DURHAM — The chancellor at N.C. Central University has taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing an opinion column in the student newspaper that advocates violence.
The column in the April 18 issue of the Campus Echo bears the headline "Death to all rapists" and rips into the resolution of the Duke lacrosse case, in which three white athletes accused of sexually assaulting a black dancer were recently declared innocent.
Solomon Burnette, a Durham native, wrote that blacks cannot get a fair shake under the current American justice system and should thus stand up and fight, "whether intellectually, artistically or physically."
"I am not surprised at the outcome of this case. As a son of Africa, I know that American law is not worth the paper it is written on," he wrote, adding later in the column: "White people still murder us with impunity. White people still beat us with impunity. White people still rape us and get away with it."
On Tuesday, Chancellor James Ammons distanced the university from Burnette's words.
"We are aware of the fact that Mr. Burnette has a right to express his opinion, but we also know that the freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to be fair and accountable," Ammons said in a written statement. "We also believe that the facts do matter in this case and every legal case and violence is not the answer."
Ammons issued the statement in response to media inquiries. He declined on Tuesday to comment further on the incident but did say he could not recall ever speaking publicly before about anything in a student publication.
Burnette, 27, is a senior history major and the son of former City Council member Brenda Burnette. In 2000 and 2001, he served a 13-month prison sentence after pleading no contest to charges of robbing two Duke students at gunpoint and then violating the terms of his probation.
In the column, just his second in the Echo, Burnette wrote of the "current disequilibrium" in the justice system. In phone interviews Tuesday, Burnette said he believes something happened to Crystal Gail Mangum, the exotic dancer who accused the three Duke athletes of assaulting her at a March 2006 team party. In dropping all charges against those players two weeks ago, state Attorney General Roy Cooper said Mangum changed her story several times and was not credible.
"I would see it as intellectually remiss to view this case through the clouded lens of the American legal system," Burnette said Tuesday.
He concluded two telephone interviews with one word: "Peace."
Rony Camille, an NCCU senior and editor-in-chief of the Campus Echo, said Tuesday the newspaper has received a smattering of comments critical of Burnette's column. He defended Burnette's right to his opinion but distanced his newspaper from those opinions.
"I'll say this again," he said. "His views are solely his and do not reflect the Campus Echo." Words to that effect preface the online version of Burnette's column on the newspaper's Web site, www.campusecho.com.
Camille said Burnette alone wrote the "Death to all rapists" headline and acknowledged the headline and column have sparked an internal debate at the newspaper.
Asked whether he regrets publishing the column, Camille said he didn't want to speculate.
"It's run," he said.
Burnette did not back off his stance Tuesday.
"While my opinions are my own, I do represent a large segment of the student population," he contended.
He doesn't represent Demetrius Edwards. An NCCU freshman from Raleigh, Edwards said he disagreed with Burnette's call for physical violence.
"Stand up for what you believe in, but don't go around fighting," Edwards said. "You should kill 'em with intelligence."
Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.