Sunday, April 06, 2008

Racism in the courtroom...?

I was watching Fox & Friends the other day (strike one). On the show, they were discussing the racial implications of a controversial story surrounding Marvin Arrington, a black judge in Atlanta who removed the white attorneys from his courtroom as he lectured to black defendants prior to their sentencing. Using the lame and baseless citation of "reverse racism", some of the commentators were quick to call the judge on being racist. After all -- they say -- if a white judge demanded that blacks leave the room while he addressed white defendants, the NAACP, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson would be all over the place.

I can address their observations and claims in two words: DEAD WRONG!

For starters, I will at least concede on one point by saying that the judge should have used a more tact in clearing the courtroom. I believe he would've likely been less accused of racial isolation if he met with the defendants privately in his chambers. Oppositely, his decision to essentially kick people out of the courtroom exuded the notion of separtism, thus fueling the "reverse racism" argument.

That concession aside, I'm amazed at how people can sit back and play the race card on this story. But I'm not letting them off the hook; no more than I let blacks who unmeritability play the race card off the hook. Consider the following:

(1) Judge Arrington's moves were not anti-white. They were pro-black. There's a HUGE difference between those two ideologies. Arrington didn't use his platform to villify those 'white, blue-eyed devils'. Instead, he wanted to smack some sense into black defendants who keep appearing in his court. Now one might say that a "colorblind" judge would have that same level of sympathy for all people, regardless of color. And I'd agree with that. In fact, even Judge Arrington agrees with that himself. But, as I've argued before, delivering messages to a person or group of people is far more effective when it's done by someone who has a shared experience; even if that experience is as cursory as race (though I personally don't think that race is a superficial topic at all. But you get the point). The fact is: the judge saw this as an opportunity to empathetically intervene in lives of black kids in a way that a white judge probably could not or would not have intervened. I mean, who better to kick knowledge about being black to other blacks than ANOTHER BLACK PERSON? I remember watching an episode of The Practice where a white judge became the laughing stock of his courtroom when he tried to give moral lectures to black defendants. For this reason, Judge Arrington is the right man for the job.

(2) The hypothetical scenario of "reverse racism" is foolishly and incorrectly used in this situation. Contrary to what we might see on Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, or any of those other ridiculous court shows, the American judicial system is predominately made of up white officers and black defendants. In order to use a hypothetical argument effectively, you have to consider the complete inverse of the scenerio currently being assessed. So in the case, the judicial system (and indeed, the greater society at large) would have to be set up where blacks were the controlling and leading elements and whites were the socially oppressed minority group. If that were the case, then I'd see nothing wrong with a white judge -- sick of seeing his people damaging themselves and their communities -- unleashing a "Judge Arrington" on trouble whites teen. If he felt it necessary to kick blacks out (thus avoiding the bad practice of airing dirty laundry), you best believe I'd be supportive of his cause.

Again, I don't deny that the judge should've avoided kicking people out or making his 'lecture' solely focused on blacks. But I applaud Arrington for addressing an issue and indeed people central to his own existence. The occassional house cleaning is good for us; especially when it's done by us.

- ACL

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Carmen D. said...

You hit on something that I missed in my post. Being "pro black" vs "anti white". Really, in this case, I would say "pro society." Many of the same white people championing Bill Cosby's call to action are the same ones screaming about Arrington's "racism." I just don't see it.

KC said...

Carmen, I'm inclined to think that the "racism" argument is the result of the judge only offering that intervention for black defendants. Still, you make a great point: it's crazy that white America would be so supportive of Dr. Cosby unleashing on blacks, but somehow now as supportive of Arrington doing it. Talk about your double standards.

Kenya said...

Well I for one tip my hat to Judge Arrington for speaking the truth about these black convicts. Most white court officers don't care what happens to them. All they're concerned about is locking another black person up. Judge Arrington shouldn't stop what he's doing just because a few people don't like his methods.

Malik said...

Yeah, that was a tactical error on his part. But I can imagine him being distraught at seeing yet another young Black life about to go down the toilet and not being able to take it, and making up his mind on the spur of the moment.

The H.C. said...

@Carmen,
I agree with you (even as a white male) on your main point. However, there is a difference between a public forum (where Bill generally speaks) and a courtroom. Courtrooms have decorum and is supposed to represent the public- not black people or white people. I think it's a case of right motives but bad forum.

The H.C. said...

@Dre,
Good topic! There's a lot that goes on in the courtroom that is racial in nature. While serving jury duty,I had a black woman tell me she would never convict a black man of anything because there were already too many black males in prison. Ironically, when asked if she harbored any prejudice she said "No", the same question was asked of me and I answered "Yes" (I believe everyone has some) but that I didn't believe it would interfere with my judgement. I was dismissed, she was not. I thought that was very unfair and an illustration of what's wrong with our system. Only the people who lie about themselves get to serve.

Andre said...

@ Hippie: From the discussions I've witnessed and the blogs I've read, white are more upset by Judge Arrington removing whites foks from the room than they are at the judge for using the courtroom as a platform for lecturing. So -- to that end -- I agree that the judge was not acting with his better reasoning. Still, the judge demonstrated a great degree of zeal and passion for assisting troubled black youth who have likely been dealt a pretty bad social hand. In this case, Arrington's passion and strong desire to make a positive difference even superceded court procedure.

In a nutshell: the spirit of his intentions were good. His delivery was bad.

Cynthia said...

Good post Andre.

You'd think that with all the crimes (or perceived crimes) by young black males, that people all over the country would be applauding Judge Arrington. As you said, he wasn't speaking badly about whites. He was being critical of the kids who stood before him. One thing's for sure: people here in Atlanta have voiced their support for the judge.

GA girl said...

Cynthia, like you I haven't seen anybody in my part of Georgia who wasn't supportive of Judge Arrington for what did. I don't see why so many people would be opposed to a person trying to set young black men on the right path. It's not as if he had to paint white people as the enemy in doing so. For all the people who cross the street when a young black person is approaching, it SHOULD be a sigh of relief that more blacks are trying to make a difference in kids' lives.