Craig Hickman has long been one of the good guys in the Maine legislature. A representative since 2012, he has pushed hard from his position on the Agriculture Committee for food sovereignty and food self sufficiency for the state. I met him a couple times while I was in Maine covering court and legislative actions in 2014 and 2015 that ultimately led to the state passing a law guaranteeing food sovereignty, after a couple dozen towns had passed their own individual ordinances guaranteeing individuals the right to buy food directly from farmers and food producers, without interference from regulators.
He walks the walk by running a working farm, selling fiddleheads, eggs, potatoes, and other delectables to neighbors.
To me, the fact that Craig Hickman is one of the only people of color in the Maine legislature has always seemed incidental to his political work. Until last weekend, when he appeared at a rally in Augusta, Maine—one of many dozens in cities large and small protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In a stirring speech in which he declared repeatedly that “Black Lives Matter,” he shared his story about having been victimized by police racism in Boston.
(In addition to the Facebook link above, you can view the video directly below.)
It was a story I remember well, a story that anyone who lived in Boston at the time remembers because it completely riveted the city’s attention for a month or longer in late 1989 thanks to the huge racial overtones. A young white couple, Charles and Carol Stuart, was driving home from a Boston hospital where they had just attended a birthing class; she was seven months pregnant.
Suddenly, there was an attack by a man with a gun, and within seconds, the couple lay bloodied in the front seat. Carol had a bullet in the head, and was near death. Charles had a bullet wound in the side, but his wound wasn’t life-threatening.
Charles told police a black man had ambushed the couple in a robbery gone bad. He described a man, about 30 years old and 6-feet tall. The police went hunting aggressively for the suspect, as described in this account from boston.com:
“Two days after the murder, investigators were building a profile of the man they thought was responsible.
“Investigators say they are convinced that the gunman either lives in or routinely commits crime around the Mission Hill housing project….Some police sources believe the assailant probably has committed several similar robberies by jumping into stopped cars at intersections.’’ (Boston Globe, Oct. 25, 1989)
“Lawmakers wasted no time demanding Massachusetts reinstate the death penalty.
Boston City Councilor Bruce Bolling described a city under siege:
“The situation is reminiscent of the Vietnam War. The only question now is what is the body count.” (Boston Herald, October 25, 1989)
I remember being terribly frightened by the event, as it monopolized the news day after day after day. That could have been my wife and me, I kept thinking. Friends had the same reaction.
In the black areas of Boston, another kind of terror had taken hold. Craig Hickman was a student at Harvard at that time, and potentially fit the description Charles Stuart had provided, as did dozens of other black men. I strongly encourage you to watch and listen to his account above, because it has a much different feel from what I have described. He describes being stopped outside a T station in a black area of Boston and pinned up against a light pole, then a car, then on the ground, with police on top of him; he called out for his mama, he couldn’t breathe.
I had pretty much forgotten about the Charles Stuart situation until I heard Craig bring it up last weekend. I realized as I listened to his speech that it was much easier for me to forget about it than for him. His speech is only ten minutes long, and very moving.
I admire Craig for deciding to stand up and speak to the white audience at the Augusta protest. More blacks are adopting the attitude that it’s not up to them to educate whites about the regular abuse heaped on people of color by police (and other discrimination they face). In their view, it’s whites who have created the problem, and whites should be the ones to fix it.
What this view fails to acknowledge is that lots of whites are ignorant, simply because they have the luxury by virtue of the color of their skin to not have to pay attention every time they go out to work or on an errand and worry that this will be the day they are stopped by a cop like Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.
By the way, over the ten weeks following the attack on the young couple in Boston, Charles Stuart’s story began to fall apart under police questioning and investigation. As the police were closing in on him, he jumped off the Tobin Bridge near Boston Harbor, and killed himself. He had been the gunman, apparently seeking proceeds from life insurance policies he had taken out on his wife.
Thanks again to Craig Hickman for sharing his trauma in that racially charged episode, just one of many we are learning about in the upheaval and cleansing that has taken hold in the U.S. The bad news is that he isn’t running for re-election in November. There have been rumblings about him as a future gubernatorial candidate. Here’s hoping.