Amanda Knox has returned to the United States wearing the halo of victimhood for a crime she presumably did not commit. But it should not be forgotten that in her long journey toward exculpation, she blamed an innocent black man for the murder for which she was accused.
Diya "Patrick" Lumumba — a Congolese-born resident of Italy — owned a bar in Perugia that he named Le Chic. Knox worked there part time. When the Italian police questioned Knox about the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, she implicated Lumumba. He was promptly arrested. And yes, we've seen it all before. Before there was Amanda Knox, there was Charles Stuart.
Knox told Italian police in a written statement that she saw Lumumba enter Kercher's room on the evening of Nov, 1, 2007. She later admitted that this version of events was made up but implied that it was made up under duress. Knox's attorneys say that she blamed Lumumba after enduring 14 hours of nonstop questioning from police and prosecutors who had "breached her civil rights."
But what about the civil rights of the man she maligned, who spent two weeks in an Italian jail before Knox's story fell apart?
That brings me back to Charles Stuart in Boston. I was having a conversation with a friend one night in October of 1989 when a local TV news station reported a story so dreadful that we stopped midsentence: A white couple coming home from a birthing class at a local hospital in the city had lost their way and had ended up in a "dangerous part of town" near a black housing project.
While looking for a way out, they were allegedly attacked by a dark-skinned mugger who came out of nowhere and fatally shot Stuart's pregnant wife, Carol, and wounded Stuart. That was the story Stuart told and the story that the police and most of the news media swallowed whole.
After ingesting the TV report, my friend said, "Something's not right about this story." For one, he had grown up not far from that location and said that it would take some effort to "get lost" in the area where the shooting took place.
In the Stuart case, tough questions were asked belatedly — only after dozens of black men were rounded up and questioned; only after hundreds of homes were raided; only after an African-American man named William Bennett was arrested and jailed on suspicion of murder; and only after race relations in an already racially charged city were set on end by the raw emotions that resulted from the tragic murders of a young woman and her not-yet-born baby. Charles Stuart, it was later discovered, had pulled the trigger. He blamed a black man and jumped to his death from a bridge after his lie was exposed.
To the credit of the Italian carabinieri and other police involved in the Knox case, her story implicating her African boss for murder seemed far too convenient. But their policing instincts did not kick in soon enough for Lumumba to avoid spending those two weeks in jail.
Knox and Stuart both resorted to an old and often successful tactic: When worst comes to worst, blame the black guy (or the Latino). Italians may not be used to this tactic, which is as old as the United States itself, but they have their own scapegoats in Roma (gypsies), Bulgarians and Albanians.
I know virtually nothing about Lumumba. I do not know if he is a good guy or a bad guy or something in between, and it really doesn't matter. I know that he was innocent of the crime that Knox accused him of committing. I know that Knox owes Lumumba, and wrongly accused people everywhere, an apology for breathing life into a falsehood. Lumumba was awarded 40,000 euros in damages, but his bar soon shut down, presumably under the weight of his newfound notoriety. His lawyer says that he is barely able to provide for his wife and child.
Knox stands to make millions in book and movie deals that are coming her way. She returned to the United States a celebrated heroine for fighting back against an unproven murder charge. But she can never be heroic in the eyes of innocents who have been blamed for the brutal crimes of others. They are often bitter and angry. This, Amanda Knox of all people should well understand.
Phillip W.d. Martin is a writer and investigative reporter in Boston.