Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Olu Stevens: Racist Judge Who Taught Parents a Lesson on Race?


A man armed with lethal force, broke into a home of a father, a mother, and two small children, ages 5 and 3 and robbed them.   The male was found guilty and faced sentencing.  The victims were permitted to address the court with the trauma they experienced.

In the victim's impact statement, the mother wrote that the 3 year old was impacted the most and now fears black men in public as the home invasion was done by a black male.

The judge condemned the parents and set the perpetrator free.  During the time before the sentencing, the judge posted on Facebook, which some legal experts are saying is a violation of their code of ethics.  Many are calling him, the judge, also black, a racist, who has now "taught" the family a lesson by unleashing the perpetrator to return to their home.

What do you see in the judge's and victims's statements?  Bold type is both analysis, and the questions from the Victims' Impact Questionnaire.

Jordan and Tommy Gray's 3-year-old daughter was watching "SpongeBob" when two armed men broke into their home near Buechel on March 21, 2013, and robbed them at gunpoint.
Two years later, when one of the offenders was about to be sentenced, Jordan wrote in a victim impact statement that her daughter was still "in constant fear of black men." Both robbers were African-American.
"Whenever we are running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave," the mother said. "It has affected her friendships at school and our relationships with African-American friends."
Tommy Gray also wrote that since the crime, his daughter had been terrified of black males and that probation was not sufficient punishment for Gregory Wallace, 27, who had pleaded guilty to robbery.
"If holding a little girl at gunpoint gets you probation, then our system is flawed," Gray said.
Note that "our system" uses the pronoun "our", sharing responsibility, and "system", rather than Judge Stevens.  
But when Wallace was brought up for sentencing Feb. 4 in Jefferson Circuit Court, it was the parents, not Wallace, who suffered Judge Olu Stevens' wrath.
"I am offended. … I am deeply offended that they would be victimized by an individual and express some kind of fear of all black men," he said.
Note the repetition of "offended"
"This little girl certainly has been victimized, and she can't help the way she feels.  My exception is more with her parents and their accepting that kind of mentality and fostering those type of stereotypes."
The Grays were not in court as Stevens denounced their statements and granted probation to Wallace, whom he said deserved the opportunity to redeem himself.

