Two local stores were closed, so she walked a block to Big Dan's Tavern on Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford’s North End. She bought the cigarettes, then had a '7 & 7' with a woman at a table and chatted with two men shooting pool. The other woman left. After she put her glass on the bar, she walked toward the door to leave.
Suddenly, she testified, a man in back of her grabbed the collar of her jacket while another tripped her and held her feet. They dragged her across the floor to the pool table, banging her head and hip against its side, and stripped off her jeans.
"I could hear people laughing, cheering and yelling from near the bar," the woman recalled in court. "My head was hanging off the edge of the pool table.... I was begging for help. I was pleading. I was screaming.... The man that was holding me down had grabbed me by the hair. The more I screamed, the tighter he pulled."
Then, reportedly, began a terrifying, 90-minute gang rape attack by six men. The woman could hear men laughing and shouting, "Do it! Do it!" Prosecutors later said they "cheered like it was a baseball game," and a detective described the accused rapists as acting "like a pack of sharks on a feeding frenzy." A bartender and three other men witnessed the rape, but two maintain they were threatened and afraid to call police.
After one alleged rapist stepped away to talk with his pals, Arujo bolted over the other side of the pool table, fleeing into the street at about 12:30 a.m. wearing only an unzipped jacket and a sock. She flagged down three men in a passing pickup truck, who heard her screaming that she had been raped. Cut and bruised, the woman was so traumatized she threw her arms around the neck of passenger Daniel O'Neil and wouldn't let go for at least five minutes.
After the incident, local residents were outraged both by the reported gang rape and by the release on only $1,000 bail of the four original defendants — two others were later indicted as accessories for pinning the alleged victim down on the pool table.
During the prosecution, the defendants' attorneys cross-examined Araujo to such an extent that the case - widely known as "Big Dan's rape" - became widely seen as a template for "blaming the victim" in rape cases.
Arujo was painted as an "unwed mother" (a scandal in those days) who left her children at home with her boyfriend to buy - of all things - cigarettes. Not milk or bread for her children. Cigarettes. I remember my mother and aunts and uncles shaking their heads and asking what kind of mother leaves her children to buy "Cancer Sticks" for herself?
Furthermore, she was dressed in tight jeans and a jacket and went into a bar. Alone. And had a drink with another woman. Many of the locals assumed she was getting cigarettes on her way to get a trick. She was a prostitute. Had to be. What kind of woman goes out of her house alone at 9 PM?
She was asking for it, see?
One of the many destructive fallouts from the "Big Dan's rape" case was the public airing of bigotry against the town's hardworking and family-oriented Portuguese immigrants. There were literally thousands of calls to radio station WBSM blaming the Portuguese and saying things like 'They should all be put on a boat and shipped the hell out of here'.
Azores , which has a history of being one of the stops in the Middle Passage of the Slave Trade, in which Portugal played a major role. It is no coincidence that Azoreans tend to be very dark skinned and many, like myself, have very tick, coarse, wavy hair.
Indeed, my grandmother, who was from Lisbon, considered that she had "married down" when she wed my Azorean grandfather, and scrupulously checked the skin color against a brown paper bag and the texture of the hair of her grandchildren to see if it was "kinky".
I had no idea what that meant until I was in nursing school with African American women who used the word. "My grandmother says my hair is 'kinky' too," I said, commiserating with their laments. I honestly didn't understand their laughter until later. Much, much later.
Many Portuguese immigrants like my relatives, who complained bitterly about the ethnic slurs, also besmirched the reputation of the alleged victim, herself of Portuguese descent. One vicious misconception was that she was a prostitute. Some local men condemned her for entering what one fisherman termed "that whorehouse," even though it was for the first time. "I don't think a clean woman would go into a place like that bar," said a soccer coach at a social club. When questioned, however, other neighborhood women say they also were unaware of the tavern's bad reputation.
