Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

A brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League

By Jeff Hobbs

A review

In his biography of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs’ goal was to give a comprehensive view of this young man’s life.  He has done much more than that.  Hobbs’ biography gives us a better view of the world we live in, than we see in the mainstream media today.

Robert Peace’s childhood

Robert grew up in Orange, New Jersey.  Orange is one of several towns in the Newark metropolitan area.

Robert’s mother Jackie, worked in hospitals and nursing homes serving food in area cafeterias.  She made a special effort to raise her child, reading to him at night and refusing go parties after his birth.  Jeff Hobbs’ had the following dedication to his book: “Dedicated to Robert DeShaun Peace and to his heart, Jacqueline Peace.”

Robert’s father, Skeet Douglas sold cocaine. 

Malcolm X, in his autobiography explained why some African Americans might be tempted to live a life outside the law.  When he was a student in school a teacher asked the young Malcolm what type of work he might want to do.  At the time Malcolm was thinking about being a lawyer.  His teacher responded, “. . . you’ve got to be realistic about being a n-(word).  A lawyer--that’s no realistic goal for a n-(word).  You need to think about something you can be.  You’re good with your hands--making things.  Everybody admires your carpentry shop work.  Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”

Malcolm X would become one of the most influential leaders of working people in the history of the United States.  However, before he made this transition he had an occupation similar to that of a corporate lawyer.  He was a thief.

Skeet Douglas appeared to know everyone in the neighborhood.  He introduced his son to his friends, and cultivated young Robert’s curiosity about their lives.  Douglass also was an educated man and gave his son the fundamentals of how to develop the discipline to study.  For these and other reasons, Robert had a deep bond with his father.

When Robert was seven years old, Skeet Douglas was accused of murder.  The police argued that they found a murder weapon on Douglas when they arrested him shortly after a murder.  Clearly, had Douglas been guilty of murder, the first thing he would have done would be to loose this weapon.  Jeff Hobbs showed how there was a witness willing to testify that Douglas had no weapon when the police arrested him.  This witness died before Douglas’ trial.

In this country, judges do not allow defense attorneys to present evidence showing that police departments have a history of abusing the rights of citizens who are accused of crimes.  In fact, during the summer of 1967 Newark exploded in a rebellion that was sparked by police abuse. 

One of the goals of Robert Peace’s life was to spend time with his father in prison, and to find a legalistic way to reverse his father’s conviction.  These efforts were met with almost total indifference from the state authorities of New Jersey.

St. Benedict’s

Robert’s mother Jackie felt that the best way to raise her son was to provide a private school education.  This required a great sacrifice, especially since his father had no income as a prison inmate.

Robert went to high school at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School.  St. Benedict’s happens to be located across the street from Arts High.  This is the art and music high school that I attended.  While Robert graduated from St. Benedict’s in the early 1990’s, I graduated from Arts High in 1971.

Robert became the outstanding student in his class.  His grade point average was near perfect.  He excelled in water polo even though he didn’t know how to swim when he started school.  He was also seen as a leader who assisted his classmates in their studies.  These efforts earned him the most prestigious award at St. Benedict’s. 

Charles Cawley was a graduate of St Benedict’s.  He was also the CEO of MBNA bank and had a salary of tens of millions of dollars per year.  Cawley looked at Robert’s record and decided that he would pay for most of Robert’s college education.  This was the only time Cawley made this kind of contribution that would about $140,000.

Yale University

Robert was accepted at Yale University.  Here Robert majored in one of the most challenging fields of study, molecular biochemistry.  While many students in this field struggled to absorb their lessons, Robert routinely aced his examinations.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book was Robert’s roommate at Yale.  There were two experiences Robert had at Yale that caught my attention.

Robert worked in Yale’s cafeteria in order to pay some of his bills.  One day he asked three students “politely” to bus their trays.  They refused and left their mess for Robert to clean up.  Robert was enraged at the attitude of these students.  Part of this rage might have been because he knew that his mother might have experienced this same kind of humiliation working in the Newark area.

Robert had a habit of smoking marijuana.  Given the stress he experienced in his life, he felt that smoking marijuana helped him relax.  He also learned that it was easy to sell this product on the Yale University campus.

Here we might think about the fact that a few states have legalized marijuana and others have made this product available for medicinal use.  However, the authorities at Yale called Robert into their office informing him that selling drugs was against school policy. 

