Old versus New

Last week, I wrote about the ill-advised decision by the NAACP and Al Sharpton to rally on behalf of the accused in the Dunbar Village rape case. Today's Sun-Sentinel has a follow-up, not so much on the case, but on the divide between blogging activists and the traditional activist community.

The story does a good job of taking apart Sharpton's claim of being misunderstood.

For his part, Sharpton strongly denied in an interview with the Tribune last week that he was ignoring the plight of the Dunbar Village victims or insisting that their accused attackers should be freed on bond. He said his comments at the March 11 news conference had been misunderstood, and that he had visited Dunbar Village several times this year to show support for the residents there and denounce the "hideous, deplorable" crime.

"My position is there ought to be one standard," Sharpton said. "The white kids in Boca Raton ought to be held just like the black kids in Dunbar Village. Why are they not doing the same with the white kids?"

Yet freedom for the four Dunbar Village defendants was the clear demand of the other participants at the news conference, where fliers were distributed proclaiming the teenagers to be "voiceless, vulnerable victims."

"We don't like what's going on. It's not right," said Ruby Walker, the mother of one of the Dunbar defendants, 17-year-old Nathan Walker. "I don't think we should have to suffer."

Maude Ford Lee, the president of the West Palm Beach NAACP chapter who joined Sharpton at the news conference, said she hoped Sharpton's presence would help expose the "injustice" of the case.

"Our kids are incarcerated, they can't even get a bond, and it's unconscionable what is happening," Lee told reporters.

Lee declined further explanation of her comments. But National Association for the Advancement of Colored People officials at both the state and national level said their organizations had taken no position on whether the Dunbar suspects should be released on bond.
It sounds to me like both Sharpton and the NAACP have seen that calling for the release of the accused on bond has caused more of a backlash from traditional supporters than they expected. And it has. Womens' groups, especially those focusing on women of color, have taken both Sharpton and the NAACP to the woodshed over this, and rightfully so.

It's a quandary for the NAACP and Sharpton, no question. On the one hand, there's clearly some discriminatory behavior at play here--the Tribune piece (the Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Co. paper) downplays just how horrific the other rape case being mentioned is. We're talking about 5 white kids who got 2 middle school girls drunk and raped them on a levee, and they're out on bond. But how do you get people to show up for a rally about that when you're talking about the Dunbar Village case? "Keep the Dunbar Village kids in jail but lock the white boys up too" doesn't fit on a sign very easily, nor does it excite the locals to come out.

That said, it's still a discussion we need to have as a nation. Can we let the Palm Beach county prosecutorial system get away with this sort of discriminatory behavior? Sharpton and the NAACP got it wrong when they advocated for bail for the Dunbar Village accused, but not because there isn't an injustice here. They just chose the wrong people to defend. They should have been standing up for rape victims everywhere, not for those accused of rape.

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