But they did see when Stevens condemned their statements again, in a post on Facebook.
"Do three year olds form such generalized, stereotyped and racist opinions of others?" he wrote. "I think not. Perhaps the mother had attributed her own views to her child as a manner of sanitizing them."
Stevens, who was appointed to the bench in 2009 and re-elected last year without opposition, did not mention the Grays or Wallace by name on Facebook. He noted in court and in his post that "the statement played absolutely no role in the sentencing decision."
And in an interview, he said he did nothing improper in court or on social media. "I was cautioning the parents against allowing racial stereotypes to impact their behavior and that of their child," he said.
"I was cautioning the parents" leads to the question:  Is this the responsibility of a judge?  Is this part of his job description? Does he know how a 3 year old child might be impacted by a home invasion?  Does he understand the life long trauma this family may experience?
But leading experts on judicial ethics condemned his remarks, as did Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine and friends and family of the Grays, some of whom have started a Facebook page urging Stevens' removal from office.
"Judge Stevens blamed and shamed the victims," said the girl's paternal grandmother, Dawn Renee Bryant, who said her daughter-in-law cried when she read the judge's post. "It is very disturbing to be called something you are not."
Might this impact future victims' statements if the victims know that they face Judge Stevens?
Wine said his office would disavow any racist victim impact statement but the statements made by the victims in this case "were not intended to be and were not."
"The mother of a 3-year-old was describing how the home invaders, armed with guns, affected her family," Wine said. "She differentiated how the adults and the child were affected."
He also said that "had the assailants been old fat men with white beards, I believe the child would have the same reaction to similarly described persons."
In an email, Ronald Rotunda, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and the author of a widely used course book on legal ethics, said Stevens violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, both by using the prestige of his office to further his personal interests and by commenting on a pending case on Facebook.
"The judge, acting like a pop psychologist, decides to attack the little girl and her parents," Rotunda said. "Then, after the judge … has a chance to cool down … he goes on Facebook and does it all over again. The judge should be a little more judicious."
Jeffrey Shaman, who teaches at Chicago's DePaul University law school and once ran the Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations, said judicial criticism of victim impact statements could discourage victims from "participating in the criminal justice system and ensuring that their voices will be heard."
Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh said that while it is not intrinsically wrong for a judge to criticize a victim — such as the instigator of a bar fight — given Stevens' emotional reaction in court and on Facebook, he arguably should have disqualified himself because his impartiality might be questioned.
"While the judge insisted that his judgment was unaffected by the victim statement, the issue is whether a reasonable observer would think likewise. Maybe not," Geyh said.
Still, Geyh said matters of race can be complex.
"An observer disconnected from issues of race and racial politics might regard the victim statement as innocuous," he said. "For an observer sensitive to race, however, the implication that black defendants should be held accountable for traumatizing their victims because they are black … is troubling."
In an interview, Stevens, who says in his Twitter profile that he prides himself on showing "respect for all those who come before the court," denied that he demeaned Wallace's victims.
"I wasn't criticizing the victims, I was criticizing a statement that I thought was a generalization against an entire race of people," he said.
Stevens, a former Louisville Bar Association president, said his Facebook post was "very well-received by many people" and that he took it down after about a week because "a small group of individuals began promoting their agenda on my page." The Courier-Journal obtained a copy this month.
The Kentucky Judicial Ethics Committee has said judges may post on Facebook and other social media sites but noted that they are "fraught with peril for judges," who must "avoid the appearance of impropriety" and thus accept restrictions that "might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen."
Wallace and his accomplice, Marquis McAfee, both 27, were arrested about three weeks after the robbery. Both pleaded guilty and McAfee, who was on probation for a prior crime, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he is serving.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Elder objected to probation for Wallace, who pleaded guilty to a 20-year sentence, saying he was "guilty as hell" and "put a gun in that little girl's father's face."
But Stevens said in court that Wallace had no prior convictions for violent crimes and strong support from his family and friends, who wrote letters to the judge noting that he had won the "Johnny Unitas Scholar Athlete Award" at Iroquois High School and stayed out of trouble during 17 months in jail awaiting trial.
Stevens said in court that "more times than not" he sends offenders who use firearms during their offenses to prison, but in this case "I think the equities weigh in favor of you having the opportunity to redeem yourself."
Of the victim statement, he said to Elder, "I wonder if the perpetrator had been white would they be in fear of white men. The answer would probably be no.

If the victim had been black, and the perpetrator white, it could have led to fear of white males.  

"I am offended by that," Stevens continued. "Perhaps you can pass this on that I find this very offensive. You don't need to answer for it."

Does "offense", that is, being personally offended, part of his job description and part of sentencing?
"Certainly I can understand the court's outrage there," Elder said before changing his mind. "I guess I really don't."
In his Facebook post, Stevens said he would continue to speak out.
"It is incumbent on me to confront and dispose of language based on racism and stereotypes," he wrote. "We should all do our part to eradicate such nonsense. And let me be clear, silence does nothing to contribute. It simply sends a message that such views are acceptable and fear somehow excuses wrong."

