Blackmen and the US justice system: Part One


AFTER slavery was formally abolished, lynching emerged as a new vicious tool for racial control to re-establish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights.
It punished perceived violations of customs, later institutionalised as Jim Crow laws, which mandated racial segregation.
Whites sometimes lynched blacks for financial gain, and sometimes to establish political or economic dominance.
These lynchings emphasised the new social order constructed under Jim Crow; whites acted together, reinforcing their collective identity along with the unequal status of blacks through these group acts of violence.
Blackmen were lynched for ‘standing around’, for ‘annoying white girls’ or for failing to call a policeman ‘mister’.
And now, the horrific stories of the victims of this barbaric crime are on display at a new national memorial to lynching victims in Montgomery, Alabama.
In her paper, Rape, Racism and the Law, Jennifer Wriggins writes: “The history of rape in this country has focused on the rape of white women by black men. From a feminist perspective, two of the most damaging consequences of this selective blindness are the denials that Black women are raped and that all women are subject to pervasive and harmful sexual coercion of all kinds.”
Wriggins asserts the type of rape that has been treated most seriously throughout this nation’s history has been the illegal forcible rape of a white woman by a blackman.
The selective acknowledgement of black accused/white victim rape was especially pronounced during slavery and through the first half of the 20th Century.
Today, a powerful legacy remains that permeates thought about rape and race.
During the slavery period, statutes in many jurisdictions provided the death penalty or castration for rape when the convicted man was black or mulatto and the victim white.
These extremely harsh penalties were frequently imposed. In addition, mobs occasionally broke into jails and courtrooms and lynched slaves alleged to have raped white women.
The rape of black women by white or blackmen, on the other hand, was legal; indictments were sometimes dismissed for failing to allege that the victim was white.
In those states where it was illegal for whitemen to rape white women, statutes provided less severe penalties for the convicted white rapist than for the convicted black one.
The most common justification for lynching was the claim that a blackman had raped a white woman.
The thought of this particular crime aroused, in many white people, an extremely high level of mania and panic.
One white woman, the wife of an ex-Congressman, stated in 1898:
“If it needs lynching to protect women’s dearest possession from human beasts, then I say lynch a 1 000 times a week if necessary.”
The quote resonates with common stereotypes that black male sexuality is wanton and bestial and that blackmen are wild, criminal rapists of white women.
The patterns that began in slavery and continued long afterwards have left a powerful legacy that manifests today in several ways. Although the death penalty for rape has been declared unconstitutional, the severe statutory penalties for rape continue to be applied in a discriminatory manner.
A recent study concluded that blackmen convicted of raping white women receive more serious sanctions than all other sexual assault defendants.
A recent attitudinal study found that white potential jurors treated black and white defendants similarly when the victim was black. However, black defendants received more severe punishment than white defendants when the victim was white.
On March 8 2017, police in Denison, Texas, responded to a call that Breana Rachelle Harmon was missing and the door to her vehicle was open, with her personal items scattered on the ground near her automobile.
A few hours later, Harmon walked into a nearby church bloodied, bruised and discombobulated, wearing nothing but her underwear.
According to the local newspaper, the Herald-Democrat, Harmon told the police that she was kidnapped by three black males wearing ski masks and gloves.
Harmon explained how the roving band of masked thugs, obviously roaming the area looking for white women to defile, snatched the 18-year-old out of her car, took her to a wooded area and gang-raped her.
But Harmon bravely fended off the imaginary Negroes in an epic knife fight from which she luckily escaped with only a few scratches on her legs.
She fled to the church and recounted her story to officers who began searching for the African rape squad before they could attack another white woman.
The alleged rape of an innocent white girl angered people in the community and around the country. Everyone began searching for the evil men who stole Harmon’s purity after her mom made a facebook post.
As police investigated, they wondered why Harmon’s bruises were not consistent with being in a violent knife attack.
Even more curiously, a nurse who examined Harmon said there was no physical evidence of sexual assault and did not think that she had been assaulted.
After police questioned blackmen in the area and were unable to find the three-man white-girl rape team, Harmon eventually confessed that she might have made up the part about the blackmen; and the part about being kidnapped; and the part about being raped.
Harmon admitted that she had cut herself and her jeans because she was upset about possibly breaking up with her boyfriend.
When she realised that her mother might be upset about the jeans, Harmon said, she just made up the stuff about the group of masked rapists because … well … you know — they’re black. 
The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 19, accused in Alabama of raping two white American women on a train in 1931.
On the day in question, March 25 1931, two dozen people were ‘hoboing’ on a freight train travelling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee.
The hoboes were an equal mix of African-Americans and Caucasians. A group of white teenage boys saw 18-year-old Haywood Patterson and attempted to push him off the train, claiming that it was ‘a whiteman’s train’. 
A group of whites gathered rocks and attempted to force all of the black men from the train. Patterson and the other black passengers were able to ward off
the group.
The humiliated white teenagers jumped or were forced off the train and reported to the city’s sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of black teenagers.
The sheriff deputised a posse comitatus, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama, and arrested the black Americans.
Two young white women also got off the train and accused the black teenagers of rape. 
The Central Park jogger case was a major news story that involved the assault, rape and sodomy of Trisha Meili, a white female jogger, and attacks on others in Manhattan’s Central Park on the night of April 19 1989.
The attack on the jogger left her in a coma for 12 days. Meili was a 28-year-old investment banker at the time. According to The New York Times, the attacks were “…one of the most widely publicised crimes of the 1980s.”
The crime spawned the incorrect use of the term ‘wilding’ as the unprovoked gang assault on a stranger.
On the night of the attack, five juvenile males — four blacks and one of Hispanic descent — were apprehended in connection with a number of attacks in Central Park committed by around 30 teenage perpetrators.
The defendants were tried variously for assault, robbery, riot, rape, sexual abuse and attempted murder relating to Meili’s attack and the other attacks in the park, based solely on confessions that they said were coerced and false.
Before the trial, the FBI tested the DNA of the rape kit and found it did not match to any of the tested suspects. The office of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau presented these findings to the press as ‘inconclusive’.
They were convicted in 1990 by juries in two separate trials. Subsequently, known as the Central Park Five, they received sentences ranging from five to 15 years.
Four of the convictions were appealed and the convictions were affirmed by appellate courts. The defendants spent between six and 13 years in prison.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist in prison, confessed to raping the jogger and DNA evidence confirmed his guilt.
He knew facts about the crime that only the offender could have known and also said he committed the rape alone.
At the time of his confession, Reyes was already serving a life sentence.
He was not prosecuted for raping Meili because the ‘statute of limitations’ had passed by the time he confessed.
Morgenthau suggested to the court that the five men’s convictions related to the assault and rape of Meili and to attacks on others to which they had confessed be ‘vacated’ (a legal position in which the parties are treated as though no trial has taken place) and withdrew the charges. Their convictions were vacated in 2002.
The five convicted men sued New York City in 2003 for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. The city refused to settle the suits for a decade under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg because the city’s lawyers felt they would win.
However, after Bill de Blasio became mayor and supported the settlement, the city settled the case for US$41 million in 2014.
As of December 2014, the five men were pursuing an additional US$52 million in damages from New York State in the New York Court of Claims.


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