Friday, September 26, 2014

Students justify blog naming alleged rapists with the rhetoric of the lynch mobs at the hanging trees of the Old South

Professor Alan Dershowitz once wrote: "As one civil-liberties lawyer, who is concerned about the sometimes vigilante attitude toward accused rapists, puts it: 'Some people regard rape as so heinous an offense that they would not even regard innocence as a defense.'"

A group claiming to be current and former University of Chicago students created an anonymous Tumblr blog called the "Hyde Park List" listing the names of six male students and alumni who allegedly have perpetrated "gender-based violence" against other students. The blog was followed by fliers with the names taped around campus.

The students stated that the effort is a response to the shortcomings of the university’s alleged sexual assault policy. "The University has failed to protect the community, sexual assault is historically deeply underreported, and we have failed as a campus to have a real and serious conversation about sexual assault on campus," the Tumblr says.

This effort needs to be condemned by all persons of good will. It is but one more example of a disturbing hostility to due process when it comes to young men and alleged sex offenses. Progressives who otherwise have fought to protect the rights of the presumptively innocent accused of crimes are eerily silent when it comes to young men accused of sex offenses. Many of them side with the anti-due process forces, and that is chilling in the extreme.

The "Hyde Park List, is nothing new. The same attitude has animated other such efforts. For 17 years, the University of Maryland famously sanctioned a Clothesline Project where alleged rape survivors were permitted to publicly display shirts with the full names of men they accused of rape written on them. There was no discussion about even the possibility that any of the men named might have been innocent, much less a national outrage over it. The university stopped the practice not out of respect for the men named but only because it realized the practice subjected it to liability.

And there was the infamous Brown bathroom wall "rape list."

Feminist icon Germaine Greer called for an online rapists' register "because we know the courts can't get it right."

On and on it goes, but the rhetoric employed to justify the sort of vigilantism  in these efforts never varies. It is a chilling echo of the lynch mobs gathered at the hanging trees of the old American South. No, the Chicago Tumblr bloggers don't want to kill anyone, but like the lynch mobs of old, the so-called "Hyde Park List" is animated by a blatant disregard of the due process rights of the presumptively innocent. These bloggers are waging the war on sexual violence with the memes of the hangman, as much as they would angrily deny it.

The motivating impulse of the lynch mob was that the system could not adequately respond to rape by black men. As one writer put it, lynchings “are extraordinary measures demanded by extraordinary occasions.” Underlying the defense of lynchings was the assumption that rape accusers were “victims” just because they said so. The hangman and his sympathizers had no doubts about the guilt of the men and boys hanged –“their guilt was clear in every instance,” clucked one writer. Another explained: “. . . the utmost care is taken to identify the criminal and only when his identity is beyond question is the execution ordered.” And: “As the most careful precautions are taken against this result it is not a likely thing lest the wrong man is executed.”

Due process wasn’t just unnecessary to the fair administration of justice when rape was alleged, it was a hindrance to the fair administration of justice. The criminal justice system was “incapable” of meting out the punishment that was needed, a punishment that spared the victims of “negro” atrocities the humiliation of testifying in courts.

What was the lynch mob’s reaction to those who denounced lynchings? To malign them as “fanatics” and victim blamers, of course. The folks who called for due process never “say[ ] or do[ ] anything to discourage the crime which provoked” the lynchings in the first place, said one lynching sympathizer. Indeed, these “fanatics . . . have assailed the victims of the brute’s lust . . . .”

Does any of this sound familiar? In fact, all of it should sound familiar. The echoes of those shrill voices resonate in the "Hyde Park List" and a thousand other places.

In his State of the Union Address of 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt condemned the hanging of blacks by vigilantes. He quoted a religious leader of the day: “As Bishop Galloway, of Mississippi, has finely said: ‘The mob which lynches a negro charged with rape will in a little while lynch a white man suspected of crime. Every Christian patriot in America needs to lift up his voice in loud and eternal protest against the mob spirit that is threatening the integrity of this Republic.'”

Sadly, more than 100 years later, Teddy Roosevelt was right. The “mob spirit” is alive and well, and it isn’t targeting just black men. It has wrapped itself in the mantle of political correctness and gussied itself up with PhD’s in Women’s Studies programs, and it uses justifications about having a "serious conversation."

But all of the noble intentions in the world to eradicate rape can’t whitewash their appalling hostility to the rights of the accused. The lynch mob is alive and well, and the time is long overdue for all persons of good will to condemn it.