Allegations that two white school teachers -Wendie Schweikert, a 37 year-old teacher at E.B. Morse Elementary School in Laurens, South Carolina and Allenna Ward, a 24 year-old teacher at a middle school in Clinton, South Carolina- were released on bail after being charged with the statutory rape of an 11 year old African-American boy and multiple counts of molestation of a group of boys aged 14 - 15 have outraged residents of a conservative South Carolina community. See details of this story at cnn.com
Aside from the anger over the allegations of the teacher's molestation of the children, many residents claim the case illustrates patterns of a legal double-standard in the South divided along racial lines. Residents argue that the if the roles were reversed and the teachers were African-American and the victims white, the response by the prosecutors and police would have been very different.
It is of interest to note that a former movie theater in downtown Laurens where Schweikert taught has been converted into a Ku Klux Klan museum and gift shop called "The Redneck Store" - this observation is not intended as an indictment but rather an indicator of the environment in which these alleged crimes took place.
Without all the facts it is difficult to make such a determination, however this case illustrates some very disturbing facets of the legal system in the United States - in particular how much of a role race and perception impact the application of laws.
One of the best and most disturbing examples is that of Boston resident Charles Stuart in 1989.
Stuart used a handgun to murder his pregnant wife Carol in the passenger seat of their car then turned the gun on himself. His claim that an African-American man with a raspy voice committed the attack, and the death of their unborn son 17-day later fueled sympathy, outrage and calls for justice nationwide among white Americans.
In their zeal to find the "killer" members of the Boston Police Department scoured the African-American sections of Boston, detaining hundreds of African-American men of all ages and descriptions - it turned out that the attack on Stuart's wife was pre-meditated and carefully planned by Charles Stuart himself. The most disturbing aspect of this tragedy, aside from Carol Stuart's murder and the hundreds and hundreds of African-Americans wrongly arrested or detained: the fact that Stuart understood the racial divisions in Boston enough to know that if he accused an African-American man of murdering his wife and unborn child - he might get away with murder. Please click the first link in the paragraph above to examine the facts of this incident as reported in a well-written article in the New York Times by Fox Butterfield and Constance Hays.
Perhaps more familiar is the case of Susan Smith, who murdered her two sons, Michael 3, and Alex, 14 months by driving her 4-door Mazda Protoge into a lake while both boys were asleep strapped into their car seats in the back. The case became the subject of intense nationwide media coverage after Smith claimed an African-American assailant carjacked her at gunpoint and drove off with her two children. Please click the above link and take a few minutes to read the detailed account of how this sad, lonely depressed victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a step-father she later had a sexual relationship with, came to murder her own children then repeatedly lie about it in police interrogations and in front of millions of TV viewers around the nation who came to her support.
Culturegeist would like to make clear that while Smith's concocted story of a phantom black assailant exploited racial fears and stereotypes, the Small South Carolina community both African-American and white, came together in unity to show the nation that they were not divided by race. And local police should be commended for suspecting very early on that her story was false.
What do the stories of Charles Stuart and Susan Smith say about prejudices in the United States? Does "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" apply to some Americans and not to others?
Sadly, American history is replete with many examples of innocent African-Americans lynched, murdered or arrested, tried and imprisoned or executed based only on the accusations of a plaintiff who was white.
Are you familiar with the account of the Scottsboro Boys?