The case was tried in a Victorian-styled courthouse in neighboring Fall River, Massachusetts. Six men were originally charged with the rape, though only four, Victor Raposo, John Cordeiro, Joseph Vieira and Daniel Silva, were eventually tried in two separate trials because some of them implicated each other. The four defendants were convicted of aggravated rape, two men were acquitted of the charges. The trials attracted international attention.
Indeed, the case became the basis of a Jodie Foster movie called, "The Accused".
I have tried to retell the events of that case because there are, in my mind, so many striking similarities between what happened to Cheryl Arujo and the recent killing in Sanford, Florida of 17 year old Trayvon Martin by volunteer Neighborhood watchman and mortgage risk analysis George Zimmerman.
Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman claims he shot the teenager in self-defense and is standing behind the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law. Under this legal concept, a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations and the "stand your ground" law is a defense or immunity to criminal charges and civil suit.
Zimmerman was neither arrested nor charged with Martin's death. The Sanford Police Department's lead investigator initially pursued manslaughter charges against Zimmerman, but was told by the state attorney that there wasn't enough evidence.
The investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin is essentially starting from scratch, with the new special prosecutor and a team of investigators quietly re-interviewing witnesses and examining evidence related to the unarmed teen's shooting death.
The 17-year-old Martin has been dead for a month, and George Zimmerman, his admitted killer, remains free after telling authorities he was forced to shoot Martin in self-defense.
I won't go into the confusing and conflicting reports of this event. I've learned that, at this point in this tragedy, the 'trial-by-media' that happens before the actual trial is all part of the prosecution and defense lawyer's strategy. I remember all too well how Cheryl Arujo was painted a prostitute and how the Portuguese community became both accuser and victim in the case.
Just as what Arujo was wearing the night she was gang-raped became important in the trial and a symbol of the sexism that tainted the legal proceedings, so has the "hoodie" that Trayvon Martin wore the night he was murdered become a symbol of the racism that still infests the psyche of this nation.
Geraldo Rivera took measure of the Martin case and determined that the moral of the tragedy was: young men, throw out your hoodies. See also: "Asking for it".
He is reported as having said,
"I applaud the young people all across the land who are making a statement about hoodies, about the hoodlums in this nation, particularly those who tread on our laws wearing official or quasi-official clothes."Just as in the "Big Dan rape" case, the victim has become the accused.
At this point in his remarks, Rush took off his jacket to reveal that he was wearing a hoodie underneath it. He covered his head with the hood, violating a rule in Congress that prohibits wearing hats on the House floor.
"Racial profiling has to stop, Mr. Speaker. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum," Rush added, swapping his spectacles for a pair of sunglasses.
It was ever thus when prejudice is really what's on trial.
It's not the hoodie. It's who's under the hoodie.
And, who was under the hoodie and behind those Foster Grants was a young black man - a threat to the dominant white male paradigm with a package of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea in his backpack - right next to the empty plastic baggie that contained, we are told, "trace amounts of pot".
It was President Obama who put his finger right into the gaping, festering wound of racism, when he said, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."
Obama said it was "absolutely imperative" that all aspects of the incident be fully vetted at every level of government. The civil rights arm of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI are reviewing the case, and a Seminole County grand jury is scheduled to convene April 10 to hear evidence."Soul-searching". It's what I remember happened to the communities of Fall River and New Bedford after the "Big Dan rape" case.
"I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident," he said.
I remember the protest marches and the rallies which not only resulted in the establishment of the first Rape-Crisis Center in the area, but also prompted laws which made the failure of a witness to report a sexual assault a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine. Neighboring Rhode Island reacted even more strongly. Failure on the part of witnesses to report a sexual assault or an attempted attack became a misdemeanor punishable by one year's imprisonment or a fine of not more than $500, or both.
Changing laws is easier than changing hearts and minds. That requires that "soul-searching" that the President spoke about, so that the accused remains the person who committed the crime and not the victim.
It was Micah 6:8:
God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.Perhaps, if more of us walked more humbly, more of young men of color and women from all walks of life would be able to walk freely, without fear of sexual assault or murder.
And what does God require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
And, more of God's justice and mercy would be done.