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In these terms alone, the case played to the prejudices of both sides and obscured the truth about what had happened, though as Stannard shows, there was likely no rape at all and Thalia was covering a meeting with a white man. This event is reminiscent of the charge by Susan Smith that a black man had stolen her car and killed her children, when in fact she had done it herself. Numerous cases can be cited where whites in different parts of the country blame4d blacks for certain crimes that never happened because they thought that stereotype would be believed. In a different way, the same idea empowered Lincoln Steffens to claim that Hawaii was now beset by a crime wave, which was not true:
As Steffens confessed in his book, the crime wave that he had proudly created was entirely invented, although technically all the "crimes" had been real. There had been no increase at all in the city's actual crime. (Stannard 221)
Similarly, rumors were rampant about what had really happened to Thalia: "Rumors that he knew she had lied about the rape and hadn't attended the trial for that reason" (Stannard 359).
This raises another element evident in the analysis offered by Stannard, one showing the growing role of the media in trails in America, which also meant perpetuating rumors, creating problems out of whole cloth, editorializing about what is true and what is not, and generally making the entire legal procedure more salacious and more difficult than it has to be. The trial is depicted less as a search for truth and more as a boxing match with one side favored over the other.
The final outcome did not satisfy most ideas of justice, either. Thalia continued to play the innocent victim, but the prosecutor angered her on the stand so that she tore up some evidence and stormed out of the trial. Her sense of superiority was apparent not only over the people of Hawaii but over the naval personnel and their wives as well. The jury found the defendants guilty of manslaughter, but even that seemingly small victory for justice was thwarted when the Territorial Governor commuted the sentence of ten years to one hour served in his office. The defendants were allowed to leave the country, which meant that there would also be no retrial for rape because Thalia, the complaining witness, was no longer on the island.
Stannard suggests that this trial changed Hawaii forever, and yet what it really did was highlight the racial and social divisions that existed there and that were becoming more pronounced because of the large number of naval personnel stationed there. Pearl Harbor would remain famous, or infamous, for this trial and would only become a different sort of infamy after the attack by Japanese forces in 1941. The governance by the American government had the aura of paternalism toward the dark-skinned people of the islands and so created divisions that would persist for decades, and indeed that have some sway to this day. The sort of racial and social divisions seen in this case mirror the divisions in the South for much of our history, with the same sort of tensions in the justice system and the same difference in perceptions between the white population and the minority population, though in Hawaii, the dark-skinned population was not the minority but instead had the aura of an occupied population.
Gender tensions are also evident in this case, not only between the white accuser and the dark-skinned accused men, but also between that same woman and her husband and between that woman and the naval husbands and wives on the island. The way the case ended suggested the willingness of the government to step in and thwart justice when it saw that as necessary, leaving the native population distrustful of the courts for decades and convinced of the injustices being perpetrated against them. If the law is intended to apply equally to all, it is clear that that ideal was not followed in this case.
Stannard, David E. Honor Killing Race, Rape and Clarence Darrow's Spectacular Last…[continue]
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