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Nate Parker.

So, Wait, the Justice System is Dysfunctional for Black People — Except When it’s Nate Parker?

Nate Parker.

Nate Parker. Photo via AP.

Penn State alumni’s defense of Parker makes no sense in the face of Black Lives Matter’s critique of our judicial system.

With each passing day, it seems the Nate Parker rape controversy grows even bigger and spirals more out-of-control, threatening to set us back some years on the already suppressed problems of sexual violence and rape culture that shortchanges the life of women in America and around the world.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also that whole issue of the impending foreclosure on the promise of Parker’s passion project, Birth of A Nation.

Several screenings of Birth have been canceled, putting the future of the film — and Parker’s rising career — on permanent standby.

For good reason.

Parker who, along with Fox Searchlight Studio, made a poor effort to get ahead of the rape scandal, came off in his initial press interview as remorseless. His disinterest in clarifying the details of what happened 17 years ago with a young woman in his Penn State campus dormitory has been joined by a few actors and elders in the Hollywood community, such as Anthony Anderson and, surprisingly, Harry Belafonte.

And, they’re not the only ones.

Today, The Root published an exclusive statement sent by four Penn State alumni who were present during the trial that acquitted Parker and convicted his friend and writing partner Jean McGianni Celestin. (Celestin’s conviction was later overturned.)

Related: Stop Excusing Black Men’s Violence — Like Nate Parker’s — for the Sake of Black Liberation

“We are both dismayed and disappointed at the gross and blatant misinformation campaign regarding the events that took place during that time period,” the letter begins. “We feel compelled to speak truth to this situation as the media has cherry-picked the most salacious elements while ignoring the actual record.”

The undersigned — LaKeisha Wolf, Assata Richards, Lurie Daniel Favors, and Brian Favors — go on to lay out 10 points for readers to consider as they form or reconsider their opinion regarding what the undersigned describe as “one of the longest non-murder trials in the history of the area.” [Editor’s note: the trial was three days long.]

These points highlight everything from racism and false testimonies coerced by police investigators to false allegations of harassment directed at the accuser and harassment of the defense’s witnesses.

The undersigned also include a hyperlink (factchecktoday) to court documents so readers can match all the claims weighed in their letter with material deliberated in the context of the legal proceedings.

As Wolf, Richards, Favors and Favors approach their conclusion, they reiterate why they have spoken out in support of Parker and Celestin — two black men who, in their opinion, were nearly destroyed by the legal system:

“Our belief in Mr. Celestin and Mr. Parker’s innocence was validated as we sat through the court trial, heard all of the evidence and witnessed a justice system that was trying its best to lock both men up for as long as possible. But that system couldn’t bury them completely. The facts that spoke to their innocence, and the community that was unwilling to allow two additional young black men to be wrongfully convicted of something they did not do, would not allow it.”

Divisions between many black men and women on the issue of trustworthiness and structural problems of America’s judicial system on matters of rape and black men has become as prominent a subject as whether or not an black artist’s personal life can be divorced from the art produced.

Black men who, just yesterday, condemned the American criminal justice system as rigged and corrupt — following the acquittals of George Zimmerman, Timothy Loehmann, Baltimore cops who killed Freddie Gray, and so many others — are now deferring and referring critics of Parker and rape culture to the verdict of the Pennsylvania court to justify their suspension of disbelief on the acquittal of two black men for rape.

Lets be clear. Those criticisms of the legal system when police get off for killing one black body after another were, and are, warranted and exist within the pale of reason.

However, it’s dualism exemplified by Black men (and women) who shift their position to excuse and rationalize rape that’s striking a big nerve with so many in the black community. To call such dualistic thinking problematic is a severe understatement.

One thing is certain.

Every time we say “But the court acquitted Nate Parker of these charges” and “that should be the end of the story,” we delegitimize the entire critique of Black Lives Matter about the criminal justice system and forfeit our right to charge our judicial system with harboring racial bias and white supremacy.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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