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By Bob Wilson
Now I ain’t talking ’bout the roaring West
This is 1975 at its most oppressive best.
North Carolina state the pride of this land
Made her an outlaw hunted on every hand
North Carolinians of a certain age – middle age and beyond, that is – will recognize those lyrics written by Bernice Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Reagon was celebrating Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) Little, darling of feminists and leftists for the self-defense killing of a white Beaufort County jailer who had forced her to commit a sex act.
In 1975, the Joan Little affair was a national and international cause celebre, similar in many respects to the 2006 Duke lacrosse uproar.
I thought about Reagon’s ditty when Crystal Gail Mangum, who falsely accused three of the lacrosse players of rape at an off-campus team party, surfaced again. Mangum does so periodically at the behest of those who won’t let her slip into the shadows.
A Wake County jury found Joan Little not guilty of murder. Last I heard of Little, she was living in New York City. Mangum has taken up temporary residence once more in the Durham County Jail.
She’s awaiting trial in the stabbing death of her boyfriend Reginald Daye. Trust me, it takes a strong dose of whiskey courage to be Mangum’s boyfriend: You put your life expectancy at risk.
But did Mangum really cure Daye’s ills with a sharp blade, as Sir Walter Raleigh might have noted? (Raleigh should know, having lost his head for crossing Queen Elizabeth.)
No, according to a retired emergency room physician and self-described socialist, Sidney Harr. He says Daye died because of an improperly placed tracheal tube at Duke Hospital. This is at stark odds with the medical examiner’s report, which found the 46-year-old Daye died from the stab wounds and nothing more.
Maybe Harr’s right. He’s a physician, and besides my knowledge of medicine stops at Band-Aids.
Still, Harr’s credibility pales beside that of the medical examiner’s office. Its pathologists examined the body; Harr examined the reports.
Moreover, Harr has been active in a strange pastiche, the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong. Really, that’s the name. Harr and a few other eccentrics argue – if you let them get close enough – that Nifong didn’t frame the Duke lacrosse players. No, he was the victim.
OK, take that up with Attorney General Roy Cooper, who declared the Duke Three innocent after a lengthy investigation.
If Crystal Gail Mangum or Joan Little had been white, you would have heard virtually nothing about them, then or now.
But Little’s race and a white jailer found ventilated by an ice pick in her cell ago were Southern Gothic distilled. So were Mangum’s lurid allegations of gang rape, though no evidence was ever found of such violence against her.
Poor black women vs. the reviled white establishment always make sensational copy. But do they really face a hostile criminal justice system here?
I don’t think so. Joan Little walked, and Crystal Mangum has had more court breaks than Humpty Dumpty. She will walk, too, if a jury believes her.
As for Sidney Harr and the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong, even the disgraced former prosecutor keeps his distance from that outfit. No wonder.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.