Shirley Sherrod was a victim of one of the fastest rushes to judgment ever — followed by a rush to redress — in two whirlwind days. A deceptively edited video hit the Internet that appeared to show the USDA staffer at a NAACP event, admitting to racism against a white farmer. The NAACP immediately denounced her, and the USDA asked for her resignation. After the full video was released showing her story to be one of racial reconciliation, the NAACP apologized and the USDA offered her a new job. Sherrod's case was an impressive display of right-wing instigators playing the Obama administration, the NAACP and the mainstream media.
ACORN, a group created to improve housing, wages and access to credit for low-income people, never recovered from allegations of voter fraud during the 2008 presidential campaign. One of the most damaging blows came later, in September 2009, when heavily edited videos appeared to show ACORN employees counseling a pimp and prostitute. After Congress cut off federal funding, the national group folded in March 2010. Later the Brooklyn DA found no criminal wrongdoing in the video, and a congressional probe found no sign that ACORN's federal funds had been mishandled.
The case seemed clear. The privileged white Duke lacrosse players hired a black student to be a stripper, but they got drunk and raped her in March 2007. Open and shut, it had everything: from race and class to sex and alcohol. But it also had Michael B. Nifong, a district attorney who was later labeled a "rogue prosecutor." The charges were eventually dropped. Nifong was disbarred for ethics violations in filing charges against the players and even found guilty of criminal contempt.
It was a nightmare come true: marauding black and Hispanic teens "wilding" in Central Park, raping and savagely beating a 28-year-old white female jogger in April 1989. The media had a field day with the racially charged case. However, the victim had no recollection of the attack upon awakening from a coma, and the five teens who were charged said that their confessions were coerced. After they served sentences of up to 13 years, DNA evidence and a confession by the real perpetrator led to the men being exonerated.
Tawana Brawley, a black 15-year-old who was found in a garbage bag smeared with feces and racial slurs scrawled on her body, said a group of white men abducted and raped her in November 1987. The case generated large protest rallies and extensive coverage, catapulting the Rev. Al Sharpton onto the national stage. But a seven-month New York State grand jury inquiry found overwhelming evidence that Brawley fabricated her story.
Susan Smith said in October 1994 that a black man had carjacked her and forced her out of the vehicle before driving off with her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons, who were still strapped in their car seats. Lie. Ten days after making tearful pleas and appearances on morning TV shows and watching Union, S.C., get draped in yellow ribbons, Smith confessed. She had rolled her car into a lake with the boys inside. She was convicted of murder in the case.
Charles Stuart claimed in October 1989 that his pregnant wife was killed by a black gunman in a robbery. Boston was on edge as police swarmed the projects and rounded up black suspects. Stuart picked one — William Bennett — from a lineup in late December. But Stuart's brother came forward and identified Charles as the killer. Hours later, Stuart committed suicide by jumping from a bridge.
Spotty tips and "eyewitness" accounts had police on the wrong trail for three weeks in October 2002, when any white man in a white van or truck was liable to be pulled over as a suspect in D.C.'s "Beltway Sniper" case. The nation was stunned when John Muhammad and Lee Malvo — a black man and a black teen — were arrested in a blue Chevy Caprice and charged with shooting 13 people, 10 of them fatally.
Clearly, the rush to judgment can victimize people of all races. But we think there are situations where if you reversed the races, the outcome wouldn't be the same. Check out, "Would a Black Person Get Away With This?"
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