Racial "Justice" and the Central Park Jogger





Mr. Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale and a former New York Daily News columnist.

Since the international outcry against false charges that the black"Scottsboro Boys" had raped a white woman in the South in 1931, liberals, at least, have been reluctant to acknowledge the ugly entanglement of race and rape in our national experience.

America's original racial sin contains a long trail of white men, especially slave masters, raping black women. Many African Americans, considered to have"white blood" and lighter skin, have marked these violations and other illicit intimacies, perhaps some of them gentler, but most of them palpably coerced in the shadow of white omnipotence.

The Central Park jogger trial of 1989, in which five Black and Latino teens were convicted of assaulting and raping a young and white investment banker, seemed to turn the tables on Scottsboro--this time, everyone agreed that the"black" boys were indeed guilty, and liberals and feminists were at the head of that consensus.

Now Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's recommends that the teen's convictions be vacated. Morgenthau had to respond after Matias Reyes, an imprisoned serial rapist who had never been charged or convicted in the jogger case, came forward this year and established that it was he who raped her that night in 1989. Jailhouse confessions are rightly suspect, and Reyes' claim that he has seen Jesus rather than death threats or dollar signs is far from being confirmed. However, his declaration that he was the only rapist -- confirmed by DNA testing -- does invalidate two juries' findings that the other five teens caught"wilding" in Central Park were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of raping the jogger.

In 1989, the teens' case seemed to be a watershed, a shift toward candor long missing in racial discourse. It was Richard Wright in the 1930s that first dared to confront the issue in Native Son, a vivid fictional depiction of Bigger Thomas' murder of a white woman he feared he would be accused of raping, a portrait that plumbed conflicting black impulses toward revenge. In the 1960s, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice brandished his claim to have raped a white woman as a kind of poetic justice against whites continuing economic, psychological, and physical violation of blacks. He excited a frisson of white-radical approval at a time when a prominent new leftist had declared"the best position of women in the Movement is prone."

Twenty years later, the Tawana Brawley psychodrama in the late 1980s again reversed and recalled the old Scottsboro tactics by falsely accusing whites of raping blacks, even reinforcing the"slave master" archetype by singling out a white law-enforcement official.

Then, new facts and an aroused feminism entered the turmoil. Not only did the falsity of Brawley's charges chill the sympathetic outrage she had first aroused against sexism and racism, it drew attention to data from the Federal Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics which shows the number of reported rapes of black women by white men as only one-fifth that of reported rapes of white women by blacks. Examples such as Charles Stuart of Boston being infamous for charging that a black assailant had murdered his wife, explains invidious racial stereotyping by white victims who"misremember" their assailants’ color.

It is no surprise that two years later the Central Park jogger case unleashed a torrent of feminist rage that had been building after the Brawley hoax. It got even more torrential when the Rev. Al Sharpton brought Brawley to the steps of the jogger trial courthouse to shake hands with the defendants on the grounds that they were being"railroaded” by the system, as she claimed to have been. That only deepened anger against defendants themselves, given their confessions of guilt, videotaped in the presence of their parents or other relatives, and without evidence of police coercion.

In addition, for the first time, the prosecutor heading the Manhattan district attorney's sex-crimes unit was a woman, Linda Fairstein, who still staunchly defends the convictions. There no longer seemed to be the nightmare of white rape of blacks being used in liberal public discourse to excuse the nightmare of black-on-white rape and racial revenge. Justice in the first sense did not need to preclude justice in the second. If New Yorkers learned this positively in the jogger-trial convictions, the nation would learn it negatively in the O.J. Simpson criminal acquittal, whose outcome eerily paralleled the Scottsboro days, when white juries acquitted white killers of blacks.

The glory of the American criminal justice system is supposed to be that it pursues and establishes legal, constitutional truths precisely in the face of, and often despite, torrential public rages, cultural, or ideological mood swings. We can only hope that this time, pursuit will be somewhat chastened and less hobbled by both racist and"anti-racist" taboos.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times


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RAY - 2/21/2003

"Federal Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics which shows the number of reported rapes of black women by white men as only one-fifth that of reported rapes of white women by blacks."---- I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS PART OF YOUR ARTICLE. I HAVE TO QUESTION ITS CREDIBILITY FOR THE SIMPLE FACT THAT THIS COUNTRY IS RUN BY WHITES. I SAY THIS BECAUSE I OBVIOUSLY DONT BELIEVE THE GOVT. OFFICIALY RECOGNIZES RAPES OF BLACK WOMAN BY WHITE MEN THE SAME WAY WAY THEY DO WHEN ITS THE OTHER WAY AROUND. YOU HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF, HOW MANY RAPES WILL NEVER GO ON THE RECORD BECAUSE THE VICTIM WAS RAPED BY A WHITE MAN; UNLESS THE VICTIM IS A WHITE WOMAN OF COURSE.HOW COME THE STATISTICS OF WHITE MEN RAPING BLACK WOMAN IN THE 19TH CENTURY HAVENT BEEN RELEASED YET????WRITE BACK

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