DSK, the Chambermaid and Justice

The media and justice system are in full soul-searching mode now that the sex scandal involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn is unraveling. If only there were a long-term benefit for the 2 million prisoners in the U.S.

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It was like Tawana Brawley all over again.

That was my first thought upon hearing late last week that the Guinean hotel chambermaid who had accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, of rape "had credibility problems." She had ties to a drug gang. She had lied on her asylum application. She had lied about the sequence of events that followed the alleged sexual assault.

According to the New York Post, she might even have lied about the sexual assault -- she might at first have agreed to have sex with Strauss-Kahn in exchange for money, then cried "rape" after he refused to pay her. (She filed a libel suit against the paper Tuesday to counter those accusations.)

Tawana Brawley, for those who don't remember, was the Newburgh, N.Y., teenager who was found stuffed in a plastic bag back in 1987, covered with feces, with her hair chopped off and racial expletives written all over her body. She accused four men of abducting and raping her, one of them a cop, the other an assistant district attorney.

Like the case of the Guinean chambermaid versus Strauss-Kahn, Brawley's case became a media storm. It made the Rev. Al Sharpton's career (although Sharpton has been conspicuously quiet about DSK) and destroyed those of two prominent black lawyers, C. Vernon Mason -- at one time considered a likely New York City mayoral candidate -- and Alton Maddox Jr.

But as in the Strauss-Kahn case, prosecutors could never corroborate any of Brawley's claims. The rape kit showed no signs of sexual abuse, and the media reporting led inexorably to the conclusion that she must have harmed herself. Why? We will never know for sure, because Brawley never talked.

Kenneth Thompson, the chambermaid's lawyer, promised that, unlike Brawley, she would deliver her version of events. But at this point, the scythe of the news cycle has already destroyed her reputation as thoroughly as we thought it had Strauss-Kahn's chances of becoming the next president of France.

Now prosecutors are telling the New York Post that all charges against DSK will be dropped. "Nothing that comes out of her mouth can be believed," one prosecutor reportedly said. And Strauss-Kahn's political career doesn't seem as dead as it was last week. The pundits are now backtracking to say that the media should be more careful, that the "perp walk" that presupposes guilt should be more closely examined, that prosecutors shouldn't be so quick to rush to judgment.

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If these reforms come to pass and the careful evaluation of facts is applied to poor black men the same way they are to powerful white men, that might be a good thing. At New York's Rikers Island, where Strauss-Kahn spent several nights prior to being allowed to stay in a cushy $20,000-a-month apartment, the less-well-off accused languish as long as five years awaiting trial.