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THE implications of the Carol Stuart murder case hold significance not only for society at large but for the Harvard community as well. The Stuart murder and last year's shuttle bus incident involving two Black students reveal how deep the roots of prejudice against Black people in America still run. Many whites still allow racial stereotypes to obscure their ability to think rationally about crime.
Charles Stuart knew this. By playing on the latent fear of "Black violence," Stuart almost escaped blame for the murder of his wife and soon-expected child. Stuart guessed correctly that the majority of white society would accept the fact that a Black man killed an innocent white woman without question. More than that, he knew that the majority of whites would be so intent on immediate retribution that they wouldn't closely investigate his story.
This mob mentality condemned William Bennett for the Stuart murder before trial. Similarly, mobs lynched hundreds of innocent Black men at the turn of the century for alleged attacks against white women. Eighty years ago, the accusation of one white person was sufficient evidence to convict a Black of any crime. Have we gotten any better since?
The local media and the Boston police department were willing participants in Charles Stuart's hate campaign. Even the national media were all too eager to sensationalize the killing of a white pregnant woman and her unborn child by a "savage" Black. Other murders that day, such as the slaying of James Moody, a Black man, did not receive one one-hundredth the press coverage.
The Boston police reacted immediately by conducting a search reminiscent of the methods of the 18th century British army in America. Officers entered and ravaged several homes where Black people lived--without search warrants--in order to find the man they suspected had committed the crime, William Bennett.
The colonists broke away from England partially because they felt the government and its officials should respect a person's right to own property and to have privacy in the home. The actions of the Boston police make a mockery of these ideals of the founding fathers of this country.
So too do the actions of the Boston Herald staff. The Herald had substantial evidence that cast doubt on Stuart's story, but did not print it until after Stuart's disappearance. What good is the freedom of the press if newspapers won't print the truth?
RATHER than doubt the word of Stuart, the police intimidated Mission Hill residents into pointing the finger at Bennett. The police assumed Bennett had committed the crime because he had a previous record and he happened to live in the area where the crime took place.
Unfortunately, being in the wrong place at the wrong time still appears to be a reason to cast blame, even at Harvard. Last year, Cambridge police harrassed two Black students because they happened to be running for a shuttle bus at the same time a Rix drug store was being robbed. The police proceeded to pull the two Black students off the shuttle bus without explaining to the two men why or for what they were under suspicion. No apologies can ever erase the humiliation that those two students suffered in front of their peers.
The irony of the shuttlebus case, as with the Stuart case, was that the actual culprits weren't even Black. The police were told the Rix burglars were white, but confronted the two Black students anyway.
It appears that even the ivy-covered walls of Harvard cannot escape the taint of racial prejudice. In the light of the Stuart case and the shuttle bus incident involving two Harvard students, I hope that America, including the members of the Harvard community, will conduct some serious self-reflection. And that whites will hesitate, question and thoroughly analyze a situation instead of immediately accusing a Black person of wrongdoing.
The United States has a sordid history of racial injustice and as recent events reveal, a sordid present. What about the future? Will the justice system ever become color blind? Will America ever become "free at last"?
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