These administrators understood that they had absolutely no intention of denying Yale students from getting high.  These administrators probably had used marijuana themselves.  Everyone in this room understood clearly that the reprimand Robert received was merely a show.  Robert learned from this meeting that he needed to be more careful.  In his years of selling this product, he was never apprehended by the police.         

We might also think about the fact that Yale University is a place where graduates work in top positions of the government.  Presidents George Bush Senior and Junior graduated from Yale as well as the Secretary of State John Kerry.  Many officers of the Central Intelligence Agency graduated from Yale.  The CIA has a long record of working to overthrow democratically elected governments all over the world.  Millions lost their lives because of the wars against the people of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Clearly, these administrators at Yale would never dare reprimand those graduates about the horrendous crimes they have committed.  No, they only had the courage to bring a young Black man into their office to chastise him about selling a product that they all probably used.  

After graduation Robert had a dream of travelling to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  After studying for eight years in school he felt he needed a break.  Robert felt that the time he spent in Rio was the best time of his life.  Before travelling to Rio, Robert worked at a lab at Yale doing cutting edge research in an attempt to find a cure for cancer.

Back in Orange N.J.

Upon returning to Orange, New Jersey, Robert discovered that his immediate plans had fallen through and he needed to get a job.  He worked for a few years as a biology teacher at St. Benedicts. 

Then, he decided to work in real estate.  He quit St Benedicts and got a job at Continental Airlines as a baggage handler.  This job enabled Robert to travel the country, where he might find properties that he could purchase at a low price, and sell, making a bit of money.

Robert attained a license to do these transactions and had an understanding of the market.  The problem was that Yale University, one of the most prestigious in the nation, had political reasons for not teaching students the reality of the capitalist system.  Because people were ignorant of this reality, almost all economists were completely surprised when the housing market went bust.  This event ended Robert’s career in real estate.

Eventually Robert planed to attend graduate school, but he needed some money before making this transition.  He made a diligent search for a job, but found none.  Around this time, I was also looking for work.  It took me about eight months to find a job.

We might consider that President Obama argues that one of his major accomplishments was to reduce the unemployment rate.  Obama says this because he doesn’t count the number of people who have given up looking for work.  When we take these people into consideration, the unemployment rate has not changed since Obama has been president.  This is the largest percentage of people unemployed since the depression of the 1930’s. 

Robert felt that the only way for him to make this money would be to have one big score of marijuana.  Assassins murdered Robert Peace while he attempted to make this one last score.

What were Robert Peace’s options?

Reading this book, we can speculate that Robert Peace might have made different choices.  This could have allowed him to live a relatively prosperous life.  We can look to a few of Robert’s fellow graduates at Yale to get a better picture of what his alternatives were.

One graduate worked about 120 hours per week attempting to build a career at the Lehman Brothers investment firm.  This was before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and their assets, in effect, vaporized.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book, had a problem finding work with his degree in English.  For a while he relied on his wife’s income and stayed at home caring for their children.

Ty Chantey graduated at the top of Robert’s class at Yale.  Initially he wanted to be a research scientist.  Then, he discovered that he would need to pay back $350,000 in student loans.  Because of this debt, he decided to become a dermatologist.  He and his wife were resident doctors and they never saw each other.  They worked on opposite shifts because of the need to care for their children.

A few months before Robert Peace’s murder, Ty Chantey called his friend.  He told Robert that, “I’ve always looked up to you.”  With all the stress Chantey was experiencing, he remembered the good times he had with a friend who made him feel at ease.  400 people came to Robert Peace’s funeral because Robert had this same kind of effect on their lives.

We might also think about Robert’s friend Ina who joined the military and spent time in Afghanistan.  After returning from her combat mission she called Robert and said she worried about him.  This statement surprised Robert thinking that she faced a dangerous time when in Afghanistan. 

Ina responded, “I was there for a year.  And no one I knew was killed or even hurt.  Back home, though, a lot of people were killed.”

Thinking about these words we might also think about the former Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Corey Booker.  Booker was also a Yale graduate and argued that his main accomplishment was reducing the crime rate in the city.        

This is not the story of someone who made bad choices in their life.  This is the story of an extremely talented individual with leadership abilities who did his best.  This is the story of the political economic system of capitalism that was completely indifferent to these efforts.  This is a story of how the people who support capitalism are only interested in outstanding efforts when it is about generating super-profits for the wealthy.


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