The night of July 23 was a long one for me, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to wake up at 6 a.m., and my body was exhausted.
But as is usually the case, my mind had a stronger will than my body; I had just read the verdict in the Darrell Williams case: guilty.
I thought about old memories and I had new questions.
The old memories are of our nation’s history of racial violence and injustice, especially when stemming from accusations of a black man’s sexual advances on a white woman (Tulsa Race Riot of 1921).
They are realizations of the disturbing prevalence of sexual violence against women in our country.
And they are painful reminders of the racial injustice that still exists in our legal system today.
The new questions are these: In 2012, do black athletes get a fair shot at justice in these situations?
Should the testimony of the accuser alone be enough to convict someone of rape?
Should I feel bad for thinking that Williams didn’t do it? What if he did do it?
I want to share some of my frustrations with this case, and hopefully I can connect it to a bigger picture.
First, I was bothered by the frequency with which this very newspaper seemed to report on this case. For more than a year, it seemed like there was a front-page O’Colly article once a week with some “new development” in the case. How many times did we read phrases like “he forced his hands into her pants” and “inserted his fingers?”
I had my doubts that he would be able to get a fair trial in Payne County because of the non-stop coverage of the details of the case.
I was also disturbed by perceptions of Williams’ guilt before the trial even started. At a basketball game last year, I saw a student point to Williams and say, “Isn’t that the dude that raped two girls?”
I thought to myself, “Do people read the O’Colly, see that another black athlete got in trouble and just blindly assume that he’s guilty?”
I would hope not. But I’m still not sure.
If you’ve been paying attention to political news this year, you know there has been controversy over issues that sit on the crossroads of race and legal practice.
It’s apparent to me as a student of sociology and history — and as a young man who grew up in a home with a black father and a white mother — that America is in a strange era in terms of race relations.
The old memories I mentioned before are running up against some new questions.
On one hand, the Civil Rights Movement was a beautiful democratic catalyst for a massive change in the way we think about race.
The barriers of Jim Crow and the antebellum South are largely broken down, blacks are experiencing civic and legal status equal to that of whites and a few years ago we elected our first president with at least one non-white parent.
On the other hand, the neighborhoods of our country have found themselves divided on the basis of race, black-on-black crime rates continue to be a problem and income and wealth gaps between blacks and whites are absolutely ridiculous.
Last night I was in attendance at the N.A.A.C.P. public forum on this case, and I watched some of our city’s black community gather in support of Williams. Rev. Jesse Jackson shared memories of the past, painting a sobering picture of the Civil Rights Movement in which the fulfillment of American democracy was made possible by the blood of early pioneers.
He also commented on the future, citing the disturbing trends of “over-representation on the ball field” and “under-representation in the classroom” among black people.
Old memories and new questions.
We are far removed from the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow and lynch mobs. But we are nowhere near Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for our country.
Here we sit, torn between a nightmare of the past and a dream of the future.
And here I sit, torn between old memories and new questions.
Evan Woodson is a history and sociology senior. He is also a football coach at Stillwater High School.