On Wednesday, April 14, 2010, I attended an event at Duke University School of Law, on the Duke University campus in Durham. The event featured U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in a sit-down interview with David Levi, Dean of the law school, and Walter H. Dellinger, an attorney with vast Supreme Court experience. Open to the public on a first come first served basis, the interview was a very informative, in that it provided the audience with insight as to how the Supreme Court works and how the justices interact. Observations of Justice Breyer gave glimpses into the man who presented a relaxed manner, approachable demeanor, thoughtful speech, and effusive sense of humor. Fifty minutes later, at the conclusion of the three person public conversation, I began my exit from the large classroom, which was populated mostly with law students. My plan was to catch a bus to downtown Durham, then transfer to a bus that would take me to my residence in Raleigh.
Little did I know, as I made my egress from the room, that my real education would come after Justice Breyer had spoken. Upon leaving, a uniformed security guard honed in on me and asked me what I was doing there. To me, that seemed like a rather dumb question, but I answered anyway, telling him that I had come to see and hear Justice Breyer. I offered to give him one of my Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong business cards that had my contact information, but he refused, pointing to his pants pocket and saying, “I already have one.” He then informed me that I was trespassing on private property and that he was there to see that I left the grounds. I asked him why I was being forced off the property, and he told me that he did not know why… that he was just following orders. When I requested the name of the person who wanted me off Duke property, he told me “the building manager”… and he may have given me the last name of an individual. However, that was as far as I got, as he refused my request to speak with the person responsible for my ouster… repeatedly saying that Duke University is private property, that it has the right to have me removed no questions asked, and that he was merely doing his job.
As former Duke Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. would readily understand, I was incensed by the security guard telling me to leave the grounds for no reason and then trailing me like a shadow when I complied, as though I were a common criminal. Not unlike Professor Gates, I, too, had a few choice words to say to the guard, to express my displeasure at the unforeseen (at least to me) turn of events. Now, evidently some of my colorful words, though neither profane nor wisely chosen, seemed to cause the guard some displeasure as he responded by calling in backup with his walkie-talkie. A Duke security patrol car materialized in seconds, with an officer exiting it who looked ten times more menacing than the first security guard. So as I walked toward the bus stop, now with two guards in tow, I overheard one of them mention something to the other about getting my identification. Again, my indignation blinded my better judgment and I scowled, “…and don’t even think about asking to see my identification!” I was then corrected by one of them who said that they would see it if they wanted to see it. Shortly thereafter, the city bus came lumbering up the street, and the guard flagged it down for me. I don’t recall whether or not I thanked him for hailing the bus, but I do remember him telling me as I boarded that since our initial encounter approximately fifteen minutes ago I was on the verge of being arrested three times.
In reflecting back on the day’s adventure, I tried to figure out when I had come close to the brink of arrest. One time that stands out is when the guard gently tugged on my sleeve in the direction of the door exiting the building and I vigorously withdrew my arm and said in an elevated tone, “Don’t touch me!” Another time might have been when I was asked about where my car was parked, and I flashed my all-day transit bus pass in his face… close enough so that he could read the fine print. I’m not sure about a possible third time, although early on he did remark to me that I was encroaching on his personal space. Anyway, fortunately for me, my encounter with the enforcement agents ended differently than Professor Gates, and I spent the night in my own bed and without bail.
Now I do not think the discriminatory treatment I received at Duke University was racially motivated, as I was the only African American targeted. Neither do I believe that I was discriminated against for being an arrogant African American man (politically correct phrase for “uppity Negro”) because I was not exhibiting such behavior prior to meeting the security guard. The reason I believe that I was being discriminated against was because I am a Mike Nifong supporter. This was most likely apparent because of the official Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong tee shirt that I was wearing… which had the logo, the web address, and the words “Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong” on it.
I guess the reason I was surprised by the trespassing charge being lodged is because I was invited to the event on the Duke campus, which was advertised as being open to the public. Also, I had worn the very same tee shirt on the Duke campus and in its law school building many times in the past without any problem, at least of which I was aware. My behavior was unremarkable, as I spoke briefly with fewer than a dozen people while awaiting the start of the event and did nothing to provoke anyone.
I came away from Duke University that day with life lessons that are invaluable, and worth sharing as following:
1) It is incredibly easy for a black man to get arrested. Even though I was abiding by the laws of the land, not in the active commission of a crime, behaving myself, and minding my own business, I was subjected to discrimination based on my being a Nifong supporter that could have easily resulted in me being jailed. Even though my presence on the campus in the first place was due to a poster which invited the public to the on-campus event, one of the charges against me would undoubtedly have been trespassing on private property. And you can rest assured that "resisting arrest" would be tagged on to the trespassing charge automatically.
2) It is not wise to sass a security guard or police officer. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and I can now attest, vigorous verbal expression to authority about unjust discriminatory treatment usually results in no positive outcome, and in the case of a black male protester, the likely call for additional backup by said authority... which does not bode well.
3) The campus of Duke University is a First Amendment Free environment. In other words check your First Amendment Rights of free speech and expression at the property line. Any expression of support of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, such as wearing a tee shirt in his honor, is likely to result in expulsion from the grounds as it did in my case.
4) Openly showing support for Mike Nifong on the Duke University campus may be hazardous to one’s health. In general, Duke University staff and personnel seem to have a deep seeded antipathy towards Mike Nifong, most likely engendered by the prejudicial statements made against him by the biased mainstream media. An aversion to Mr. Nifong might also spring from a wariness of the university or individual being sued by the litigation-happy attorneys of the carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants.
An observation that strikes me most is that Duke University School of Law is a large, powerful institution with a prestigious reputation. My visits to the campus have been extremely rare and almost always of short duration. I find it astounding that a member of its staff or faculty would feel so threatened by a tee shirt that expresses an opinion that might not be in sync with the overall position of the university, that he/she would evict that individual solely on that basis. Since the days of Aristotle, scholars and students would come together in institutes of higher learning to engage in civil debate over differences of opinion and controversial issues. From my presence on the Duke campus, it is also an observation that Duke Law School faculty and staff are not willing or ready to discuss the history of the Duke Lacrosse case and the selective and unjust disbarment of Mike Nifong. The reason for this is obvious, especially among the law school professors and staff… that reason being that they know that the North Carolina State Bar’s treatment of Mike Nifong was selective and unjust, as was the excessive and draconian persecution of him by the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, other state agencies, and the courts. It may take a generation or so before the faculty and staff will feel free to discuss the disgraceful treatment of Mr. Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse case. Presently, as my eviction from the Duke University campus yesterday emphatically proves, that day of open and free expression and debate at that institution, about the Duke Lacrosse case and Mike Nifong’s selective and unjust disbarment, is a long ways off.
No glutton for punishment and not wishing to be jailed on unprovoked trumped up trifle, I do not foresee a return visit in the near future to these particular environs that are hostile and prejudicial to Nifong supporters. And that’s what I learned at Duke University School of Law yesterday.