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Standing up for my attacker in court

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Falling victim to a racial attack
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I stopped going... I mean, I would spend less and less time at high school and more and more time in Johns Hopkins where I was learning much more. And in fact I eventually went down, I went to a church down in inner city, my parents had started going to when they lived in the inner city Baltimore. And that whole area was all black by then and there was... So it was a historically white church in a totally black neighbourhood, was trying to become a black church but... And it had college students down there that lived next to the church, kind of doing social work. So I kind of moved in with them. And so I lived down in the area. Right in north in St. Paul Street. During a time when it was pretty racially charged.

And I remember once on New Year's, I had a girlfriend who was one of the college students. So it was kind of a big deal, I was a high school student and I had a college student girlfriend. Charlotte. And so Charlotte and I were going to take the bus out to the suburbs to have dinner at my parents' house or something like that. And so we were waiting at night on Green Mount Avenue and North Avenue for the bus that would go out. And some people came out of a party in the area and pulled my hair and kind of got into a fight with me and they started giving Charlotte, who was blonde and white and... giving her a lot of trouble. And I started defending her and they beat me up and they stole my wallet and some of the neighbours called the police. And the police showed up, and we had seen the house that they'd come out of. And so we told them what house they'd come out of, and the police in those days were all white. The neighbourhood was all black.

And the police went in, they arrested everybody in the house. And then came in and said to us, it's like, well, 'It feels good to clean out a nigger's house once in a while.' I was so angry. It was just such... They were so blatantly racist. And they were so... It was so wrong. And I was furious about it, and they took us back to the police station. And he showed us these pictures and he laid out a bunch of pictures and he pushed one forward and he said, 'Can you identify the person that mugged you?' And I said, correctly, 'No, I can't. It was dark.' And he pushed one a little farther, he said, 'You sure you can't identify?' I was like, 'No, I can't.' He said, 'You're sure it's not this one?' And I said, 'No, I can't identify.' He said, 'Well, it's this one.' So this made me even more angry.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: church, racism, party, attack, wallet, theft, anger, police

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017