FACEBOOK POST
Commenting on a photo showing young black and white children playing together, Judge Olu Stevens said:
Court brought it front and center this week. The case involved a burglary and the victims were a young couple and their three year-old child. The written victim impact statement on behalf of the child read that as a result of the offense committed against her parents in her presence, the child is in "constant fear of black men." The statement, written by her mother, continues that the child clings to her parent when in the presence of any black man. The incident, the mother concluded, "has even affected our relationship with our African-American friends."
I read this statement aloud in open court. For a reason. It was of little surprise to me that neither parent nor the child was present in court for the sentencing. After all, the defendant and the judge are amongst the individuals the three year old has fear of as a result of the crime. Do three year olds form such generalized, stereotyped and racist opinions of others? I think not. Perhaps the mother had attributed her own views to her child as a manner of sanitizing them.
Let me be clear. The statement played absolutely no role in the sentencing decision and the commonwealth disavowed the statement. Needless to say, I was deeply offended, however, that this statement was put forth for the purpose of persuading me to impose a lengthy prison sentence. Had the perpetrator been white, I doubt it would have resulted in such gross generalizations. The race of a perpetrator of a crime is not a reason or an excuse to fear an entire race of people.
We must stand against it in whatever form. As a judge I do my work without regard to race. It is incumbent on me to confront and dispose of language based on racism and stereotypes. We should all do our part to eradicate such nonsense. And let me be clear, silence does nothing to contribute. It simply sends a message that such views are acceptable and fear somehow excuses wrong."
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT
(Jordan Gray, mother)
Has the crime had a psychological impact on you?
My husband works nights and there are many nights I still can't sleep. Even with a security system I don't feel safe in my own home. I'm nervous about when random people walk down the street and constantly have our doors locked.
Has this crime effected the lifestyle of you or your family?
Due to the impact it has had on my 5-year-old daughter we have to consider the area in which we go. While my daughter and I used to play outside, we are hesitant to do so now by ourselves.
If you have any additional information, please feel free to attach it to this form. (i.e, recommended sentence).
This incident has had the most impact on my daughter. She is in constant fear of black men. When we are running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave. If (she) is playing in a room and I walk into another, she freaks out. It has affected her friendships at school and our relationship with African American friends.
(Tommy Gray, father)
Has the crime had a psychological impact on you?
For months after this crime I couldn't sleep. I would relive this incident every night before bed. I would constantly see their faces every time I closed my eyes.
Has this crime effected the lifestyle of you or your family?
Since the crime occurred my daughter is terrified of black males. Where ever we go, we are constantly reminded of her fears. She brings up the crime and can't be left alone in our own home because she is afraid someone will bust in the door."
Has this crime resulted in any damages or loss of property?
My wife's cell phone and vacation fund of about $1000.
If you have any additional information, please feel free to attach it to this form. (i.e, recommended sentence).
I don't have a recommended sentence but I feel like probation is not enough. This crime will effect my daughter for the rest of her life and Mr. Wallace deserves to serve time. If holding a little girl at gunpoint gets you probation, then our system is flawed.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Whenever we are running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave," the mother said. "It has affected her friendships at school and our relationships with African-American friends."

Interesting that she provides a specific example (with visual, auditory, and sensory details) about coming across "black" people running errands, but is vague in how it "affects" their friendships "with" "African Americans." Why is that last and so vague? Why are strangers "black" yet alleged friends "African Americans"?

Anonymous said...

""Whenever we are running errands, if we come across a black male, she holds me tight and begs me to leave,"

And would SA find this a reliable reporting of past events?

Peter Hyatt said...

Anonymous 5:22PM Yes, I do.

The writer is referring to a pattern, not a specific event.

If it was a single event, it would not be reliable.


Anonymous 5:11: relationships "with" shows distance, with respectful "African-American friends." Distancing may be due to non-specified friends, reported in general terms.

"black male" is one who is not known. African American is friends.

The change of language is justified by context, which indicates veracity.

Peter

Jen Ow said...

This judge is a joke.

Of course, the 3 yo would develop a broad generalization based on the looks of the men who terrorized her, and her parents. This is the expected for a young child, without the ability to discern the difference between the men who kicked in her door and shoved a gun in her face, and other men who look the same.

When my son was around 2-3 years old, he called EVERY older, balding man we encountered 'Papaw', (even Colonel Sanders on the KFC billboards, and some of our younger friends, lol!) because that was his visual relation to the word Papaw. This little girl was the victim of 2 black men, so her visual relation to the experience, and the fear she felt is connected to black men.

This judge should be removed from the bench. It is outrageous that the perpetrator pled to 20 years, admitting he 'stuck a gun in that little girls face', and the judge changed his sentence to probation. The judge can say what he wants, but his decision was clearly swayed by his own emotions. He was so offended that he can't /won't stop his continued victimization of the innocent victim's. His remarks are completely out of line, both in court, and on FB. It is his job to facilitate the sentencing of the convicted criminals before him, not admonish the victim's for the content of their victim impact statement. Shame on him.

Foolsfeedonfolly said...

Responding to the first comment, we too have African American friends...not because we differentiate, but because they distinguish themselves by their heritage.

In a small get together with others, the subject of race relations came up and I made the mistake of sharing that I had been raised "color blind" and that several of my relatives were of mixed race...to me they were just my cousins. My friend quickly correctly me that African Americans are proud of their heritage and culture and want to be identified as such. I was appalled at the double standard. I know that if I began demanding to be addressed with "respect" or treated "special" because of my race, I'd be branded and ostracized as rascist.

Foolsfeedonfolly said...

