Published on Jan 17, 2014 by The Book Archive
Tawana Glenda Brawley (born 1972) is an African-American woman from Wappingers Falls, New York, who gained notoriety in 1987–88 for falsely accusing six white men of having raped her.
The charges received widespread national attention because of her age (15), the persons accused (including police officers and a prosecuting attorney), and the shocking state in which Brawley was found after the alleged rape (in a trash bag, with racial slurs written on her body and covered in feces). Brawley’s accusations were given widespread media attention in part from the involvement of her advisers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason.
After hearing evidence, a grand jury concluded in October 1988 that Brawley had not been the victim of a forcible sexual assault and that she herself may have created the appearance of an attack. The New York prosecutor whom Brawley had accused as one of her alleged assailants successfully sued Brawley and her three advisers for defamation.
Brawley initially received considerable support from the African-American community. Some scholars suggested that Brawley was victimized by biased reporting that adhered to racial stereotypes. The mainstream media’s coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager. The grand jury’s conclusions decreased support for Brawley and her advisers. Brawley’s family has maintained that the allegations were true.
Public response to Brawley’s story was at first mostly sympathetic. Actor Bill Cosby, among others, pledged support for her and helped raise money for a legal fund. In December 1987, 1,000 people marched through the streets of Newburgh, New York, in support of Brawley. Brawley’s claims in the case captured headlines across the country. Public rallies were held denouncing the incident. Racial tensions also climbed. When civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, with attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, began handling Brawley’s publicity, the case quickly took on an explosive edge. At the height of the controversy in June 1988, a poll showed a gap of 34 percentage points between blacks (51%) and whites (85%) on the question of whether she was lying. Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason generated a national media sensation. The three claimed officials all the way up to the state government were trying to cover up defendants in the case because they were white. Specifically, they named Steven Pagones, an Assistant District Attorney in Dutchess County, as one of the rapists, and a racist, among other accusations. The mainstream media’s coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager. They cited the leaking and publication of photos taken of her at the hospital and the revelation of her name despite her being underage. In addition, critics were concerned that Brawley had been left in the custody of her mother, stepfather and advisers, rather than being given protection by the state, and that she was used as a pawn by adults who should have protected her.
Brawley has maintained she did not invent the story; in a 1997 appearance, she still had supporters. In November 2007, Brawley’s stepfather and mother, in a 20th-anniversary feature for the New York Daily News, contended the attack happened. “How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We’re just regular people,” Glenda Brawley said, adding, “We should be millionaires.” They said they had asked New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Governor Eliot Spitzer to reopen the case. They also said that Brawley, who has converted to Islam, would speak at any legal proceedings. The events were alluded to in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, in which a scene showed a brick wall bearing the graffiti message “Tawana told the truth”.