Robert Peace stood out from his friends at Yale University because he was a minority who came from a poor family in Newark, New Jersey, but that didn’t stop him from excelling in academics and sports.
After graduation, however, Peace’s life took a mysterious and dark turn culminating in his drug-related murder at 30 years old.
In his new book, “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace,” Peace’s former roommate Jeff Hobbs contemplates difficult questions about Peace’s post-college trajectory.
The story has made a strong impression on some readers in light of the recent death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shortly before his first semester of college.
“Not all deaths are the same — and certainly the circumstances of Brown’s and Peace’s killings are very different — but they are reminders of the systemic problems that continue to claim the lives of young black men,” wrote Kevin Nguyen in Grantland. “Given those problems, I can hardly think of a book that feels more necessary, relevant, and urgent.”
Peace, who was black, grew up in a rough neighbourhood while his father did time for a murder conviction based on seemingly inconclusive evidence, according to The New York Times’ review of Hobbs’ book. His mother worked hard to send him to a prestigious Catholic school, where Peace was awarded the school’s highest honour for his academic success, participation in student government, and athletic prowess on the water polo team.
He continued on the same track after high school, joining one of Yale University’s secret societies before graduating in 2002 with a degree in molecular biochemistry.
After college, Peace excelled as a biology teacher at his former high school.
“He was someone who knew their [students’] own experiences as young men from the city,” friend Marc Onion told the Star-Ledger after his death. “They felt encouraged by his calm and uplifted by his humour. As compassionate as he could be demanding, several students named Mr. Peace as their favourite teacher.”
But there was another side of Peace his Yale friends didn’t know about. While they knew he enjoyed partying and smoking marijuana as an undergrad, they had no idea he spent his college years raking in $US100,000 from pot he sold on campus.
After college, “doors began to close for Rob and making money became less a pastime than an urgent obsession,” The New York Times’ Janet Maslin explains.
Peace left his teaching job in 2007 and later worked with Continental Airlines, where his access to baggage and relations with security staff allowed him to begin smuggling drugs on a larger scale.
By 2011, Peace was allegedly making $US1,000 per day selling homegrown marijuana and paying a former high school classmate to rent the apartment where police found him dead, along with 25 pounds of pot, reported The Star-Ledger.
The circumstances of his death and his suspected involvement in the drug trade shocked friends who had never seen it coming. “In a community of bright people, Rob stood out as one of the warmest, most intelligent, and most loyal people I knew,” another Yale roommate Bradley D. Shy told The Star-Ledger upon his death.
Hobb’s new book examines such factors as Peace’s family history and financial burdens, post-college emotions, and the temptation of drugs that may have led him down an uncharacteristic path. “Mr. Hobbs does a fascinating job of raising these questions, even though he cannot possibly answer them,” wrote Maslin.
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