January 11, 2007
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
Under pressure from the city's black community, Hartford police have reversed themselves and are seeking charges against a white woman who admitted she lied when she told investigators in November that she was raped by a black man in Bushnell Park on a weekday afternoon.
Police Chief Daryl Roberts said Wednesday his department is submitting evidence to the Hartford state's attorney's office to see whether there is enough to charge the woman with making a false police report. If prosecutors determine there is probable cause, Roberts said, detectives will arrest the woman, probably by the end of the week.
"That's what they should have done from the start," said Eric Crawford, a black community activist who said the woman's story perpetuated harmful stereotypes of black men.
"It should have been a no-brainer," Crawford said. "Maybe now the next person who comes along with the same harebrained idea will think twice."
Police previously had said they would not charge the woman.
In recanting her story about the black man in the park, she told detectives she had been raped in another location by a man she knew, police said, and they did not want to further traumatize her.
Rape crisis experts had lauded that decision. But leaders of the black community persuaded police to try to hold the woman accountable.
"Whether or not she's a rape victim, the story she told did a lot of harm to a lot of people, and we can't ignore that," Roberts said. "Her story victimized the city and perpetuated a harmful image of black people. It caused a real powder keg."
Police have declined to identify the woman, saying only that she is a middle-aged white woman who lives in Connecticut but not in the Hartford area.
When the woman changed her story last month, police pressed her to identify her true assailant, but she refused, saying she did not want to get him in trouble. Her refusal to say more prompted detectives to close the case, but it has now been reopened.
In their initial decision not to charge the woman, officials said they were worried that her arrest might discourage rape victims from going to police out of fear they might not be believed. The decision was hailed at the time by some rape treatment experts as being sensitive to the fears and concerns of rape victims.
Nicole Steward, community relations coordinator for Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, said Wednesday she was disappointed that police now had decided to seek charges. She said the woman still should be considered the victim of a traumatic attack.
It is not uncommon for sexual-assault victims to make up some details of their attack in the hope that they will be believed, Steward said.
"We don't know all the details, so it's presumptuous to say she filed a false report when she may in fact still be the victim of a crime," Steward said.
Steward said she was sympathetic to the concerns expressed by the city's black community, saying rape victims share many of the same age-old misconceptions and stereotypes.
"In rape and racism, you are dealing with the forces of oppression that seek to keep people down," she said.
But while Steward lamented the reversal by police, many black leaders said charging the woman was the only just way to address their concerns. In particular, many in the black community said the police department's decision not to press charges sent a message that it was OK to perpetuate harmful stereotypes against blacks.
Roberts, who is black and grew up in Hartford, said his department's decision to reverse course and pursue charges was due in large part to concerns expressed by the black community.
"I try to take color out of the equation, but I can't ignore the harm that's been done by this woman's story," he said. "She's really put us between a rock and a hard place."
Before Roberts' announcement Wednesday, residents and activists had planned to protest outside the police department Saturday to urge police to reconsider their position and have the woman arrested.
Cornell Lewis, one of the protest organizers, said the demonstration has been canceled in light of the department's decision to seek charges.
"We're satisfied with their actions," he said. "Now we just want to make sure it doesn't happen again. It makes me angry when stuff like this happens and then we, as black men, are asked to look the other way. We're tired of looking the other way."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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