Paul R. Lehman, Judge’s comments to convicted man appear biasedFebruary 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, Disrespect, equality, fairness, justice, Oklahoma, Prejudice, The Oklahoman | 4 Comments
Tags: Affirmative Action, African Americans, Christopher Travis Baker, current-events, European Americans, human-rights, judges, Kenneth C. Watson, politics, Race in America, religion, society, The Law, The Oklahoman, Tim Willert
Tim Willert, a writer for The Oklahoman, reported on a case involving the shooting of an off-duty Oklahoma County sheriff deputy (2/22/13). At the sentencing of the man convicted of the offence, the judge made several questionable comments in additional to the sentencing that indicate a bias, a lack of information or a lack of fairness.
The first statement uttered by District Judge Kenneth C. Watson, according to Willert’s article was “You are a disgrace to your family.” Unless the judge knows the convicted man, Christopher Travis Baker, and his family, his comments appear biased and focused on the individual rather than the crime committed. If he does not know Baker and his family, his comments, although well-intended, should not be uttered unless they are uttered to all persons convicted of the same or similar crimes. If the comment was made to impress the family, chances are the family was already aware of the social affects the crime had on the family. If the comment was meant for Baker, what was the purpose? He could not undo the crime; he could only apologize to his family if that was his desire. The comment should have not been uttered for whatever reason the judge might offer; it served no useful purpose.
The next comment made by Judge Watson was “You are a disgrace to our race.” Again, if the judge is having Baker serve as a representative of the human race and he makes the same assessment to all the individuals who appear before him, then his comments are well-taken. However, if he singled out Baker for this comment, then he was not being fair. The judge also showed a lack of current information if his reference to “our race” was meant to be interpreted as “African American people.” The only race of human beings is the human race—Homo sapiens. One wonders why the judge would place on one individual the reputation of an entire ethnic group. Evidently, if the judge sees Baker as a member of a separate race, then he must also see each person from his or her ethnic group as representatives of a separate race. If this is the case, the judge need to be better informed about the changes in society regarding the concept of race.
Before we get to the Judge’s last comment, we want to underscore the point that we understand the rights of a judge to make whatever comments or statements he or she feel important to the convicted person, their family and the courtroom audience at the time. Our concern is that the comments be made without a biased or unfair undertone that somehow makes an example of the convicted in addition to what the law provides. If the Judge uses his or her comments and statements on a regular basis to all individuals without prejudice, then we have no compliant; however, when a person is singled out for criticism based simply on so-called race, then the Judge owes the convict, the family, and the court an apology. The Judge’s job is to administer justice. The convicted are punished for the crimes they commit, not defects in their character or stereotypes associated with their ethnic group identity.
The third comment made by Judge Watson was “You are a disgrace to the African American race.” This statement has a number of problems because it assumes a number of things that are not accurate. The first is that Baker does not represent anyone but himself. Yes, he is a member of the human race, but that does not make him a representative of all human beings. Yes, he committed a crime for which he is going to be punished, but he is not the crime, so the actions should be condemned, not the person. The person can change, the crime cannot be undone. If no hope exists for change, why waste the people’s money by sending him to prison?
The reference to “disgrace” seems to suggest that a certain show of behavior is expected by Baker, in effect, he is to be viewed as a discredit or a humiliation not only to the human race but also to the African American group. Unlike some Asian and non-western cultures, the individual members of a family do not carry the reputation of the family with them. In America, we look to the individual to represent him or herself, that is why we respect the rights of each individual. The reputation of the family does not take preference over the individual.
When the Judge uses the phrase “African American race” he is showing a lack of information. Science has shown since the results of the Human Genome Project that all human beings belong to the same race. Individuals can pick and choose their culture, but not their ancestry. So, an individual of Asian ancestry can be identified as an Asian, American or Asian American, but not a member of the Asian race. Likewise, a person of European ancestry can use his or her culture as a form of identity, but not white race or Caucasian race; biologically, it does not exist. So, when the Judge uses the phrase “African American race,” he is misinformed. Chances are he meant African American ethnic group, not race.
We know that changes come slowly, especially social changes. However, we expect our judges to be better informed than the average citizen regarding changes in our society. After all, they are the guardians of our system of justice; we are reminded that justice is blind. If that is the case regarding Baker’s trial, then Judge Watson owes an apology to Baker, his family and the court for his biased comments.