Outmatched in Durham

Posted in Rant at 7:22 am by Jason G.

The number of well written blogs supporting Duke’s Lacross Players or simply attacking Durham DA Mike Nifong and the Durham PD is impressive. Some of the blogs: Recall Nifong, Durham in Wonderland, Lie Stoppers, Friends of Duke University, John in Carolina, the Duke Basketball Report, and even a fairly prominent Libertarian (ok, that last one isn’t a blog). I’m sure you could uncover many more if you tried.

They all have (mostly) valid points, but seem to be missing one undeniable truth. The Durham police and city government is just like any other place — there are some shady goings on, some inappropriate behavior, and even political grandstanding. This isn’t anything new. (Note, there are also plenty of people trying to do the right thing.)

What is new is that the PD, DA, et al, in Durham are having a hard time going toe to toe with some very smart, well educated, well informed, well funded Duke Alumni and friends of Duke. The spotlight shines a lot brighter when confronted by really smart people who are used to playing on a much bigger playing field than the local political scene in Durham.

The net result of all this is that there is now a power struggle — not over what the facts were or whether or not the accused are actually guilty. Even if Nifong had all the facts on his side (which he doesn’t) he would have a hard time being successful in this case. When the facts are muddled at best, or downright damning for Nifong at worst, those well-heeled Dukies are going to (and have been) eating Nifong alive.

Instead of focusing on the facts, Durham officials are trying to assert that they can do what they want. In theory, that means to do what they think is right; in practice, to do what they want despite what the Duke community believes is right (or what the facts say). It’s classic turf politics. But they’re facing more resistance from better opponents than they’ve probably ever faced before, and I would be surprised if they’re not vastly outmatched.

The one thing I find astounding is that this is the fight that the Durham officials are choosing to fight. When you’ve got plenty of shady and inappropriate things going on in your back yard, you shouldn’t be looking to pick a fight against the biggest, most dangerous guy on the block.

Nifong saw a chance to sucker-punch Duke right before the primary elections (Duke bashing wins votes in Durham), but now he finds himself in a fight that he won’t win. It’s monumentally stupid to keep pushing this case when the facts and evidence don’t support his position.

The same fate tends to befall many politicians and political players. They make a mistake and over-reach at the wrong time. It’s the danger of the game, and the folly of men whose apptetite for power exceeds their intelligence.