Jen Ow- You are spot on with your comments. Color is a concept a child can identify. Height and weight are not easily descriptive for a three-year-old. For a grown adult (much less one who is charged with being impartial in his capacity as a judge)to take offense and assume prejudice on the part of the parents is in fact judgemental and reverse racism. In essence, he called the parents out as racists. Moreover, his own statements convict him of showing extreme prejudice and personal bias against an innocent victim of an armed robbery. Essentially, he let the criminal walk because of his personal prejudice. He identified with the black perpetrator, simply because they were the same color. I would demand a retrial, file a civil rights lawsuit, and petition to have him removed from the bench.

Ava Crawford said...

I'm with the judge about the mom projecting her fears on the child... the mom probably tenses up, and the child feeds off of that.

Probation for armed robbery seems to be an oddly light sentence, but maybe that kid will turn it all around...

In the end, it sounds like the whole family was understandably traumatized, but I do think the adults feel justified in blaming ALL blacks, and are teaching that to the kids, whether they mean to or not.

Obviously, I feel badly for the family, and hope they can get therapy and deal with their fear and learn not to blame entire races, no matter how bad the encounter was.

I just cant help thinking that the only way this could harm friendships is if the parents want that to happen. If a black man comes over to the house, and the child gets scared, how hard would it be for the parents to gently explain that she's nervous around all strangers after the robbery, and then later on, even more gently, tell the child that those two criminals do not reflect all black people, and that its wrong to assume everyone who looks like them will hurt them.

the parents aren't doing that because they were already pretty prejudiced, and this justified that belief.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Ava, you're special aren't you?

"I just cant help thinking that the only way this could harm friendships is if the parents want that to happen."

So why do they have black friends in the first place? Doesn’t it seem more than a little odd to make friends with black people while looking for any excuse to not be friends with black people? I'm sure you can answer that question since you seem to have a deep and substantial knowledge of the hearts and minds of people you've never met.

Also worth noting is that the parents are listing their daughter's trauma and strained relations with black friends as bad things. Do you think that might imply that they value their black friends and don't want their daughter to react with fear to black people? Doesn’t that strike you as an unusual thing for a bunch racist racists to do?

Whatever, I can sure think of another way this could harm friendships; the black friends could be jumping to the exact same conclusions that both the loony judge and you jumped to.

" the mom probably tenses up, and the child feeds off of that."

How the Sam Hill do you know that? Have you ever met this woman? Have you seen the way she reacts to black people? When you say “probably” you have to provide some reasons why it would be probable.

"the adults feel justified in blaming ALL blacks,"

How do you know that the adults are blaming ALL blacks? Did you look into a crystal ball to divine this information? If so, could you hook me up with next weeks lotto numbers?

"the parents aren't doing that because they were already pretty prejudiced"

How in goodness name do you know what the family is and isn't doing? Look, I don't have kids, I'm just an uncle so I only know people who have kids, but I can tell you that modifying a kids bad behavior can be a long uphill battle. I can't even imagine how a parent who's scared and traumatized by armed home invasion begins to correct the problems of a THREE YEAR OLD GIRL who's scared and traumatized because some punk broke into her home and SHOVED A LOADED GUN INTO HER FACE!

If those black friends of theirs jumped to the same conclusion you did and began saying the same awful things about them that you and this moron judge did, and all in the wake of a terrifying home invasion, couldn't that maybe strain the relationship? Maybe just a little?

I grant you that I have no way of knowing what the parents are like or what they have done, but my explanation is no less plausible than the one you arrived at. Furthermore, your explanation is nothing but arbitrary guesswork, mine is at least based on the observation of the outrageous reactions of Judge Stevens and folks like you.

"they were already pretty prejudiced"

Prejudice is prejudgment, or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case. That's the definition from Wikipedia, it's also a great description of you.

“Obviously, I feel badly for the family, and hope they can get therapy and deal with their fear and learn not to blame entire races, no matter how bad the encounter was.”

Obviously, I feel badly for you, hope you can get more tongue-lashings and deal with your sanctimoniousness and learn not to be such a scurrilous kook, no matter how superior to others it makes you feel.

Anyway, whether or not the judge made the decision out of some sense of racial solidarity is unknown and unknowable, unless you are a psychic like our dear Ava here, it's completely irrelevant too. I'm sure there is some good in knowing why somebody makes a bad call, but it won’t correct the bad call. Even if the family has a problem with black people, which is still unproven by the way, I fail to see how that makes an armed robber any less despicable or any more “deserving” of an “opportunity to redeem himself”.