assaulted her in a bathroom.

Because the woman was black, a stripper, a N.C. Central University student and of modest means, while the players were rich white kids, the story immediately went national. Other women reported rapes that month. Other women were reportedly raped in Durham last year. But because of race, sex, and class, the allegations at Duke attracted disproportionate attention. And activists, media commentators and others immediately jumped to the conclusion that the allegations were well founded, despite the fact that they had little evidence to work with in the public domain (as it turned out, there was scant and contradictory evidence in private, too).

The point is, while some urged caution and patience, there was undisputedly a rush to judgment on the sexual-assault allegations — a rush to judgment that has seriously damaged the credibility of prominent news outlets, columnists, commentators, and legal “experts.” Perhaps the most-damaged institution is Duke itself. A large segment of the faculty didn’t just jump the gun. They turned their ideological blunderbusses on the supposed link between the supposed crime and a host of social ills, caring little who took collateral damage.

The process appears to be repeating itself just down I-40 in Greensboro, where five Guilford College football players now face charges of having beaten up three Palestinian students, one visiting from N.C. State. Caution? Patience? A due regard for the reputation of those innocent until proven guilty?

Nah.

There have been demonstrations, meetings, candlelight vigils. Activists are demanding immediate action. The professional meta-meaning mavens are swooping in, ascribing all sorts of significance to what yet remain only allegations. Consider this example from the Christian Science Monitor:

National hate-crime experts contend the fact that such an alleged attack could take place at a school like Guilford — voted by Newsweek as the “hottest for social conscience” in 2006 — is a reflection of how deeply distrust of Islam now permeates the United States. For data, they point to polls, such as one done by CBS last April. It found that 45 percent of Americans now have a negative view of Islam — more than 9 percentage points higher than in the tense months following the 9/11 attacks. And a Washington Post poll found that the number of Americans who believe Islam stokes violence has more than doubled — from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent in March 2006.

“What we have here is a climate where Islamaphobia is not only considered mainstream, it’s considered patriotic by some, and that’s something that makes these kinds of attacks even more despicable,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the University of California at San Bernadino.

For Pete’s sake, we can’t yet know what happened at Guilford College. The Greensboro police finally interviewed the Palestinian students after a couple of missed appointments, and decided not to pursue further charges (the previous charges were filed directly by a magistrate, at the instigation of the alleged victims). Parents of the football players are telling a different story to the media (sound familiar?). Is it too much to ask that people sit down, shut up, and wait for real information to come out? Perhaps it is if your job is to look for Klan rallies in every frat-house basement, but the rest of us presumably have better things to do. The facts will emerge. Burning candles and hoisting banners won’t change them or speed their collection.

And in the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind that hundreds of North Carolinians, young and old, black and brown and white, male and female, living in nice houses and tiny apartments, have reported serious crimes to the police since the Guilford College allegations. A few have been murdered. Some may have been raped or robbed at gunpoint. Where is their candlelight vigil? Where is their political champion?

* * *

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

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